The Truth About Cars » midsize The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:40:26 +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 » midsize Review: 2014 Lexus GS 450h Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:00:25 +0000 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

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

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001

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


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

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior


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

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


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

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

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

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001


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

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

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002


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

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

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003


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

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

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009

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

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

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


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.88 Seconds

0-60: 6.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.49 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPH over 800 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 68 dB

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First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007

As of October, the most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan in America is the Honda Accord. Or so Honda says. After all, Ford has been trumpeting a matching 47 MPG combined from their Fusion. Who is right? And more importantly, can the Accord get Honda back into the hybrid game after having lost the initial hybrid battles with their maligned Integrated Motor Assist system? Honda invited us to sample the 2014 Accord Hybrid as well as a smorgasbord of competitive products to find out.


Click here to view the embedded video.


I have always been a fan of “elegant and restrained” styling which explains my love for the first generation Lexus LS. That describes the 2014 Accord to a tee. Like the regular Accord, the hybrid is devoid of sharp creases, dramatic swooshes, edgy grilles or anything controversial. This is a slightly different take than the Accord Plug-in which swaps the standard Accord bumper for a bumper with a slightly awkward gaping maw. In fact, the only thing to show that something green this way comes are some  blue grille inserts and  LED headlamps on the top-level Touring model.

This means the Accord and the Mercedes E-Class are about the only sedans left that sport a low beltline and large greenhouse. Opinions on this style decision range from boring to practical and I fall on the latter. I think the Ford Fusion is more attractive but the Hyundai Sonata’s dramatic style hasn’t aged as well as its Kia cousin’s more angular duds. The Camry failed to move my soul when it was new and it hasn’t changed much over the years. This places the Accord tying with the Optima for second place.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Despite sporting an all-new interior in 2013, you’d be hard pressed to identify what changed over the last generation Accord unless you owned one. Instead of radical design buyers will find incremental improvements and high quality plastics. The dash is still dominated by a double-bump style dashboard with the second binnacle housing a standard 8-inch infotainment display. With manufacturers moving toward slimmer dash designs the Accord’s remains tall and large. For hybrid duty Honda swiped the Plug-in’s tweaked instrument cluster with a large analogue speedometer, no tachometer, LED gauges for battery, fuel and a power meter. Everything else is displayed via a full-color circular LCD set inside the speedometer.

Front seat comfort is excellent in the accord with thickly padded ergonomically designed front seats. There isn’t much bolstering (as you would expect from a family hauler) so larger drivers and passengers shouldn’t have a problem finding a comfortable seating position. The product planners wisely fitted adjustable lumbar support and a 10-way power seats to all trims.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Speaking of trim levels, in most ways (with the exception of that driver’s seat), the Accord EX serves as the “feature content” base for the hybrid. This means you’ll find dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, standard Bluetooth, a backup camera, keyless entry/go and active noise cancellation.

Thanks to a wheelbase stretch in 2013, the Accord hybrid sports 1.3 inches more legroom than the last Accord and is finally class competitive with essentially the same amount of room as the Fusion and Camry and a few inches more than the Koreans. The Accord’s upright profile means getting in and out of those rear seats is easier than the low-roofline competition and it also allows the seating position to be more upright. Honda’s sales pitch about the low beltline is that it improves visibility for kids riding in the back, I’m inclined to believe them. As with most hybrids, there’s a trunk penalty to be paid but thanks to energy dense Lithium-ion cells the Accord only drops 3 cubic feet to 12.7 and I had no problem jamming six 24-inch roller bags in the trunk.  Honda nixed the folding rear seats, a feature that the competition has managed to preserve.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_Touring_043, Picture Courtesy of Honda

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

Base Accords use physical buttons to control the standard 8-inch infotainment system and sport 6 speakers with 160 watts behind them.  Honda wouldn’t comment on the expected model split of the Accord, but I suspect that most shoppers will opt for the mid-level EX-L which adds a subwoofer, 360 watt amp, and adds a touchscreen for audio system controls. The dual-screen design struck me as half-baked when I first sampled it in the regular 2013 Accord and although I have warmed up to it a bit, I think it could still use a few minutes in the oven if you opt for the navigation equipped Touring model.

Honda’s concept was to move all the audio functions to the touchscreen thereby freeing the upper screen for some other use like the trip computer or navigation screen. The trouble is the lower screen simply selects sources and provides track forward/backward buttons meaning you still have to use the upper screen to change playlists or search for tracks. That minor complaint aside, the system is very intuitive and responsive. Honda’s improved iDevice and USB integration is standard fare on all models and easily ties with the best in this segment.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_EX-L_ Picture Courtesy of Honda

Starting at $29,155, the base Accord Hybrid is the most expensive mid-sized hybrid sedan by a decent margin especially when you look at the $25,650 starting price on the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. However, the Accord Hybrid delivers a high level of standard equipment including standard Pandora smartphone app integration and Honda’s Lane Watch system. Lane watch still strikes me as a little gimmicky since the Accord has such small blind spots and the best outward visibility in the segment already. Instead of stand alone options Honda offers just three trim levels. The next step is the $31,905 EX-L model which adds leather seats, a leather steering wheel, upgraded audio system with two LCD screens, memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, moonroof, a camera based collision warning system and lane departure warning. While the base model is a little more expensive than cross-shops, the EX-L becomes a decent value compared to comparably equipped competitive hybrids.

Working your way up to the top-of-the-line $34,905 Touring model the Accord is no longer the most expensive in the class, that award goes to the $37,200 loaded fusion. At this price the Accord is less of a bargain compared to the competition, although you do get full LED headlamps and an adaptive cruise control system. In comparison the Camry spans from $26,140 to $32,015, the Sonata from $25,650 to $32,395, Optima from  $25,900 to $31,950 and the Fusion from $27,200 to $37,200. How about the Prius? Glad you asked. The Prius that is most comparable to the base Accord Hybrid is $26,970 and comparably equipped to the Accord Touring is $35,135.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Being the drivetrain geek that I am, what’s under the hood of the Accord hybrid is more exciting than the Corvette Stingray. Seriously. Why? Because this car doesn’t have a transmission in the traditional sense. Say what? Let’s start at the beginning. The last time Honda tried selling an Accord hybrid, they jammed a 16 HP motor between a V6 and a 5-speed automatic. The result was 25MPG combined. The 2014 hybrid system shares absolutely nothing with the old system. No parts. No design themes. Nothing.

Things start out with the same 2.0L four-cylinder engine used in the Accord plug-in. The small engine is 10% more efficient than Honda’s “normal” 2.0L engine thanks to a modified Atkinson cycle, an electric water pump, cooled exhaust gas return system, and electric valve timing with a variable cam profile. The engine produces 141 horsepower on its own at 6,200 RPM and, thanks to the fancy valvetrain, 122 lb-ft from 3,500-6,000 RPM.

The engine is connected directly to a motor/generator that is capable of generating approximately 141 horsepower. (Honda won’t release details on certain drivetrain internals so that’s an educated guess.) Next we have a 166 horsepower, 226 lb-ft motor that is connected to the front wheels via a fixed gear ratio. Under 44 miles per hour, this is all you need to know about the system. The 166 horsepower motor powers the car alone, drawing power from either a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or the first motor/generator. Over 44 miles per hour, the system chooses one of two modes depending on what is most efficient at the time. The system can engage a clutch pack to directly connect the two motor/generator units together allowing engine power to flow directly to the wheels via that fixed gear ratio. (Check out the diagram below.)

Front Wheel Drive Biased

Pay careful attention to that. I said fixed gear ratio. When the Accord Hybrid engages the clutch to allow the engine to power the wheels directly (mechanically), power is flowing via a single fixed ratio gear set. The fixed gear improves efficiency at highway speeds, reduces weight vs a multi-speed unit and is the reason the system must use in serial hybrid mode below 44 mph. There is another side effect at play here as well: below 44 MPH, the system’s maximum power output is 166 horsepower. The 196 combined ponies don’t start prancing until that clutch engages.

So why does Honda call it an eCVT? Because that fits on a sales sheet bullet point and the full explanation doesn’t. Also, a serial hybrid can be thought of as a CVT because there is an infinite and non-linear relationship between the engine input and the motor output in the transaxle.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Let’s start off with the most important number first: fuel economy. With a 50/45/47 EPA score (City/Highway/Combined), the Accord essentially ties with the Fusion on paper and, although Honda deliberately avoided this comparison, is only 3MPG away from the Prius-shaped elephant in the room. In the real world however the Accord was more Prius than Fusion, averaging 45-46 mpg in our highway-heavy (and lead-footed) 120 mile route and easily scoring 60-65 mpg in city driving if you drive if like there’s an egg between your foot and the pedal of choice. Those numbers are shockingly close to the standard Prius in our tests (47-48 MPG average) and well ahead of the 40.5 MPG we averaged in the Fusion, 35.6 in the Hyundai/Kia cousins and 40.5 in the Camry. Why isn’t Honda dropping the Prius gauntlet? Your guess is as good as mine.

Due to the design of the hybrid system, I had expected there to be a noticeable engagement of the clutch pack, especially under hard acceleration when the system needs to couple the engine to the drive wheels to deliver all 196 combined ponies. Thankfully, system transitions are easily the smoothest in this segment besting Ford’s buttery smooth Fusion and night and day better than the Camry or Prius. Acceleration does take a slight toll because of the system design with 60 MPH arriving in 7.9 seconds, about a half second slower than the Fusion or Camry but half a second faster than the Optima or Sonata and several hours ahead of the Prius.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

At 69 measured decibels at 50 MPH, the Accord hybrid is one of the quietest mid-sized sedans I have tested scoring just below the Fusion’s hushed cabin. This is something of a revelation for the Accord which had traditionally scored among the loudest at speed. When driving in EV mode (possible at a wide variety of highway speeds) things dropped to 68 db at 50 MPH.

When the road starts winding, the Accord Hybrid handles surprisingly well. Why surprisingly? Well, the hybrid system bumps the curb weight by almost 300 lbs to 3,550 (vs the Accord EX) and swaps in low-rolling resistance tires for better fuel economy. However, unlike the Camry and Korean competition, the Accord uses wide 225 width tires. Considering the regular Accord models use 215s, this makes the Accord’s fuel economy numbers all the more impressive. The Fusion is 150 lbs heavier and rides on either 225 or 235 (Titanium only) width tires which also explains why the hybrid Fusion Titanium gets worse mileage than the base Hybrid SE model. I wouldn’t call the Accord Hybrid the equal of the gas-only Accord EX on the road, but the difference is smaller than you might think.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Helping the Accord out on the road are “amplitude reactive dampers” or “two mode shocks” as some people call them. These fancy struts have worked their way down from the Acura line and use two different valves inside the damper to improve low and high-speed damping performance. The difference is noticeable with the Hybrid having a more compliant ride, and thanks to thicker anti-roll bars the hybrid is more stable in corners. Still, for me, the Accord gives up a hair of performance feel to the Fusion hybrid out on the road. It’s just a hair less precise, not as fast to 60 and lacks the sharp turn-in and bite you get in the Fusion Titanium with its wider and lower profile tires. However, keep in mind that Fusion Titanium takes a 1-2MPG toll on average economy in our tests dropping the Fusion from 40.5 to 38-39 MPG.

The Accord may not be the best looking hybrid on sale, (for me that’s still the Ford Fusion) but the Accord’s simple lines and unexpectedly high fuel economy make the Honda a solid option. Being the gadget hound I am, I think I would still buy the Fusion, but only in the more expensive Titanium trim. If you’re not looking that high up the food chain, the Accord Hybrid is quite simply the best fuel sipping mid-size anything. Prius included.


Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and gas at a launch event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 45.9 MPG over 129 miles.


2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Trunk ]]> 82
Review: 2013 Honda Accord EX (Video) Fri, 10 May 2013 17:10:32 +0000  

2013 Honda Accord EX, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesOur last look at the Accord was back in September when we ran a two-parter (part 1, part 2) after being invited to the launch event. Yes, shockingly our invite wasn’t lost in the mail. As TTAC has said in the past, there are problems with launch events. Usually you’re running around in a pre-production car that may not be “quite right” yet, you have to split your driving time with some dude from another publication (shout out to Hooniverse on that trip).  Drive time is limited, and exclusively done on roads selected by the manufacturer. Sometimes you don’t get the trim level you want either. What I wanted was one step up from the base model, the mainstream EX and I wanted it on the same roads I’ve driven the other Camcord competitors. Here’s that review.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Honda has long been known as a serious kind of car company. Press events are orderly, the Honda folks wear suits and their products are similarly starched. While we have a new corporate nose up front with a chrome “smiley” face and aggressive headlamps, the rest of the profile is buttoned up and professional. The large (and low) greenhouse says “I have kids,” an image that Honda has been embracing with their latest commercials, essentially admitting they are leaving descriptives like “sexy” and “dramatic” to Hyundai and Ford. I have to admit I am quite torn, I love the Fusion’s sexy sheetmetal making it my first pick in terms of looks, but oddly enough the “plain Jane” Accord is number two for me because it’s simple clean. The new Kia Optima is a very, very close third thanks its nose job for 2014. I’m not convinced that the Camry’s nose or the Sonata’s dramatic character lines will age well, let me know what you think in the comment section. Something important to keep in mind is the Accord has bucked the growth trend and has shrunk on the outside compared to the previous generation making it among the smallest in this segment. Good if you live in the city, bad if you were hoping for a Honda land yacht.

Typical for Honda, the Accord has no factory installed options to choose from, you simply pick your trim: LX, EX, Sport EX-L, or Touring. LX, EX and Sport models can be had with a manual or a CVT while EX-L and Touring models are CVT only with the four cylinder and auto only with the V6. Aside from the lack of fog lights in the LX and a tiny bit of black trim on the LX and EX models, the only visual clues to which Accord you’re driving are the wheels and exhaust tips. When it comes to sleepers, there’s nothing that fits that description like an Accord.

2013 Honda Accord EX, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Honda’s interiors have long been known for their simple functionality rather than opulence or elegance and Honda is still singing the same tune. Despite being an all-new model for 2013, Honda hasn’t radically changed the interior design, opting instead for incremental improvements and more standard features. All Accords now get standard dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone integration, a backup cam and active noise cancellation. Honda seems to have listened to the complaints from reviewers and customers and took a methodical and dedicated approach to making the Accord quieter on the road. In addition to the fancy noise cancelling software, there’s more foam, more carpet and a one-piece dash designed to prevent squeaks later in life.

Honda’s seat engineers seem to be designing seats specifically for my back lately. The Accord and the refreshed Civic both sport supportive seats that coddled by back and backside on long journeys. There is a caution I must toss in however, the lumbar support in Sport, EX and LX models is fixed and pronounced. If you need some adjustability in your back support, you’ll need to step up to a leather model to get it. 2013 has brought a raft of materials improvements to the Accord cabin from improved seat fabrics to more squishy dash bits and the ever-so-popular stitched pleather. Thankfully Honda spares potential owners the shame of faux wood trim, instead opting for a modern brown pattern that I found attractive. The trim and the style are not as stylized or futuristic as the competition, but controls are easy to locate, and consistent in their high quality feel.

2013 Honda Accord EX, Interior, Dashboard Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Thanks to the Accord’s upright profile, getting in and out of the back seats is an easy task, something I can’t say of the Fusion. Once inside the height pays further dividends with more headroom than the coupé-like competitors. Despite being smaller on the outside and having a smaller wheelbase than the outgoing model, legroom is up by a welcome 1.3 inches in the rear and the trunk has grown to a [finally] competitive 13.7 cubic feet. On the down side, Honda forgot that sometimes people need to carry large items and three people, not possible in the Accord if you fold down the rear seat since it folds as a single unit.

Even base model Accords are well equipped with dual-zone climate control, auto headlamps, cruise control, backup camera, and a one-touch up/down window for the driver. Because of the comfortable seats and high level of standard gadgets, the Accord is the poster child of “easy to live with” like that comfortable sweatshirt.

2013 Honda Accord EX, Radio Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Honda’s relentless drive to streamline options means a high level of standard tech on the Accord. All Accords get an 8-inch high-res screen in the middle of the dash, Bluetooth integration for speakerphone and audio, iDevice/USB interface, Pandora internet radio app integration and SMS messaging features if your smartphone supports it. (At the time of our drive, Pandora radio is restricted to Apple iDevices and SMS messaging to Android devices, Honda giveth and taketh away.)

Browsing the lots of my nearest Honda dealers, it seems the EX and EX-L models account for the bulk of purchases and lot space, not surprising since they straddle the middle in terms of price from $24,605 for a manual EX to $32,070 foe an EX-L V6. All EX models get keyless entry/go, Honda’s up-level audio system and their Lane Watch blind-spot viewing system. (Trust me, LW is more exciting than it sounds). Stepping up to the EX-L model or above gets you a higher resolution 8-inch screen and a 5-inch touchscreen LCD in the center of the dash that acts as the primary audio control interface. The addition of the second display allows you to see some audio information at the same time as the 8-inch display either shows you the navigation screen (if you’ve opted for it) or some other information source. Want to know more? Check out that video above.

2013 Honda Accord EX, Engine 2.4L EarthDreams Direct-Injection I4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


I know we’re here to dream of EarthDreams (which is quite possibly the worst thing anyone has ever named an engine family), but we should start out with that optional V6.  As before the V6 has cylinder deactivation tech, but Honda decided that the old system which would cut out 2 or 3 cylinders depending on the load was more trouble than it was worth, so for 2013 the V6 will only drop to 3 cylinders but the range of operation has been expanded. Thanks to the tweaks and a new 6-speed automatic, the V6 is good for 278HP and 252 lb-ft of torque while delivering 21/34MPG. The V6 has a well-tuned exhaust note and scoots to 60 in the same 6.2 seconds that the Altima 3.5 managed, but the Accord lags the Altima in real-world fuel economy by 3 MPG. This isn’t the engine you want.

What piqued my interest at the launch event was Honda’s new 2.4L direct-injection four cylinder engine. The engine and new CVT turned my impression of the Accord on its head. The engine’s 185HP still arrive at a very-Honda high RPM of 6,500, but thanks to the direct-injection sauce torque jumps to a [nearly] HP matching 181 lb-ft with a strong pull from idle and a peak at a decidedly un-Honda 3,900RPM. If you choose the 6-speed manual, you no longer have to rev the nuts off the engine to get the Accord in motion. Most shoppers however will findP a Continuously Variable Transmission under their Accord’s hood, although they may not even notice. Why? This is quite possibly the world’s best CVT.

2013 Honda Accord EX, Fuel Economy, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Yes, I know I have a rep for the love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name, but I have my reasons for liking a CVT: fuel economy, mountain climbing, and maximizing acceleration in underpowered cars like the 107HP Versa. This CVT is actually pleasant to drive. I’m not sure how the boffins managed it, but Honda’s new CVT switches ratios quickly and crisply with a feel that is so close to a standard automatic the average person might not be able to tell the difference. If you have driven a Nissan with a CVT, you get what some call a “rubber band” feeling that pressing the throttle gets instant response but builds, levels, then after you release the throttle it takes a while for the engine to “return” to a dull roar.

The Accord on the other hand has the feeling of a downshift where the engine shifts to a high RPM almost immediately, then like a normal CVT, stays there while you accelerate and when you lift it drops rapidly like a normal transmission upshifting. Passengers in the car were confused, some thought they detected shifts and thought it was an auto, while a few realized it was just a good CVT. This is as it should be. If you need another reason to give the CVT a shot, the 27 city, 36 highway and 30 combined MPG rating should make a believer out of you. In my mixed driving I averaged a stout 32.5 MPG. If you absolutely must have the manual, you’ll be limited to four-cylinder LX, EX and Sport models (the V6/MT combo is Accord coupé specific). The manual will save you $1,200 at the register but cost you more at the pump with fuel economy dropping to 24/34 and in my testing the combined number was some 5MPG lower than the CVT.

2013 Honda Accord EX, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Accord has long been known for its double wishbone front suspension, a design that some prefer because of increasing negative camber gain as the suspension reaches the end of travel. On the downside it’s heavier, more expensive and according to Honda contributed to the NVH that owners and reviewers whined about. What does that have to do with anything? The wishbone is gone, replaced by a MacPherson strut arrangement like just about every other FWD car in the USA. Does it matter? Not really, most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference since the Accord is hardly a track day car. Or is it?

The mid-size sedan is the ultimate comprise car, just watch a sedan add some time. They are supposed to schlep the kids to daycare and then carve that canyon on your way to your impressive day job where everyone congratulates you on making the smart decision to buy the family car instead of the Mercedes roadster. Truth be told, any mid-size sedan carves corners with shocking aplomb, holds at least two car seats with ease, looks good enough to valet park and manages to keep from breaking the bank. You know, except for that Dodge Avenger I’m trying to forget. But I digress.

2013 Honda Accord EX, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Honda made a big deal out of the weight reduction at the launch event, but in truth the 3,336lb curb weight merely represents a tend in the right direction and lands the Accord in the middle of the fray. What is different is how Honda chose to tune the Accord. Out on the road the steering is moderately heavy with a hint of feedback (more than can be said for most sedans these days) and the suspension is firm for a family car. The combination create a feel that I would almost describe as “Germanic,” something that paradoxically cannot be said of the latest Passat. When the feel and suspension are mated with 215/55R17 rubber on the EX and EX-L models, the Accord can dance with the best of the competition. The Sport model’s 235 width tires might sound attractive but beware, the rubber is bundled with new steering stops that increase the turning circle from good to enormous. My suggestion would be to buy a regular model, jump to 225s and deal with the occasional rubbing.

Thanks to a combination of excellent road manners, a surprisingly quick 6.8 second jump to 60 and the best mid-sized non-hybrid/non-diesel fuel economy we have tested so far and the Accord EX becomes my favorite four-cylinder mid-size sedan. It’s not as sexy as the Fusion, but it’s cheaper by a nose, more exciting than a Camry, more mainstream than a Kia or Hyundai (yes, I did use that as a factor because you know shoppers will) and statistically more reliable than some of the other options on the road. There’s always a “but” and here it is: the Altima 3.5 starts at $25,760, weighs the same as the four-cylinder Accord, clears 60 in 5.5 seconds and averaged a shocking (and totally worth it) 27.6 MPG during our week.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • The best CVT ever created.
  • Our average fuel economy was only 1MPG lower than a Civic.
  • Excellent chassis dynamics.

Quit it

  • Lane Watch is as gimmicky as it sounds.
  • You have to upgrade to the EX-L to avoid the urethane steering wheel.
  • I still don’t understand the split screen radio/nav situation. Someone explain that to me over a beer.


 Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and gas for this review

Specifications as tested

 0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 6.83 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.25 Seconds @ 93 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 32.5MPG over 659 miles

2013 Honda Accord EX 2013 Honda Accord EX-001 2013 Honda Accord EX-002 2013 Honda Accord EX-003 2013 Honda Accord EX-004 2013 Honda Accord EX, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX-006 2013 Honda Accord EX-007 2013 Honda Accord EX, Grille, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX-010 2013 Honda Accord EX, Interior, Dashboard Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX, Radio Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX-013 2013 Honda Accord EX-014 2013 Honda Accord EX-015 2013 Honda Accord EX-016 2013 Honda Accord EX-017 2013 Honda Accord EX-018 2013 Honda Accord EX-019 2013 Honda Accord EX, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX-021 2013 Honda Accord EX-022 2013 Honda Accord EX, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX-024 2013 Honda Accord EX-025 2013 Honda Accord EX-026 2013 Honda Accord EX-027 2013 Honda Accord EX-028 2013 Honda Accord EX-029 2013 Honda Accord EX-030 2013 Honda Accord EX-031 2013 Honda Accord EX-032 2013 Honda Accord EX-033 2013 Honda Accord EX-034 2013 Honda Accord EX-035 2013 Honda Accord EX, Engine 2.4L EarthDreams Direct-Injection I4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Accord EX-037 ]]> 116
Review: 2013 Nissan Altima SL 3.5 (Video) Sun, 30 Dec 2012 14:32:03 +0000

The “family sedan” may not be very exciting, but without midsized sales auto makers would be in a pickle. Ponder this: the five best-selling midsized sedans in America accounted for 1.3 million of the 12.8 million vehicles sold in 2011. With numbers like that, it’s important to get your mass-market people mover right. This means competitive fuel economy, a low base price and swipe as much tech from your luxury brand as possible. Either that or just wear a Nissan badge on the front. Say what? The last generation Altima was the second best-selling car despite being long in the tooth and filled with Chrysler quality plastics. That made me ask an important question: Is the fifth-generation Altima any good, or is it selling well (now in third place thanks to the new Accord and Nissan’s model change over) just because it has a Nissan logo on the front?


Click here to view the embedded video.


A design that doesn’t alienate the customer you expect to return and buy their second or third car is critical. Just ask Ford how that bubble-Taurus redesign went in 1996. Still, midsize sedan shoppers demand some style so Nissan’s design team jammed a bit of Maxima, a pinch of Infiniti M and a “whole-lotta” Versa into a sausage press and cut the Altima off at 191.5 inches. This makes the new Altima longer than a Camry, a hair longer than a Maxima and essentially the same size as the Accord and Fusion. Nobody will confuse the Altima with an Aston Martin, nor will they think their neighbor is driving a budget Bentley. Instead the slab-sided Altima delivers clean lines and elegant good looks. Think of it as the Midwestern farm girl to the Fusion’s Los Angeles call girl.


Before we hop in, let’s have a moment of midsized honesty. The last gen Altima, much like the former Sentra, was a plastic penalty box on the inside that belonged in a Hertz garage, not mine. It appears Nissan took the criticism to heart and made such a drastic improvement to the Altima’s interior I suspect Infiniti’s interior decorators lent a hand. Yes, the interior design is somewhat bland, but nobody’s $20,000-$30,000 is very exciting and that’s just how midsized shoppers like it. In sharp contrast to the Fusion’s Germanic black-on-black-on-black interior, our Altima was covered in acres of light beige leather, pleather and soft-touch plastics. The lighter materials make the cabin look  larger and warmer than the numbers indicate with headroom and legroom falling in line with the competition. Some reviews I have seen complain about the cabin’s materials but I’m honestly not clear why. The Altima’s plastics and pleather are better than those in the Camry and Passat and equal to or better than the new Fusion and Accord. Fear not TTAC faithful, there is a low point in the interior: only the SV and SL models eschew the rubbery-plastic tiller for leather wrapping.

Since our tester was the top-of-the-line SL, the cockpit featured a heated tilt/telescopic steering wheel, an 8-way power driver’s seat and manually adjustable lumbar support. Shoppers that chose the 3.5L V6 will be treated to a pair of the best looking and best feeling magnesium paddle shifters this side of a BMW M6. Seriously. There’s just one problem: paddle shifters on a car with a CVT make as much sense as a parking brake on a french poodle. (Yet for some reason I found myself caressing their magnesium goodness non-stop when I was behind the wheel.) Like the most entries in this segment, the front passenger seat remains manually adjustable regardless of trim level and upholstery. Thanks to Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” seat design, the front seats proved comfortable and didn’t’ aggravate my temperamental knee during a 2 hour road trip. Since manufacturers “march to their own drummer” when measuring legroom, take your family to the dealer and jam them all in the car before making a purchase.


While others are downsizing from V6s to turbo fours in search of improved MPG numbers, Nissan stuck to their I4/V6 lineup. The base Altima is four-cylinder only while the S, SV and SL models are available with either engine. In addition to the extra cylinders, V6 shoppers get wider tires and  shift paddles.

The 2.5L four cylinder mill is good for 182HP at 6,000RPM and 180lb-ft of twist at 4,000RPM while the 3.5L V6 (VQ35DE) turns up the dial to 270HP at 6,000RPM and 258lb0-ft at 4,400RPM. Both engines send the power to the front wheels via a revised Nissan Xtronic CVT with tweaks to reduce friction, improve acceleration, and reduce the “rubber-band” feeling that journalists whine about.

Our tester was a V6 SL which does battle with the Camry and Accord V6 and the 2.0L direct-injection turbos from Ford, Hyundai and Kia. Although V6 sales have dwindled to around 10% of Altima sales, 10% of the second best-selling sedan is a big number. Compared to the competition’s 2.0L turbos, Nissan’s V6 has a torque disadvantage. To combat this, the Altima was put on a diet now tipping the scales at a svelte 3,178/3,335lbs (I4/V6).

Infotainment, Gadgets & Pricing

To improve inventory turnover, Nissan followed VW’s lead and cut back on options. The 2.5L engine starts with the rental-car-chic base model for $21,760 (sans destination). Want options? Sorry, other than color choices there are no options on base and S models. Stepping up to the $22,860 S gets you auto headlamps, keyless entry/go, 6-way power driver’s seat, pollen filter, cruise control and two more speakers (six total). The $24,460 SV is the first model to get some USB/iDevice love, 5″ LCD radio, leather tiller, satellite radio, Pandora integration, backup camera and the ability to check options boxes. The $27,660 SL model adds leather, fog-lights, 8-way driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and nine Bose speakers. Thankfully 2013 brings standard Bluetooth phone integration with Bluetooth audio streaming and an AUX input jack to even the rental-car destined base model.

The 3.5 S is $2,900 more than the 2.5S and in addition to the V6 adds the shift paddles and wider tires. Adding the 3.5 to the SV will set you back $3,800 due to the bundling of a moonroof and a few other items that are optional in the 2.5. The 3.4 premium on the SL model is $2,900 and in addition to the wider rubber Nissan tosses in Xenon headlamps. If HIDs are your thing, this is the only way to get them.

For $595 on the SV you can add Nissan’s new 7-inch touchscreen nav system dubbed “Nissan Connect.” The system looks like an improved version of their former “Low Cost Navigation” system in the Versa. In addition to a larger display, Nissan polished the UI, added Pandora, Google-send-to-car, faster processing, voice commands and XM NavTraffic/NavWeather. The system won’t voice command your iDevice or climate control like SYNC, but that’s a small price to pay for a responsive system that doesn’t crash, is easy to use and incredibly well priced. While I still have a love for MyFord Touch that dare not speak its name, Nissan Connect is now one of my favorite infotainment systems. Note to Nissan: put this in the S model as well. SL shoppers beware, Nissan Connect will cost you $1090 because it is bundled with blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection.

There is one more reason to get Nissan Connect: the plastic surrounding the base and 5″ display audio systems scratches easily. Our nav-free tester looked like someone had run a Brillo Pad across the front and just running my finger across the plastic (not my fingernail) caused fine scratches. This is a pity, but not a problem exclusive to the Altima, the new Accord and Camry suffer from this as well.


The crash diet and CVT pay dividends at the pump.  The Altima 2.5 manages 27/38/31 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) and does so without direct injection, start/stop, batteries or aero packages. What about that V6? Nissan’s focus on weight has made the Altima 3.5 lighter than the Accord V6 and Fusion 2.0 Ecoboost by over 200lbs. In our 3.5 SL I averaged an impressive 27.6MPG over a week of mixed driving. This is notably above the 25MPG combined EPA score despite my commute and the 2,200ft mountain pass I cross twice a day. You can thank the light curb weight and CVT for that. The Accord V6 matches the Altima’s combined EPA number and the Fusion trumps it by one MPG on paper. In the real world, the Altima beat both by 4MPG. My average was so surprising I dropped by a dealer to try another one. The result was the same. I took to the pumps to “pump-drive-pump-calculate-pump-drive-pump-calculate.” The results came within 1MPG of the car computer.

Nissan’s new CVT has dulled the “rubber band” feeling earlier CVTs inflicted upon drivers. This version also “downshifts” faster, although it still takes longer to get from the highest ratio to a “passing” ratio than a conventional 6-speed automatic when accelerating from 50-70 MPH. Aside from economy, the other benefit of a CVT is that it can keep the engine at an optimum RPM for maximum acceleration and drama-free hill climbing. Despite being down on torque compared to the turbo competition and having a less advantageous torque curve, CVT helped the Altima to scoot to 60MPH in an impressive 5.5 seconds (traction control disabled).

As much as I like CVTs, they are not the dynamic choice for “gear holding”. Sure Nissan has those sexy paddles on the Altima, and they have programmed the CVT to imitate a 7-speed automatic. Unfortunately the transmission’s “shifts” are slow and mushy, feeling  more like a worn out Hydramatic than a modern 7-speed. When you’re on your favorite back-country road, take my advice: caress those sexy paddles, but whatever you do, don’t pull them.

When the road curves, a light chassis will only get you so far, thankfully Nissan tuned the Altima’s suspension to be compliant but surprisingly agile. Adding to the fun-factor, all V6 models are shod with 235/45R18 rubber, notably wider than the V6 Camry’s standard 215 or optional 225 tires. The suspension, curb weight and tires combine to give the Altima a slightly higher road holding score than the Fusion 2.0 Ecoboost we got our hands on, but numbers aren’t everything. The Fusion’s steering may be numb, but it manages more feeling than the Altima and even I have to admit the CVT sucks the fun out of aggressive driving. If that matters to you, drive past the Nissan dealer and pick up a Fusion 2.0T with or without AWD.

Brand reputation is one of the largest factors when it comes time for a shopper to drop 25-30 grand on their family sedan. It’s the reason the old Altima sold as well as it did, and as far as I can see, it’s the only reason the Camry sells in record numbers. Rather than selling on reputation alone however, Nissan has proved they can build a sedan worthy of its lofty sales goals.

Some may call this a cop-out, but in my book the Accord, Fusion and Altima tie for first place in my mind. Here’s why: each of this trio plays to a different audience. The Fusion is gorgeous, more dynamic than the Altima but has stumbled with the 1.6L Ecoboost quality issues. The Accord is a traditional choice with a solid reputation and greater visibility thanks to an enormous greenhouse. Meanwhile the new Altima is a stylish elegant sedan with a powerful and seriously efficient V6. If I were dropping my own money on a sedan in this category I would have a hard time choosing between the Altima 3.5 SL and a Fusion 2.0 Ecoboost.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.6 Seconds ( 3.2 with traction control)

0-60: 5.5 Seconds ( 6.2 with traction control)

1/4 Mile: 13.9 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 27.6 MPG over 670 Miles

2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima SL, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Cargo Area, trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, paddle shifters, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, paddle shifters, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, paddle shifters, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, front cabin, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, Interior, glove boxc, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL Monroney 2013 Nissan Altima Sedan, Infotainment, Nissan Connect System, Picture Courtesy of Nissan Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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Chevrolet Planning Malibu Midcycle Refresh For Late 2013 Tue, 04 Dec 2012 14:00:57 +0000

Well, that was quick. GM is apparently planning a mid-cycle refresh for the Chevrolet Malibu in 2013, 18 months after the car was released in showrooms.

The Malibu has been panned for poor rear legroom and underwhelming powertrains – our own Michael Karesh was particularly critical of the car. GM’s Dan Akerson told Automotive News that a revised front fascia would be part of the refresh, but declined to give anymore details. The Malibu’s launch was seen as a misstep by GM, as the car was only sold in an eAssist version, without any conventional powertrains like the volume 2.5L four-cylinder, or the upmarket 2.0T motor.


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Review: 2011 Chrysler 200 Mon, 04 Apr 2011 21:02:41 +0000
I wasn’t planning to review the Chrysler 200. Renaming a lightly revised car to escape a well-deserved bad reputation always strikes me as a lame tactic. And the Sebring, on which the 200 is based, was so far off in so many ways that I didn’t see the point. We don’t just review cars to trash them around here. But then I drove the revised minivan, and was very pleasantly surprised. Perhaps Chrysler had similarly transformed the Sebring when creating the 200? With a Buick Regal for the week, and a need for some reference points, the time had come to find out.

Working with limited funds and even more limited time, Chrysler couldn’t change the sheetmetal. So the 200’s proportions are every bit as frumpy as the Sebring’s were. Given this constraint, the improvements wrought with new wheels, light assemblies, fascias, and upscale trim are admirable. Just not sufficient (though the rear three-quarters view isn’t bad). Dark colors like the metallic black on the tested car do at least de-emphasize the odd C-pillar. Granted, the Camry, Accord, and Fusion are hardly beauties, but their proportions (which my eye tends to focus on) are less ungainly. The Regal is much more handsome (as is the Chevrolet Malibu).

Chrysler was able to more substantially revise the Sebring’s interior, and the 200’s is more attractive than those in the Camry, Accord, and Fusion. The sedan’s cleanly-styled instrument panel, many padded surfaces, and classy piano black trim with chrome highlights suggest that it should be considered a premium car. But upon closer inspection the upscale appearance seems skin deep and concentrated in the instrument panel. The door panels are extensively padded but their armrests, which give a bit when employed to pull the door closed, feel as well as appear tacked on.

The minor controls are very similar to those in the Sebring and don’t look or feel like those in a premium car. There are good reasons why the Regal costs about $4,000 more (though the Suzuki Kizashi comes close to the Regal while being priced about $1,000 above the 200). The materials in major direct competitors tend to be cheaper, and look it, but they are assembled at least as well. The Hyundai Sonata might pose the largest challenge by combining style with above-average materials and workmanship.

The Chrysler 200’s minimally bolstered seats, though certainly more comfortable than the Sebring’s hard slabs, recall domestic iron from years past. Though the buckets are soft, you still sit on them rather than in them. The thick A-pillars, tall instrument panel, and overly distant windshield conspire with these seats to thwart any meaningful connection with the car. The side windows are more expansive, but this largely serves to highlight that the view forward is not. In back there’s a healthy amount of legroom, but as in the Sebring (and many competitors) the cushion isn’t high enough off the floor to provide thigh support.

With 283 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 260 foot-pounds at 4,400 RPM, the all-new 3.6-liter DOHC V6 out-specs all others in the segment. Hitched to Chrysler’s homegrown six-speed automatic (neither the smoothest nor the smartest) it moves the car quickly and sounds good in the process while earning EPA ratings of 19 / 29. But the chassis isn’t a match for the V6’s power. There’s some torque steer under hard acceleration, but the real problem is posed by curves. In casual driving the 200 feels okay, but even a moderately aggressive turn of the steering wheel uncovers a fair amount of lean, early onset understeer, and insufficient damping. The harder you push the 200 the sloppier both the suspension and the steering feel. Some cars ask to be driven aggressively. Others are up to the challenge, though they don’t ask for it. The 200 isn’t up to the challenge. Some Toyotas suffer from a similar powertrain-chassis mismatch, but this doesn’t make it right. The Regal has the opposite problem: well-tuned chassis, merely adequate engine. On a curvy road this is the better problem to have.

In his Chrysler Town & Country review, Jack Baruth noted that he was easily able to keep up with a 200 driven by another journalist. No doubt the other journalist lacked Jack’s mad driving skillz, but it also happens that the minivan steers and handles much better than the sedan. My earlier suspicion that Chrysler cribbed from VW’s work for the Routan? Consider it intensified.

The 200 does ride better than it handles, and better than the Sebring. For people who drive like grandmas (perhaps because they are grandmas) its chassis limitations won’t be much of an issue. The car doesn’t seem as slick and eerily silent at low speeds as a Toyota, but it’s smoother and quieter than an Accord or Fusion. Here as well the Sonata poses a tough challenge. Some competitors handle better, others ride better, but the Sonata Limited’s balance between the two might be the best among the segment’s major players. Unfortunately, none are outstanding driver’s cars.

One thing the Chrysler 200 definitely has going for it: a low price. With the V6, leather, sunroof (not on the tested car), nav, and premium audio it lists for $28,505. A comparably equipped Toyota Camry XLE lists for $3,700 more, and adjusting for remaining feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool narrows the gap by only about $300. A loaded Ford Fusion Sport is about $2,500 more even after a $1,600 adjustment in its favor for a power passenger seat, SYNC, a rearview monitor, and various other safety features not available on the Chrysler. Even a Sonata Limited 2.0T with nav is about $1,600 more.

Its strong new V6 notwithstanding, the Chrysler 200 isn’t remotely a driver’s car. Unlike the revised minivans, the revised sedan doesn’t contain any pleasant surprises. The bits you see, most notably the much-improved interior styling, are as good as it gets. The 200’s refinement, solidity, and chassis tuning mark it as, at best, an average member of the mainstream midsize sedan class rather than the next one up. To their credit, Sergio’s bunch aren’t deluding themselves about how much they were able to achieve. An all-new Fiat-based midsize sedan is only a couple of years away. In the meantime, they’ve priced the 200 substantially lower than its major competitors, making it a good value for those who don’t mind its exterior styling and who aren’t aiming to carve any corners.

Brad Marshall of Suburban Chrysler in Novi, MI, provided the car. Brad can be reached at 248-427-7721.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Sales Chart: The “Big Six” Midsize Sedans In 2010 Fri, 02 Jul 2010 19:34:26 +0000

These six sedans are the fleshy part of the American car market. Big-name D-segment sedans sell like crazy, and pretty much made Honda and Toyota what they are today. Their dominance of this segment, often called “Camccord” after their two best-sellers, remains unchecked as each has spent three months on top of the chart. But there’s danger down below. Hyundai’s Sonata has been making steady progress all year (June excepted), and the Malibu has enjoyed more modest, but equally steady growth. Altima all but matched Camry in February, and gave Accord a scare in March. There’s still a tight pack of four nipping at the heels of the big dogs. Time to start coming up with a new nickname for the D-Segment?

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May Sales Analysis: Mid-Size Sedans Thu, 03 Jun 2010 19:58:21 +0000

Midsized. Family sedans. D Segment. Camccords. Whatever you call them, they did pretty well last month, with only the Camry losing year-over-year volume.

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New Or Used?: Midsized Madness Edition Tue, 04 May 2010 14:53:55 +0000

Kevin Writes:

My sister’s current car, ’98 Nissan Altima A/T 180k Miles, recently came back from the mechanic where she received the unfortunate news that expensive repairs were in her near to immediate future. She’s been toying with the idea of purchasing a new car for the past year or so, and the recent news of dropping 2k into a car of such age and mileage finally has made her expedite her search. As such, she came to the knowledgeable “car guy” in the family… yours truly. She is looking for something reasonably inexpensive (roughly 25k max), automatic, four-door sedan, decent m.p.g., and most importantly excellent reliability with the intention of keeping the car for 10 or so years. Together we have narrowed down the choices to the following: Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, VW Jetta, and the Ford Fusion. I’m personally leaning towards the Altima, but am unsure of the long-term reliability and cost of replacing/repairing the CVT. She liked the Fusion as well, but is being cautious on the reliability of a car on a newer platform.

My questions are as follows:

1) Out of those 4 choices and the aforementioned criteria, what would you rank each choice?

2) Are there particular problem areas or concerns that lead you to choose one over another? IE: VW electrical gremlins, Toyota sludge issues, other expensive out-of-warranty repairs, etc.

Sajeev Answers:

Let’s remove the outlier: parts, service and reliability of a VW Jetta (or any European car) are significantly worse than average. The Nissan’s CVT is still up in the air, replacement cost may be pricey but they’ve yet to be condemned like the Ultradrive autoboxes in Chrysler K-cars or the head gaskets in a 3.8-liter Taurus.

It’s not a stretch to say the other cars presented are in the “splitting hairs” category. If a 2005 Camry or a 2007 Fusion had a problem verified with millions of miles of research, the factory, suppliers and dealerships could very well fix it by 2010. Odds are someone in the organization knew that problem could surface, and the “fix” is already waiting in the wings. Every company has implemented (some sort of) agile development methodology: JD Power and Consumer Reports’ ambiguous formulas and bullshit metrics be damned.

Put another way, ask me for this week’s winning lottery numbers instead. Fact is everything gets cranky when old. Late model V6 Hondas eat automatic transmissions like cotton candy at the state fair. Mazdas are rustbuckets, Toyotas sludge up and accelerate unintentionally, Ford’s cruise control catches on fire and Nissans self-implode. None of these problems were obvious as new cars, or even when slightly used. And owners are in the dark until the warranty expires, people come together for a class action lawsuit, or after being screwed by ruthless/ignorant mechanics for the last time. Do your sister a favor and put her in the car that puts the biggest smile on her face.

Steve answers:

Aaahhh… the 180k overall. A time when you usually need new belts, a tensioner, a water pump, tranny fluid change, and a tune-up. I’m sure there are other small issues besides the normal maintenance. But the Generation IV Maximas (1995-1998) are among the most indestructible vehicles out there. In fact they always go for very stiff premiums at the auctions. So if your sister wants to invest the leftover $23,000 and drive a car that should easily last another seven years or so, she has that choice. I would personally invest the money and spend maybe a grand upgrading the look of the vehicle if it’s needed. But….

Common sense always succumbs to the fear of the unknown. Speaking of which I don’t know if the tranny or engine are on their last legs. If she must take the path of least resistance I would consider:

Toyota Camry (for the non-enthusiast)

Ford Fusion (for the nicest interior)

Nissan Altima (for the driving experience)

VW Jetta (for the diesel)

Or if she is truly apathetic when it comes to cars, you can get the remnants of the last generation Sonata. I like that far better than a Camry. The Mazda 6 doesn’t suffer from a CVT and it rides on rails. Finally you can buy an awful lot of Euro sportiness if you get a one to two year old version of a $40,000 to $50,000 car. Plus you can have a longer warranty and a far better driving experience than anything mentioned. So if she must spend… let her seek out a car with 80% of it’s life for 50% of the price. Make sure she gets a CPO warranty and enjoy the ride. Either that or fix the Maxima and get one step closer to financial independence.

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Comparison Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Versus 2010 Toyota Camry XLE Wed, 21 Apr 2010 16:24:25 +0000

Driving enthusiasts love to hate the Toyota Camry. Yet, despite the company’s current troubles, it remains the best-selling car in the United States. Hyundai would love to steal the crown, or at least tens of thousands of customers. So it recently launched a totally redesigned 2011 Sonata and will be advertising it heavily. Should Toyota be concerned?

Both the young (my kids) and the old (my parents) were captivated by the beauty of the Camry. Not the sheetmetal, mind you. They probably didn’t notice the shape of the car. The bulbous exterior was a great leap forward for a Camry four years ago—engineers might have designed the previous generation sedan—but at this point it is a generation behind current automotive fashion. The good angles it does possess (not the front view even with this year’s redesigned grille) have been overexposed through its omnipresence. And the XLE’s small, multispoked alloys don’t flatter the car—the SE looks considerably better. Rather, my family was captivated by the paint, a highly metallic dark green.

The Sonata’s paint options are relatively ordinary. But its swoopy exterior design marks a sharp departure from that of the handsome but utterly forgettable 2006-2010 Sonata. What the Mercedes-Benz CLS did for luxury sedans—bring coupe-like style to the segment—Hyundai hopes to do for midsize family sedans. Some resemblance can be seen to various luxury sedans (CLS, A6, ES), but Hyundai has also taken far more risks here than with the Genesis. An arching roofline, a couple of strong, curving character lines, and a ribbon of chrome trim that connects the beltline to the headlights could have combined in the side view to form a complicated mess. And yet these design elements manage to form a whole that is both cohesive and distinctive, and at once upscale and sporty. Even the fashionably oversized grille works. Most important of all: unlike the Genesis sedan, the new Sonata stands out on a crowded road—even without fancy paint. In comparison, the Toyota looks stodgy.

Upholstered in light gray leather, the Camry XLS interior includes nothing analogous to the exterior’s paint. Its design is thoroughly conventional circa 2006. One exception: the audio controls to the right of the nav screen are a bit of a reach, a common sin these days.

As with the exterior, the new Sonata’s interior is much more up-to-date and stylish than the Camry’s. The instrument panel includes some artful curves, but is cleanly designed. All of the buttons are easy to reach, and they helpfully vary in shape and size. As with the exterior, Hyundai appears to have benchmarked luxury sedans rather than other family sedans. Controls beneath the nav screen mimic an Infiniti’s, while the climate controls mimic a Volvo’s. The anthropomorphic control for directing airflow is just a single button rather than the three found in a Volvo, though, so it captures the Swede’s style more than its functionality. After sampling all three trim levels—cloth GLS, cloth/leather SE (sport), and leather Limited, the last is easily the most attractive. For those who want an escape from black, gray, and beige, wine-colored hides are offered.

Interior materials are of similar quality in both cars: not bad, but you’re clearly not in a luxury car. The Toyota has higher-quality switchgear, but its glossy “wood” is too obviously plastic and the silver-painted trim covering the center stack doesn’t even pretend to be aluminum. Perhaps because it was tailored for the European market, the interior in Hyundai’s new Tucson feels more solid and tightly constructed than that in either of these sedans.

The steering wheels deserve special consideration. Prior to the Genesis, Hyundai upholstered its cars’ steering wheels with the world’s slickest leather. With the Genesis they seemed to have finally realized that the point of having leather on the steering wheel is to make it easier to grip, not to help it slip through one’s fingers. But with the new Sonata they’ve backslid. The artfully designed steering wheel has a rim composed of three different materials: urethane on the outer sides, slippery leather from 10 to 2 o’clock and from 5 to 7, and, inside the lower perimeter, the sort of rubberized plastic that tended to wear poorly in MkIV Jettas. The last was already badly worn on one of the tested cars. None of the materials is well-suited to the task, and three is two too many. A good steering wheel has one material, a grippy leather, all the way around the rim–like the one in the Camry.

The Camry doesn’t have great front seats, but they’re both more supportive and more comfortable than those in the Sonata. With the Sonata, the feel of the seat varies quite a bit depending on whether the center panel upholstery is cloth, as in the GLS and SE, or leather, as in the Limited. The leather seats feel firmer, and you sit noticeably higher in them, or rather on them. With either upholstery the side bolsters quickly surrender when called upon to provide lateral support. The Camry’s side bolsters failed me less, but then I asked less of them. 

Some other car reviews will tell you that the Sonata’s new coupe-like roofline cost the sedan 2.8 inches of rear legroom compared to the previous generation car. What they fail to notice: maximum front legroom increased by 1.8 inches—which is sure to delight long-legged drivers (with a 30-inch inseam, I’m not one). So rear legroom is only down by an inch, and still fairly plentiful. Rear headroom, not quite so much. Tall passengers will have the scrunch down or sit up front. Other than this, the rear seat is perhaps more comfortable than the front seat. It’s a decent height off the floor, the backrest provides a healthy amount of lumbar support, and in the Limited it’s even heated.

The Camry’s back seat is even better, with a little more room, a little more height off the floor, and, in the XLE, manual recliners. The price of the manual recliners: unlike in the base Camry and the Sonata, the rear seat doesn’t fold to expand the trunk. Both cars have usefully commodious trunks that are moderately compromised by conventional gooseneck hinges and constricted openings. In both the Camry XLE and Sonata Limited, but not in lesser trims, rear seat passengers get their own air vents, a welcome feature on hot sunny days.

The tested Camry was fitted with a 268-horsepower DOHC 3.5-liter V6. Hyundai will offer no V6 in the new Sonata, we’re told to shave 100 pounds off the curb weight (a commendably light 3,199 pounds with the automatic). And a 274-horsepower turbo four won’t arrive until fall. So the cars I drove were fitted with a 198-horsepower direct-injected DOHC 2.4-liter four (200 with the SE’s dual exhaust). Not an even match, so just a few words on each.

The Camry’s V6 engine is easily the most entertaining aspect of the car. It’s smooth, powerful, and makes lusty noises when prodded. But there’s really little point to it in this car. The Camry simply doesn’t ask to be pushed hard enough to render the four-cylinder insufficient. Then again, Detroit’s specialty used to be overpowered cars with soft suspensions and over-boosted steering, and perhaps there’s still a market for this combination.

The Sonata’s new engine is, like the related port-injected unit in the new Tucson, very smooth and quiet for a four. Even held at 4,500 RPM using the automatic’s manual shift feature it’s not loud, and it never sounds rough. The previous generation four sounds and feels uncivilized in comparison, and it’s not a bad engine. The loud clacking typical of high-pressure injectors can be heard when outside the Sonata, but not when inside it. Thrust is a bit soft up to about 25 miles-per-hour, beyond which point the engine feels fairly energetic, if not a substitute for a V6. Few buyers will need more power or refinement than this four offers. The others can wait a few months for the turbo.

The Camry’s engine provides good fuel economy for a powerful V6, about 22 around town. But the Hyundai’s new four is outstanding in this regard, earning a class-leading 22/35 MPG from the EPA. Driven along rural roads, I observed 35 MPG for one segment, and low 30s overall. So the EPA numbers don’t seem to have been cheated. A hybrid arrives in the fall, but it seems pointless unless most driving involves frequent stops.

Both the Camry and Sonata are fitted with six-speed automatics that usually shift smoothly and behave well. One minor demerit for the Hyundai’s box: it slightly lugs the engine at times, no doubt to maximize fuel economy. Those whose ears aren’t sensitive to low frequency sounds will never notice.

The Camry and Sonata drive about as differently as they look. The first thing you’ll notice when setting off in the Camry: it feels extremely smooth and quiet, clearly the result of lessons learned when developing Lexus. Bumps effect some head toss at moderate speeds, but overall the Toyota’s ride could hardly be more comfortable. Unfortunately, the focus on isolation extends to the steering. It’s far too light, lacks a strong sense of direction, and (aside from some kickback) is devoid of feel. A shame, because even in XLE trim the chassis is more composed than in previous non-sport Camrys. A firm, even overly firm, suspension is standard in the Camry SE.

The three trims of the Sonata all drive differently. The GLS’s higher-profile 16-inch tires are noisier than the Limited’s 17s and harm the car’s ride and handling. Paired with steelies, they’re begging for a mod. The SE’s 18s are also noisier than the Limited’s 17s, and together with a firmer suspension yield a busy, occasionally unsettled ride. If the SE handled much better than the Limited the ride penalty might be worth it, but it doesn’t. The Limited handles nearly as well as the SE, and rides more quietly and much more smoothly. Add in its more attractive interior and additional features, and the Limited is easily the best of the three trims. If you want a Sonata, you want a Sonata Limited.

Still, compared to the Camry XLE, the Sonata Limited isn’t as quiet or as smooth. It’s the difference between good, even very good, and great. The Camry feels like a premium car through the seat of one’s pants and the drums of one’s ears. The Sonata does not quite manage the same. On the other hand, the Sonata’s steering, while nearly as devoid of feel as the Camry’s, isn’t overly light, is nicely weighted, and has a clear sense of direction. As a result, even down two cylinders the Hyundai is more engaging and fun to drive (such things being relative).

In the end, the Camry cannot escape its advancing age. It does a few things extremely well, and most other things very well, but its steering is far too light and its styling is bland and dated. With the new Sonata, Hyundai has avoided competing with the Camry head on. The Sonata isn’t as smooth, as quiet, or as comfortable, but it has better steering and is more fun to drive. But will many midsize sedan buyers notice or care about the difference in how the cars steer? Maybe, maybe not. But they’ll certainly notice how the new Sonata looks. A Hyundai that sells because of how it looks—who saw this coming? Now if only Hyundai offered some eye-catching green paint…

Toyota and Hyundai provided the vehicles, insurance and one tank of gas each for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of auto reliability and pricing data

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New York: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Turbo Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:51:54 +0000

Hyundai’s Sonata would be a quantum leap forward for the Korean firm under any circumstances, but with a direct-injected standard model, a new hybrid model and now a twin-scroll turbocharged model, it also offers three of the hottest technologies in the business today. The turbo version makes 274 hp, 269 lb-ft of torque while still achieving an estimated 22/34 mpg, making it a V6-free performance option in the crowded midsized segment. Too bad it won’t be available with a manual transmission.

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Review: Ford Fusion SEL 3.0 V6 Wed, 02 Dec 2009 15:56:40 +0000 fusionsefront

When it comes to the freshened 2010 Ford Fusion, TTAC’s got you covered like Alan Mulally’s life insurance policy. Over the past few months, no fewer than three full-length reviews have served up our impressions of the base gasoline 4-cylinder SE (with manual trans, no less), the hot-rod AWD 3.5-liter V6 Sport model, and even the much-lauded Fusion Hybrid planet-saver. Interestingly, the mid-line FWD 3.0 V6 SEL model has somehow escaped our scrutiny. Until now.

Devoid of the 3.5 Sport model’s lower body cladding and the Hybrid’s prominent “I-care-more-than-you” exterior badging, the 3.0 SEL Fusion provides an uncluttered look at the 2010 model’s across-the-board spruced-up styling.  Profile-wise, not much has changed, and the attractive basic shape of the car remains thankfully intact. The front end, however, alerts us to a possible clearance sale at the fake plastic chrome warehouse. Yeah, there are loads of ’06–’09 Fusions on the road, and it was very important for Ford to highlight the new model with some clear exterior differentiation. But take it from someone who loves Eisenhower-era levels of chrome—the previous-gen Fusion took the brightwork ratio to the good-taste max—on this car it just looks excessive and inauthentic. You can sidestep this styling blunder by selecting the $900 Monochrome Appearance Package (only available in certain colors); however, in transitioning to body color, the grille gives the whole front end a much duller Camry-esque appearance.fusionseside

Less controversially, the rear end’s treatment works well for a mid-cycle update and cohesively embodies a little resemblance with another member of the Ford Family of Fine cars. Unfortunately, that member is the aging, down-market Focus. Still, despite its aesthetic shortcomings, the Fusion looks better than the frumpy Camry (if not the Bimmer rip-off Accord) and is by no means ass(tek)-ugly.

When the Fusion nameplate debuted five years ago, critics were largely taken with an interior so original that it seemed to minimize the cheapness of its abundant hard plastic. The 2010 refresh offers more sound-deadening, softer-touch surfaces, and more comfortable seats. Regrettably, it loses some of the individuality of the previous car’s cabin, and the new materials are now merely on par with the competition—they never fully distract from the fact that you’re a long way from Audi-ville. Still, compared with a new Camry I recently drove, I can confidently say that the Fusion doesn’t give up anything to its main competitor in interior fit and finish and actually edges it out ergonomically with terrific primary controls, a large, well-positioned infotainment screen, and clever interior storage. But what’s up with the distracting blue instrument cluster?

Where the Camry (and other competitors) do outpace the Fusion is in the area of perceived interior space. Actually, the Fusion isn’t much smaller, but it seems like it is, especially in the back. Thankfully, the rear seats are comfortable and rear leg room feels more substantial than it looks, a welcome attribute when compared to many competitors’ uncomfortable, short-cushioned rear seats that only conjure the illusion of ample stretch-out space.

Speaking of stretch-out space, a long ribbon of open interstate seems like just the place for the 19-horsepower richer (for a total of 240)—but still fairly relaxed—3.0 Duratec V6. It seems that Ford has recently discovered a way to add more power to vehicles while masking the enjoyment inherent to such augmentations, and other than straight-line slab-cruising, it’s hard to imagine getting excited over this mill in any type of driving.  Everything is more refined here than in last year’s model; even without the stabilizing benefit of AWD, torque-steer is kept at bay, and even the hardest acceleration comes off relatively drama-free. While it doesn’t rev as smoothly or as quickly as its rising-sun rivals, the 2010 Duratec 3.0 is a lot more polished than last year’s version, only showing its five-o’clock shadow at revs north of five grand.

fusionseintI guess it’s hard to argue with progress, but the slightly raspier, less isolated 221-horse unit from the 2009 model I drove several months back seemed more enjoyable overall.  Ford would probably say that’s what the new-for-2010 Fusion 3.5 Sport is for, but should the potential for enthusiastic driving always be an extra-cost option?

Another enthusiasm-curber is the new Fusion’s chassis, which sadly follows the Camcord’s glazed-eyeball approach to steering and suspension tuning. The electric power steering is less responsive than the previous generation’s hydraulic system, though on-center feel and tracking are still better than the Camry (if not the Accord or Mazda 6). The suspension tuning is full-bore boring: it’s not floaty or unpoised, but it is several notches less exciting than the outgoing Fusion’s slightly sporty demeanor.

Pouring the Fusion into tight corners at 50–60 MPH reveals a car that feels like it corners worse than it really does and like it’s a lot bigger than it really is. Not that this is unsettling, just unremarkable. As evidenced by the few mid-corner steering corrections I had to make and the lack of untoward body motions I noticed, the new Fusion prescribes to Swiss levels of neutrality in all but the most immoderate hustles: you don’t have to fight abominable understeer or anything like that, but you occasionally think you might. I guess it speaks fairly well of the (not completely disable-able) stability system’s calibration that, even when switched on, it has a relatively high threshold of non-interference. But confidence inspiring it wasn’t. And fun it wasn’t. Picture doing some spirited driving in a rental car and that about sums it up.

Despite the reduction in motoring mirth, the 2010 Fusion is an excellent automobile and will almost assuredly serve thousands of owners very well for many years. Ford should be praised for building an honest, reliable car that’s every bit as good (and in some ways better) than the perennial leaders in this market segment—something Dearborn hasn’t done since the Taurus’ ill-fated 1996 re-design. However, the company should be rightfully criticized for making a very good product better but less fun to drive, which was an attribute that previously set the Fusion apart in its class and does so no longer.

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