The Truth About Cars » New Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:47:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » New Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-volkswagen-e-golf-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-volkswagen-e-golf-video/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 19:24:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1037841 Because I live in California, it seemed only fitting that my first taste of the new Golf arrived in electric form: the 2015 VW e-Golf. (Why e-Golf? Because “Golfe” just sounded silly.) The Golf isn’t just the first Volkswagen EV in the US, it’s also the first VW built on the new MQB platform which […]

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2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-001

Because I live in California, it seemed only fitting that my first taste of the new Golf arrived in electric form: the 2015 VW e-Golf. (Why e-Golf? Because “Golfe” just sounded silly.) The Golf isn’t just the first Volkswagen EV in the US, it’s also the first VW built on the new MQB platform which promises reduced weight and lower development costs. While MQB isn’t a dedicated EV platform like Nissan’s LEAF, it was designed to support electrification from the start rather than being converted like the Fiat 500e. While that may sound like a quibble, the difference is noticeable as the e-Golf feels like a regular VW that happens to be electric. The e-Golf also demonstrates just how rapidly EVs have evolved since the LEAF launched in 2010.

Exterior

Volkswagen has always been a company that prefers restrained elegance when it comes to design and the new Golf is no different. While some described the look as boring, I generally appreciate design evolution more than design revolution because the latter leads to products like the Aztek. The downside to VW’s design evolution is that the Golf doesn’t look all that different from the last Golf, but VW owners tell me that’s how they like it. Park it next to the last VW hatch and you will notice a difference. The 2015 model is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor with a longer hood and a shorter front overhang. The result is a more grown-up hatch than ever before that also schleps more stuff than ever before.

For EV duty, VW swaps in their first US-bound LED headlamps, and (according to a product announcement released when we had the e-Golf) will swap them back out if you opt for the new starting trim of the e-Golf which is coming soon. We also get a revised DRL strip of LEDs curving around the front bumper that gives the electric version a distinctive look in your rear-view mirror. Finishing off the transformation are blue accents here and there, EV specific wheels and unique badging. From a functional standpoint, the electrically heated windshield (ala Volvo and Land Rover) helps reduce energy consumption by heating the glass directly instead of heating the air and blowing it on the glass.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior.CR2

Interior

Changes to the new interior are as subtle as the exterior. It was only after sitting in a 2012 Golf that I realized that parts sharing appears to be somewhere near zero. Although the shapes are similar, everything has been tweaked to look more cohesive and more up-scale. The console flows better from the climate controls, infotainment screen and knick-knack storage all the way to the armrest. The dashboard design is smoother and more Audiesque and the door panels have improved fit and finish with slightly nicer plastics. Keeping in mind that the Golf competes with the Hyundai Elantra GT, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Chevy Sonic, and Fiat 500L, this is easily the best interior in this class.

When it comes to the e-Golf things get murky. Since most auto companies have just one EV model, the electric Golf competes with a more varied competitive set spanning from the Spark EV and 500e to the BMW i3 and Mercedes B-Class Electric. In this competitive set, the VW still shines with an interior that isn’t that far off the B-Class or the i3 in real terms. The only oddity here is that the e-Golf does not offer leather in any configuration. The new base model gets cloth seats which are comfortable and attractive but the top end trim we tested uses leatherette which is attractive but doesn’t breathe as well as leather or cloth. Breathability is a problem the Spark’s leatherette seats also suffer from and is especially important in an EV where you frequently limit AC usage to improve range. Kia’s Soul EV is a stand-out in this area by offering real leather and ventilated seats which consume less power than running the AC.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-0031

Infotainment

The redesign of the Golf includes a refresh of VW’s infotainment lineup. Sadly however, this is the one area where revolution would have been preferable to evolution. The VW infotainment software, even in our up-level unit with nav, still lags behind the competition. The unit features expanded voice commands, finger gestures (like scrolling), snappier navigation software and a proximity sensor to clean up the interface when your digits aren’t near the screen. Most of the system’s graphics have been improved and the media interface is more attractive than before. Sadly however the system still lacks the ability to voice command your media library and the screen is notably smaller than the huge 8-inch screen in the Kia Soul.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges

Instead of giving EV models a funky disco-dash like most EVs, VW keeps the four-dial analog cluster  and monochromatic multi-information display with a few changes. Instead of a tachometer we get a sensible power meter showing how much oomph you are commanding. Instead of an engine temperature gauge VW drops in an “available power” gauge that tells you how much power you can draw from the battery pack. In cold weather, or when the battery is too hot or too cold the discharge rate will slow.

I appreciate the simplistic gauge cluster, it’s classier than disco-dash in the LEAF while displaying essentially the same information. On the downside, the rest of the e-Golf’s systems lack the EV-specific features we have come to expect in EVs and hybrids. The extent of the EV information in the infotainment system is a single screen that shows your range. Most of the competition provides insight into how much energy your vehicle’s systems are consuming, how much additional range you’d get by turning your AC off or how long your battery would take to charge on various power sources. In fact the only way you’d know how long the e-Golf would take to charge is by plugging it in and reading the display that flashes the time to charge briefly. For more information VW directs you to their smartphone app, but those looking for a more integrated solution should look elsewhere.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Motor-001

Drivetrain

Powering the e-Golf is a 115 HP synchronous AC motor capable of delivering 199 lb-ft of torque at low RPMs. That’s 55 fewer ponies, but the same amount of torque as the regular Golf’s 1.8L turbo engine. Logically the performance is lazy when compared to the turbo Golf thanks as much to the single-speed transmission as to the added weight of the e-Golf’s battery pack. 60MPH happens in a Prius-like 10.03 seconds, about 2-seconds slower than the TSI. Because the MQB platform was designed with EVs and hybrids in mind, the large 24.2 kWh (estimated 21.1 kWh usable) battery fits entirely under the vehicle with no intrusion in the passenger compartment and little overall compromise in terms of cargo capacity.

Early reports indicated that VW was going to liquid cool the battery pack like GM does in their EVs but the production e-Golf uses a passive battery cooling system instead. VW engineers tell us that the lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) cells from Panasonic lend themselves well to packs of this nature and it ultimately helps them reduce weight and complexity. Like most manufacturers VW will warrant the pack for 8 years and 100,000 miles against capacity drop larger than 30%. This means that your EPA range starts at 83 miles and would have to drop to around 53 miles in that window to get it repaired or replaced.

Charging is always a concern with EV shoppers so VW dropped in one of the faster chargers available (7.2kW) which can charge the battery in three hours if you have an appropriate 240V EVSE. Should you have access to one of the new SAE DC Fast Charge stations (also known as CCS), you can zip from 0-80% in under 30 minutes. On the downside, finding a CCS station proved a little tricky in the SF Bay Area where the older competing CHAdeMO standard is more common by at least 5:1. On the up-side if you can find a station it’s unlikely to be occupied since there are few vehicles on the road that support the new connector.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges-001Drive

According to VW, our e-Golf tips the scales at a svelte 3,391 lbs with 701 of that coming from the battery pack. For those that are counting, that’s only 300lbs heavier than the carbon fiber and aluminum BMW i3 REx which is significantly more expensive and actually has a smaller battery and 359lbs heavier than the Golf TSI. I should also mention that the Golf also scores better in crash tests than BMW’s light weight EV. In addition to being light for an EV, the weight is more evenly distributed than in the gasoline Golf. VW has not released exact details, but the pre-production Golf EV had a perfect 50:50 weight balance and that’s likely true for the 2015 e-Golf as well.

Although VW puts 205-width low rolling resistance tires on the e-Golf, it actually handles better than the base Golf TSI. Some of that is because the TSI gets 195s in base form, but the lower center of gravity and the improved weight balance play a large role as well. This means that unlike other EV conversions, the electric Golf isn’t the least fun trim, it actually ends up middle of the pack between the base Golf and top end TSI and TDI trims. The improved balance is obvious in neutral handling where the EV plows less than the base Golf. The added weight has a positive impact on the ride which seemed a hair more refined than the TSI a dealer lent for comparison. Steering is typical modern VW: moderately firm and accurate but lacking any real feedback.

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Charging Connector

Pricing on the e-Golf initially started and ended at $35,445 due to VW’s one-trim strategy. If you qualify for the highest tax incentives available (state and local) the price drops to an effective $25,445. That’s only a hair more than a comparable gasoline model (the e-Golf SEL Premium’s feature set slots between the TSI S and TSI SE model) but higher than many of the recent mass market EVs. To solve this VW announced the arrival of the “Limited Edition” which cuts $1,995 from the price tag by de-contenting. Cloth seats replace the leatherette (I actually think that’s an upgrade), the LED headlamps are dropped and steel wheels replace the 16-inch alloys. None of those changes are a deal-breaker for me, unfortunately however the last thing on the chopping block is the heat pump. Heat pumps are much more efficient than resistive heating elements so this will mean reduced range in colder climates.

The e-Golf is less of a compromise than the 4-seat Spark and a better deal than the 4-seat i3. Nissan’s LEAF provides a little more passenger and cargo room for less, but the trade-offs include lackluster handling, fewer features and a much slower charger. When cross-shopping Fiat’s 500e you realize just how large the Golf has grown over the years. As you’d expect in a segment that is evolving this rapidly, the toughest competition is found in the other new model: the 2015 Kia Soul EV. Priced from $33,700-35,700 (before incentives) the Soul is slightly more expensive than the VW but you get considerably more for your money. The delta is most pronounced in the Soul EV + which gets real leather, cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, power folding mirrors, an 8-inch touchscreen, and about 20% more battery capacity for $225. Highlighting Kia’s deft hand at cutting the right corners, you will notice that the Soul forgoes LED headlamps, the heated windscreen and has a slightly slower charger. As impressive as the e-Golf’s curb weight is, the Soul EV manages to be a hair lighter at 3,289lbs despite the bigger battery, this weight reduction and deeper gearing allow the Soul EV to scoot to 60 one second faster. This leaves me with a split decision, the e-Golf is the better car but the Soul is the better EV with a longer range, EV focused infotainment software and niceties like the cooled seats and heated steering wheel that extend range by reducing your HVAC consumption. If VW adds a third model sporting cooled seats, real leather and drops back in the gas-Golf’s power seats, they’d have a solid alternative to the Soul EV and even the Mercedes B-Class. Just be sure to check with your tax professional before depending on those EV credits and rebates.

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and a charged battery for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.44 Seconds

0-60: 10.03 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 82 MPH

Average Economy: 4.3 Mi/kWh

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Cargo Area.CR2 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Cargo Area 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Cargo Area1 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Charging Connector SAE CCS DC Fast Charge 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Charging Connector 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior.CR2-001 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior.CR2-002 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior.CR2-003 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-001 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior1 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-002 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-003 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-004 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-005 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-0011 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-0021 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-0031 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-0041 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-0051 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges-001 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior.CR2 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior.CR2-001 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-001 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior1 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-002 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-003 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-004 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-005 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-006 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-007 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-008 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-009 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-010 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-0031 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior-0041 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Motor 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Motor-001 2015 Volkswagen eGolf Wheel.CR2

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Review: 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender aka i3 REx (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-bmw-i3-range-extender-aka-i3-rex-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-bmw-i3-range-extender-aka-i3-rex-video/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 16:24:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1018290 Some call it a hybrid, some call it an EV. Some have called it a REx, a BEVx, a landmark vehicle in EV production, and others simply call it ugly. One things is for sure however, the 2015 BMW i3 turns more heads in Northern California than a Tesla Model S. Not since I last […]

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2015 BMW i3 Range Extender
Some call it a hybrid, some call it an EV. Some have called it a REx, a BEVx, a landmark vehicle in EV production, and others simply call it ugly. One things is for sure however, the 2015 BMW i3 turns more heads in Northern California than a Tesla Model S. Not since I last drove the Jaguar XKR-S have I received as many questions while parked at the gas pump, or visited a gas pump so frequently, but I digress. In a nutshell, the i3 is technically a hybrid or an EV depending on the version you get.

 

BEVx

The “hybrid” i3 isn’t the kind of hybrid you’re used to, this is an all-new classification of car defined by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as a “Battery Electric Vehicle with Range eXtender” or BEVx. BEVx is the key to understanding why the i3 operates the way that it does and why the Euro version operates differently.

California has decided (for better or worse) that some 22% of cars sold in the state must be zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) by 2025. While that sounds straightforward, nothing cooked up by the government and lobbyists can ever be easy. Rather than an actual percentage of cars sold, CARB created a credit system where an alphabet soup of classifications (PZEV, AT-PZEV, TZEV, etc) get partial credits and true ZEVs can get multiple credits. Into this complicated world came the unicorn that is the BEVx. Despite having a gasoline burning engine, BEVxs get the same credits as a vehicle with the same range and no dinosaur-burner. The distinction is important and critical. If the BEVx requirements are met, the i3 gets the same 2.5 credits as the i3 EV, if not it would get a fractional credit just like a regular Prius. The requirements are: the fossil fuel range must be less or equal to the EV range, EV range but be at least 80 miles, the battery must deplete to a low level before the generator kicks in and may not be charged above that level. In addition the fossil fuel generator or APU must meet CA’s SULEV emissions standards and have a long battery warranty. There’s one important catch: the carpool stickers. While BMW gets to have the i3 REx treated like an EV for credits, i3 REx owners are treated like hybrid owners for the carpool sticker program. The EV model gets the coveted (and unlimited) white carpool lane stickers, while the REx gets the same quantity-limited green stickers as the Chevy Volt. If CA follows course, the green sticker program will eventually sunset like the yellow-sticker hybrid program did in 2011.

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-004

Construction

The i3 is about more than just ZEV credits, it’s about putting new materials and processes into production for real drivers to experience with some funky modern style tossed in for good measure. In some ways the i3 is a return to body-on-frame construction, you see this is not a 100% carbon fiber car as some have incorrectly said.

The i3 is composed of two distinct parts. On the bottom is the drive module which is an aluminum chassis that holds the drivetrain, suspension, battery and crash structures. Connected to the drive module is the “life module” which is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic or CFRP. While obviously a little heavier than a car made entirely out of CFRP, the aluminum crash structure is more easily repaired in the event of a minor collision. The result is an EV that tips the scales about a cupcake shy of a Mazda MX-5 with an automatic transmission (2,634 pounds). Adding the range extender adds just 330 more. That’s about 370lbs lighter than the already impressive 3,000 pound (approximate) curb weight of VW’s new eGolf.

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior Turn Signal

Exterior

Up front the i3 gets a familiar BMW roundel and a blue interpretation of the signature kidney grill. What’s different about the i3 is that the kidney isn’t used for cooling, even in the range extending version. The biggest departures from BMW norms however are the headlamps which lack the “angel eye” rings BMW has been known for and the high beams that are placed lower in the facia. (No, those are not fog lamps.) Regardless of the trim or paint color you choose, the hood, lower valance, side trim and rear hatch will always be black.

The side view generated the most head turns due to the undulating greenhouse and “pinched” look to the rear windows. I didn’t find the look unattractive, but it does reduce rearward visibility in what is ostensibly a practical city car. Out back the hatch is composed of two sheets of glass, one for the rear windscreen and the other forms the “body” of the hatch and actually covers the tail lamp modules creating a very sleek look. Turn the steering wheel and passers-by will immediately forget about the pinched greenhouse and focus on the tires. Yes, they are as skinny as they look, but the proportion is the real key to the “bicycle wheel” look as one passenger called it. Our tester was shod with 155/70R19 tires up front and 175/70R19 in back. For reference a Toyota Sienna uses a T155 tire as a spare. Thinking critically, there have been plenty of cars with tires this narrow, but I can’t think of a single one where the width combined with a nearly flat wheel that was 19 or 20 inches across.

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior Seats Doors Open

Interior

Freed from the usual front-engine, rear-drive layout of every other BMW, the Germans decided to reinvent the cabin. Because the drive module under the cabin houses the majority of the crash structure, the CFRP body was built without a structural pillar between the front and rear seats. The suicide door design means that getting in and out of the rear seat is surprisingly easy, as long as you haven’t parked too close to another vehicle. Without the transmission tunnel the HVAC system was pushed as far forward as possible allowing the driver and front passenger’s footwell to become merged. (There are just two floor-mats, one up front and one in back.)

The doors aren’t the only unusual thing about the i3’s interior, the design is decidedly Euro-funky. From the steering column mounted shifter to the “floating” iDrive display and glove box on the “top” of the dash rather than the front, the i3 designers went out of their way to think out of the box. The concept-car like theme doesn’t stop at shapes, the materials are a little unusual as well. The upholstery in our model was a wool/recycled-plastic blend fabric and the dashboard and door panels are made from a bioplastic reinforced with kneaf fibers (a kind of jute.) Front seat comfort proved excellent despite lacking adjustable lumbar support. The rear of the i3 was surprisingly accommodating, able to handle six-foot tall folks without issue. Because the dash is so shallow, a rear facing child seat can be positioned behind that six-foot person without issue. As with other small EVs on the market, the i3 is a strict four-seater. My only disappointment inside was the small LCD instrument cluster (shown below) which is notably smaller than the i3’s own infotainment/navigation LCD.

Under the hood of the i3 you’ll find a small storage area (also called a “frunk”) that houses the tire inflater and the 120V EVSE cable. The i3’s frunk is not watertight like you’ll find in the Tesla Model S, so don’t put your tax paperwork inside on your way to the IRS audit in the rain. Cargo capacity behind the rear seats comes in at 11.8 cubes, about the same as your average subcompact hatch. Getting the i3 sans range extender won’t increase your cargo capacity as the area where the range extender fits remains off limits from your luggage.

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Instrument Cluster

Drivetrain

Being a rear wheel drive electric car, the i3’s motor is located under the cargo floor in the back. With 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque on tap, the i3 is one of the more powerful EVs on the market. The light curb weight and gearing in the single-speed transmission allow a 6.5 second sprint to 60 in the EV and 7.0 in the REx. Powering all the fun is a 22kWh (18.8 kWh usable) battery pack in the “drive module” coupled to a 7.4kW charger capable of charging the car completely in just over 2.5 hours on AC. Should you need more electrons faster, you can opt for the new SAE DC-Fast-Charge connector capable of getting you from zero to 80% in under 30 minutes. 18.8kWh sounds much smaller than the  37kWh Tesla battery in the Mercedes B-class, but the i3 is much more efficient putting their range figures just 5 miles apart at 80-100 miles for the EV and 70-90 for the REx.

Next to the motor is the optional range extender. It’s a 34 peak horsepower 0.65L 2-cylinder engine derived from one of BMW’s motorcycle powerplants. Permanently to a generator, it can supply power to the motor, or charge the battery until it hits about 6%. The 1.9 US gallon gas tank is capable of powering the small engine for an additional 70-80 miles depending on your driving style. There is no mechanical connection at all between the engine and the wheels. Think of the battery as a ballast tank, you can pull 170 HP out whenever you want, but the supply refilling the ballast flows at a maximum of 34. This means that it is entirely possible to drain the battery and have just 34 HP left to motivate your car.

Battery Flow

Sounds like the Volt you say? Yes and no. The Volt is more of a plug-in hybrid with some software tweaks and the i3 is a range extending EV. I know that sounds like splitting hairs but some of this comes down to the way GM decided to market the Volt when it launched. The Volt’s transaxle and 2-motor/generator system is actually much closer to the Ford/Toyota hybrid design than anything else on the market. Because of that design it can operate as an EV, as a serial hybrid or as a parallel hybrid. Interestingly enough however, maximum performance happens in gas-burning mode, just like the plug-in Prius and plug-in Ford Energi products. With the i3 however, performance is always the same (unless the battery is totally dead.) Also in the Volt you can opt to “reserve” your EV capacity for later, and that isn’t allowed in US bound i3 models (you can in Europe) in order to get that coveted BEVx classification.

Technically speaking, it is possible for any hybrid (i3 included) to enter a “limp mode” where the battery is depleted and all you have left is the gasoline engine. The difference is what you have left when this happens. The i3 has far less oomph in this situation than even the 80 HP Volt, 98 HP Prius or 141 HP in the Fusion/C-Max Energi.

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Shifter

Drive

The i3’s steering is precise and quick with just 2.5 turns lock-to-lock and the turning circle is 10% smaller than a MINI Cooper at 32-feet. Due to the combination of a fast steering ratio, narrow tires, electric steering assist and the incredibly light curb weight, the i3 can feel twitchy on the road, responding immediately to the slightest steering input. That feeling combined with low rolling resistance tires (that squeal long before they give up grip) make the i3 feel less capable than it actually is. Once you get used to the feeling however, it turns out to be the best handling non-Tesla EV currently made. Is that a low bar? Perhaps, but the i3 leaps over it.

BMW’s “one pedal concept” is the fly in the ointment. Here’s the theory: if you drive like a responsible citizen, you just use the accelerator pedal. Press on the pedal and the car goes.  Lift and the car brakes. Lift completely and the i3 engages maximum regenerative braking (brake lights on) and takes you to a complete stop. As long as the road is fairly level, the i3 will remain stopped until you press the go-pedal once more. On paper it sounds novel, in practice it annoyed me and made my leg ache. The reason is that in order to coast you either shift to neutral or hover your foot in the right position. If the i3 could adjust the “foot-off” regen, I’d be happy. Driving the i3 back to back with VW’s new eGolf didn’t make the one-pedal any better because the VW allows you to adjust the regen from zero to maximum in four steps easily and intuitively.

BMW i3 One Pedal Operation Concept Brake Neutral Go

The i3 EV’s wider rear tires mean that despite being RWD and almost perfectly balanced you get predictable understeer as the road starts to curve. You can induce some oversteer if you’re aggressive on the throttle, but BMW’s stability control nanny cannot be disabled and the intervention is early and aggressive. Toss in the range extender’s 300+ pounds and understeer is a more frequent companion. You can still get the REx a little tail happy if you try however. The i3 will never be a lurid tail happy track car like an M235i, but the fact that any oversteer is possible in an EV is a rare feat since nearly everything else on the market is front heavy and front wheel drive. Put simply the BMW i3 is the best driving and best handling EV this side of the Model S.

Now let’s talk range extender again. After hearing the complaints about the i3’s “limp” mode when you’re left with just 34 ponies, I tried to make it happen to see what the fuss was about. I hopped in the car with the battery at 6% and started off to work. Climbing from 700ft to 2,200ft worked out just fine at 45-50 MPH on a winding mountain road, going down from 2,200 to sea level at 60 MPH was uneventful as well. I hopped on CA-85 and set the cruise control to 65 since the rumor mill told me the top speed would max out at 65ish with the battery dead. 15 miles later my battery was still very much alive so I kicked it up a notch to 75 and switched over to Interstate 280 where rolling hills would tax the battery further. 20 miles later the range extender was humming like a dirt bike in my blind spot but I wasn’t slowing down. I decided drastic measures were needed. I kicked the i3 up another notch to [intentionally left blank] MPH and watched as the battery gauge ran to zero. Finally. Except it wasn’t that exciting. It didn’t feel like I hit the brakes, it simply felt like someone had backed off the throttle. It took me around 1.5 miles to drop from [intentionally left blank] MPH to 55 MPH which was more than enough time for me to put my tail between my legs and move four lanes to the right.

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Instrument Cluster-001

Hitting the “34 HP barrier” as I started to call it proved a little easier at closer-to-legal speeds when hill climbing, and the effects were a little more drastic. On a winding road where driving a car hard involves heavy braking before corners and full throttle exits, the i3 ran out of steam after 4 miles. The i3 then spent the next 8 miles with the go-pedal on the floor at speeds ranging from 37 to 50 MPH.

When running on the range extender, I averaged 60-65 miles before I refilled the tiny tank which came out to somewhere around 38 MPG. The number surprised some, but personally it sounds about right because the energy losses in a serial hybrid can be high (up to 20% if you believe Toyota and Honda). What did surprise me is just how livable the i3 REx was. Despite BMW constantly saying that the REx wasn’t designed to be driven like a hybrid, over 300 miles of never charging I never had a problem driving the car just like I’d drive a Prius, only stopping more often for fuel. Way more often. The i3 REx can drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles stopping every 60 miles for gas, I’m not sure I’d do that, but it is nice to know I could.

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior Dashboard

Starting at $42,400 in EV form and $46,250 for the REx model, the i3 has the same kind of sticker shock as all EVs. However if you qualify for the maximum incentives the i3 REx comes down to a more reasonable $36,250 which is a little less than a 2015 328i. That slots the i3 between the rabble and the Tesla and more or less the same as the Mercedes B-Class, the only real i3 competition. In this narrow category the i3 is an easy win. It is slightly more fun to drive than the B-Class, a hair faster, considerably more efficient, has the ability to DC fast charge and the range extender will allow gasoline operation if required. The i3 is funky and complicated and BMW’s 320i is probably a better car no matter how you slice it, but none of that changes the fact the i3 is probably one of the most important cars of our time. Not because the i3 is a volume produced carbon fiber car, but because we are likely to see may more “BEVx” category “range extending” vehicles in our future (for more unicorn credits) and this is now the benchmark.

 BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and 1.9 gallons of gasoline for this review.

 Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.0 Seconds

0-60: 7.0 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.5 Seconds @ 86 MPH

2015 BMW i3 Range Extender 19 inch wheel 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender BMW logo 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Cargo Area.CR2 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Cargo Area 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Dashboard.CR2 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Doors Open 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior Turn Signal 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior.CR2 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior . 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior1 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-002 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-003 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-004 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-005 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-006 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-007 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Exterior-0011 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Front Trunk Frunk.CR2 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Front Trunk Frunk 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Glove Compartment 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Hatch and Tail Lamp 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender iDrive Screen.CR2 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender iDrive Screen 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Instrument Cluster 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Instrument Cluster-001 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior Dashboard.CR2 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior Dashboard 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior Seats Doors Open 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior Seats 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior.CR2 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Interior-001 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Rear Quarter 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Rear Seats Folded 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Rear Seats 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Refueling 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Shifter 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Steering Column 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender Steering Wheel.CR2

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Review: 2015 Nisssan Murano Platinum (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-nisssan-murano-platinum-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-nisssan-murano-platinum-video/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 12:45:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1015554 If you look at the numbers, sales of the Murano are on fire with a 72% sales jump in January of 2015 vs 2014 thanks to the new model. Looking more closely however, you’ll see that there was practically nowhere to go but up as the Murano barely outsold the now-dead Venza. Putting that in […]

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2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-001.CR2

If you look at the numbers, sales of the Murano are on fire with a 72% sales jump in January of 2015 vs 2014 thanks to the new model. Looking more closely however, you’ll see that there was practically nowhere to go but up as the Murano barely outsold the now-dead Venza. Putting that in perspective, Nissan’s compact Rogue is the 6th best-selling SUV in America and the Murano is 26 rungs lower on the sales ladder. Nissan sells more Rogues in 6 days than Muranos in an entire month. Rather than killing the model as Toyota did with the Venza, Nissan decided to re-invent the formerly bland soft-roader into a flagship crossover. This actually makes sense, because it helps keep the mid-sized 5-seat CUV from being the awkward “middle child” between the 7-seat Rogue and the 7-seat Pathfinder. Does the all-new and all-curvy Murano have what it takes to compete with the Edge, Grand Cherokee or even the RX 350?

Exterior

The exterior of the 2015 model is a sharp departure from the last generation and is as head-turning as the last model was bland. I wasn’t sure what to think about the Murano when it was announced, the first pictures looked like someone had confused a product launch with a concept car. While much of that had to do with the dramatic angles and color of the launch vehicle, the Murano certainly looks more exciting than Ford’s Edge or it’s Korean look-alike (the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport). Thankfully the engineers responsible for the 2015 model didn’t let the questionably styled Juke influence them.

The first clue that the Murano is a production car is the long front overhang since it remains a FWD crossover with optional AWD. Contrary to what some folks I met during the week thought, there is zero relation to the RWD Infiniti QX70 (the artist formerly known as FX37 / FX50). Helping disguise the overhang is a tall hood, pointy snout, heapings of chrome, and angles that draw the eye rearwards. The dramatic lines gyrate up and down and culminate with bulging tail lamps at the rear. As polarizing as the Murano seems in pictures, in person reactions were entirely positive and garnered more looks than most cars I’ve driven in the last 12 months.

2015 Nissan Murano Interior Center Console.CR2-001

Interior

With a starting price of $29,560, Nissan was able to equip the interior with more soft touch plastics than most of the competition save the luxury and near-luxury cross shops. This helps even the top-level Platinum we tested feel more harmonious than, for instance, top-end trims of the Grand Cherokee where a leather dashboard and real-wood are nestled next to hard plastic center consoles and questionable faux-metal finishes. As with the exterior, Nissan took some bold steps inside as well with a “floating” pleather hood over the gauge cluster and dramatic shapes galore.

Out tester was outfitted with “mocha” leather and trim panels that were a cross between silver-colored faux wood and brushed metal. (Faux-brushed-wood?) Meanwhile the light “cashmere” interiors get trim panels with brown “spots” tossed in giving it a white-washed birch appearance. You’d better like the trim, because there’s a ton of it. The faux-brushed-wood starts with large panels on the doors, a band running across the dashboard, and a large expanse covering the center console and a strip bisecting the center armrest. The overall style is decidedly funky, but to my eye is barely escaped crossing over into “bizarre.” Unlike some reviews I have read, the cashmere interior is my favorite because the lighter color and dashboard shapes make the interior feel cavernous.

2015 Nissan Murano Interior Seats.CR2

As with many of Nissan’s latest products, front seat comfort is exceptional, scoring easily above the Lexus, Cadillac and Lincoln competition for my 6-foot frame. Seats in the 2016 Edge and Santa Fe miss the mark slightly, and the Grand Cherokee’s seats are probably the stiffest of any crossover giving you the impression you’re sitting “on the seat not in the seat.” Sadly the passenger seat lacks the same range of motion as the driver’s seat and you should know that lumbar support is of the 2-way variety.

The Murano’s new 7-inch LCD  instrument panel is standard on all trims including the base “S”.  Unlike Jeep, Nissan keeps analog dials for the tachometer and speedometer leaving the LCD for navigation, infotainment, trip computer functions, and other read-outs. Also standard is dual-zone climate control and 39.6 cubic feet of cargo room. I was surprised to find that despite being smaller and “swoopier” than the Pathfinder, the Murano has nearly as much room behind the second row as the larger CUV (third row folded.) The generous cargo hold and comfy front seats are the prime reason to get the Murano over compact crossover options.

2015 Nissan Murano Nissan Connect Radio

Infotainment

While the 7-inch LCD disco-dash is standard, Nissan reserves the 8-inch touchscreen NissanConnect infotainment system for SV trims ($32,620 starting) or as an $860 option on the S trim. Making a different system just for base S trims strikes me as an odd choice, especially since the functionality is largely the same except that it lacks some touch gesture suopport and navigation. The software is a revised version of what is found in the Altima and Rogue with visual and functional refinements, built-in apps and certain smartphone-app integrated features.

In addition to the screen-size bump, the 8-inch system supports multi-touch gestures and built-in navigation software. Regardless of the version you get, Nissan has expanded the voice command library to be competitive with MyFord Touch and Chrysler uConnect. The software proved to be responsive and easy to use, although some features were less intuitive than competitive systems. Our model had the up-level 11-speaker Bose system which is among the best in this class. Unlike many systems, rear USB port link to the head unit and may be used as a media source. (Most rear USB ports are charge-only.)

2015 Nissan Murano Engine.CR2-001

Drivetrain

Sideways under the hood you’ll find the same 3.5L V6 (VQ35DE) as a variety of Nissan vehicles mated to one of Nissan’s continuously variable transaxles (CVT). Because of the CVT, power is tuned down from the high-output variants to 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Despite sharing engines with the Pathfinder, the transmission is apparently different and more similar to the last generation Murano. The result is a tow rating of just 1,500 lbs vs 5,000lbs in the 3-row Nissan. While towing in mid-size SUVs and CUVs has fallen out of vogue, that’s 500lbs less than the 190 horsepower four-cylinder Santa Fe Sport and on par with a RAV4. Nissan tells us that few tow with vehicles in this category, and they are probably right. Mid-size utility owners like me that do tow should limit their search to the Grand Cherokee, the only option in this segment capable of towing over 7,000lbs.

Thanks to the CVT and a slippery coefficient of drag, fuel economy has improved dramatically for 2015 coming in at 21/28/24 (City/Highway/Combined). Despite AWD adding some mechanical loss and 130lbs to the picture, the EPA numbers remain the same as the FWD variant. You will find more power in the competition, but you’ll be hard pressed to find better fuel economy even in the 2.4L non-turbo Santa Fe Sport. Our FWD tester barely beat the EPA average at 24.2 MPG.

2015 Nissan Murano Interior Instrument Cluster Gauges.CR2

Drive

Driving dynamics weren’t the forte of the last generation Murano and this acorn hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Nissan chose to tune the chassis toward the softer and more comfortable side of this category giving it a plush ride despite the 20-inch wheels our model sported. As you’d expect, the CVT is an efficient but not especially engaging companion. Thanks to the softer suspension,  235-width tires and plenty of body roll, certain models of the Grand Cherokee actually score higher when it comes to handling, and I’m not talking about the SRT model. The Murano doesn’t handle poorly, in fact I expected less grip than I received on my favorite mountain roads, just don’t expect the curvy Nissan to dance with the new Edge Sport. The steering is numb but accurate, the brake pedal is moderately firm and the action linear.

Thanks to the CVT and a 3,800lb curb weight, our front wheel drive model ran from 0-60 in 7 seconds flat which is a little faster than the V6 Grand Cherokee and on par with the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T and the V6 and turbo versions of the Ford Edge. Obviously the Edge Sport and its 2.7L twin-turbo V6 and the two different V8 Jeeps are in a separate category in this regard.

2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Side.CR2

Spanning from just under $30,000 to $43,745, the Murano is one of the less expensive options in this tiny segment. Only the Sotrento (available as either a 2-row or 3-row crossover in most trims for 2016) and Santa Fe Sport manage to undercut the Murano when adjusting for feature content. Despite the high value, the Murano’s flagship status ends up working thanks to the quality and consistency of the interior, something that can’t really be said of the Edge or Grand Cherokee despite those vehicles offering high-end options and features not found on this Nissan.

When viewed as the budget alternative to the Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX or Lexus RX 350 the Murano also fares well despite not offering the same level of high-end features. While the luxury set offers improved leather, real wood, hybrid options and luxury service, the Murano fights back with a polished ride, higher fuel economy, superb front seats and a sticker that is at least $6,000 less. While I’d personally buy the new MKX, I can’t say the $6,500 extra for a comparably equipped model is entirely “worth it.”

If you’re looking for the crossover with the most capable 4WD/AWD system, that’s easily the Grand Cherokee. If you want the best handling option, that’d be the Grand Cherokee SRT and Edge Sport. The Santa Fe Sport is the discount player delivering high value with me-too styling. The Murano, unsurprisingly, strikes a comfy balance in the middle of the segment with exceptional fuel economy. If you’re looking for the best highway cruiser for a wine-tour weekend in Napa for four, the Murano is exactly the tall Maxima you’re looking for.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.37 Seconds

0-60: 7.07 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.44 Seconds @ 95 MPH

Average Economy: 24.2 MPG over 649 miles

 

2015 Nissan Murano Engine.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Engine.CR2-001 . 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-001.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-002.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-003.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-001.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-001 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-002.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-003.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-004.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Side.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Cargo Area.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Cargo Area 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Cargo Area-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Center Console.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Center Console.CR2-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-002 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-003 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-004 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Drivers Side 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Instrument Cluster Gauges.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Instrument Cluster Gauges 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Rear Seats Folded 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Rear Seats.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Rear Seats 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Seat Controls.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Seats.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Nissan Connect Radio 2015 Nissan Murano Nissan Connect Radio-001 2015 Nissan Murano Wheels.CR2

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

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2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Front

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

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

Exterior

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

2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard

Interior

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

2015 Honda CR-V HondaLink.CR2Infotainment

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

 

honda-diagram-1Drivetrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Honda CR-V EarthDreams 2.4L Engine-001

Drive

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

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

2015 Honda CR-V Instrument Cluster-001

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

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

2015 Honda CR-V Exterior.CR2

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2

0-60: 7.79

1/4 mile: 16.4 Seconds @ 87.5 MPH

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

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Bark’s Bites: Some Internet Truths Aren’t So True http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/barks-bites-internet-truths-arent-true/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/barks-bites-internet-truths-arent-true/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 13:45:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1010378 One of the best worst things about the Internet is how many “experts” there are on every single subject under the sun. Among the easiest subjects for anybody to obtain indisputable guru-like status on, based on what I see around the web, is finance. And, boy, do they love to share their expertise, solicited or […]

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Car Key and Dollars isolated on white.

One of the best worst things about the Internet is how many “experts” there are on every single subject under the sun. Among the easiest subjects for anybody to obtain indisputable guru-like status on, based on what I see around the web, is finance.

And, boy, do they love to share their expertise, solicited or not.

Among the widely held financial “truths” that are held as “indisputably true” among Internet guys:

  • Buying used is always better than buying new
  • Buying is better than leasing
  • Financing cars is a terrible idea

Now, let me tell you what I believe:

  • I almost exclusively buy new
  • I’ve now leased four cars
  • I would never, ever, ever pay cash for a car

I’ve already written one post debunking the used > new myth that upset some commonly held precepts. But there’s more to be said on this subject—so let’s say it.

  • Yes, there is no doubt that new cars depreciate at a more rapid pace than used cars do. But if that’s all you’re taking into account when making the decision to go new or used, then you’re missing huge pieces of the pie. First of all, if you plan to finance a car, understand that finance rates are always much better on a new car than on a used one—sometimes as little as zero percent. Used car finance rates are tough to get under four percent, even with excellent credit. With the average new car in this country costing right around $30k, that is a difference of $3300 or so over sixty months, or just about eleven percent of that car’s overall value. If your credit is only so-so, don’t worry on a new car—the financial arms of Ford, Ally, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, and others are happy to give great finance rates to 650 and above. Not so on used—you’re now looking at 6 or 7 percent, which equals almost six grand, or twenty percent!  And you were worried about depreciation that whole time, stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. Silly Internet guy. Turns out that you are going to pay just as much for a used car as a new one.
  • Leasing makes PERFECT sense if you don’t plan to keep a car for very long. If the market value of the car is, at any time, greater than the residual amount owed on the car, you can sell it and profit. If it’s less, you simply walk away from the car at the end of your term. Too many people seem to take everything Dave Ramsey says as financial gospel, but in this case, at least, he’s dead wrong. Like, super dead wrong. In his example that everybody likes to quote, Ramsey uses outlandish numbers. Nobody leases a car for sixty months. Finance companies aren’t charging any more interest on leases than they are on purchases. My Fiesta lease had a money factor of zero, for example. And yes, car dealers make more money from leases than they do from cash purchases. SHOCKER. If you aren’t smart enough to negotiate a lease, then you aren’t smart enough to negotiate a purchase, either.  I know, I know, Mr. Internet Guy, you buy all of your cars with the intention of keeping them for fifteen years. Good for you. That’s not what anybody in the real world does. I keep cars for three years or less. So does everybody else I know who actually likes cars and doesn’t view them simply as an appliance.
  • Virtually every investment you can make on the market is going to pay you a better return than the zero or 1.9% percent promotional financing being offered by every single lender right now. Why on Earth would I pay thirty thousand dollars in 2015 dollars for a car when I could pay that money over time at no penalty? Every single day, my money can be earning interest and/or gaining returns. Plus, every dollar I pay in 2020 is worth approximately ten percent less than a dollar I spend in 2015. I will never understand why people act like debt is this horrible thing. Debt is only a horrible thing if you A) can’t afford to pay it or B) you negotiated hideous terms for  yourself. Corporations take on debt. Billionaires take on debt. It allows them to leverage the cash they have to make other investments. It allows them, as noted TTAC contributor Domestic Hearse says, to bet on themselves, to do things they couldn’t otherwise. My 401(k), for example, has been yielding an average return of nearly eleven percent. Which would be smarter—to take my 17K a year to continue to max that out? Or to take my cash and buy a depreciating asset? If you chose Option B, I advise enrolling in a finance class—and not one taught by Dave Ramsey.

Here’s a little financial tip from your Uncle Bark: your money is getting worth less and less Every. Single. Day. It’s called inflation. Every day that you aren’t enjoying your money is a day that you’re wasting it. Every single day, I have a Boss 302 and a Fiesta ST in my garage. They make me happy every day. Do you know why? Because I love cars.

I’m guessing that if you’re here, you obviously love cars, maybe even more than I do. Do yourself a favor—don’t keep yourself from buying a car that will make you happy because you’re worried about following some financial advice that’s being distributed by people who don’t know anything about finance. It’s easy to say that debt is bad, because debt might scare some simple-minded people.  Debt has never scared me for one second. I bet on myself every day, and every day, I win. So should you.

I’m going to die someday. We all are. Do you want to spend another day driving something that you don’t love? If you love cars, do yourself a favor. Go get a car that you love. Screw the “experts.” Don’t listen to them. Their advice is based on fear. Mine is based on love. Love of life. Love of cars. I bet you share that love with me. Don’t box your love up in an ’06 Corolla. Let it shine. If you want to buy new, buy new. If you want to lease it, then lease it.

Who cares what the prevailing wisdom is? I’m more interested in prevailing.

 

 

 

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Editorial: There Are Still Bad Cars, But You’ll Never Hear About Them http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/editorial-still-bad-cars-youll-never-hear/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/editorial-still-bad-cars-youll-never-hear/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:18:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=970346 Today, I’m here to tackle one of the most insidious lies in the auto business: the notion that “there are no bad news cars on sale today.” But I’m not here to dump on the usual easy, safe targets like the Mitsubishi Mirage or the Smart Fortwo. Because, the low end, mainstream cars on sale […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Today, I’m here to tackle one of the most insidious lies in the auto business: the notion that “there are no bad news cars on sale today.” But I’m not here to dump on the usual easy, safe targets like the Mitsubishi Mirage or the Smart Fortwo. Because, the low end, mainstream cars on sale today are actually pretty good. These days, the real crap has risen to the top.

In my own experience, the most disappointing cars I’ve ever driven has tended to exist in the “premium” category.

  • The Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is unequivocal dreck, with only the most cynical attempts to hide its origins as the personal vehicle of Reza Pahlavi. When I say cynical, I mean “throw on some wood and designo leather and charge $165,000 for a truck that was paid for in prior to the OPEC embargo”. And yet, it’s the hottest SUV on sale today.
  • The last-generation Range Rover Sport had so many warning lights on the dash that I was unable to even do a review of it during the week I had it. The new one is actually quite good.
  • The Aston Martin Vantage was the biggest letdown of my career as an auto journalist.
  • The Mercedes-Benz CLA got largely positive first drive impressions. In private, journos with a dearth of integrity admitted that it was a bad car, full stop.
  • The Lincoln MKZ. ‘Nuff said.
  • Per our own Jack Baruth: “Every Maserati ever has sucked. The Ferrari 360 and 430 are not great cars. The pre-facelift Gallardo was iffy.” Jack concurs regarding the G-Wagen and RR Sport.

Personally, I think that this does show just how good the average car is. Most cars that are available at price points accessible to the average consumer are a lot better than a lot of the tarted-up turds that are passed off as “aspirational vehicles”. Once upon a time, the delta between a Honda Accord and a Chevrolet Malibu was easily discernible, even to someone who had zero interest in cars. These days, it’s narrowed significantly, even if we consider the Malibu as one of the worst mid-size sedans on sale. That’s not to say there are no bad mainstream cars either. The Malibu, Fiat 500, Scion tC, the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ and the Toyota 4Runner all qualify as “bad” cars in my books. I am sure there are others that I’m forgetting. I still think the Camaro is the most overhyped piece of garbage on the market today, and the hometown Detroit auto media is entirely complicit in praising it with laughable hyperbole, only to turn around and crucify it a year later. Disgusting. I’ve seen more integrity during Tony Hayward’s press conferences on the Macondo blowout.

But what happens is that journalists, who depend on manufacturer access for stories and a sense of self-worth (“I may make $35,000 a year, but I can still borrow a luxury car so my wife doesn’t think I’m a failure) will give measured-but-erring-on-positive reviews (known as “the wobble”). Only when the car is replaced by a new generation vehicle will they tell you what they really think of a car. Journalists don’t want to compromise their access to the fancy cars and the lavish trips that come with them, since they are a form of professional validation, both externally, and within the incestuous world of automotive writers. Better to be able to brag on social media about the all-expenses-paid off-road safari or autobahn jaunt than to keep the best interest of the readership at heart.

And as much as everyone cries out for honest, objective, take no prisoners car reviews, they never believe you when you do give a car a bad review. When I criticized the Jeep Cherokee for being half-baked, many commenters doubted my impressions on the grounds that every other outlet gave the car a positive review. In the end, it turned out that the Cherokee had a lot of issues, but by then, it was too late. Our relationship with Chrysler was damaged, I spent a lot of time defending my conclusions and had to wait months to be vindicated by Consumer Reports. Some readers even called for me to be banned from Chrysler’s press fleet for daring to criticize the car.

Nobody wants to get banned from a press fleet – doubly so if it’s a premium manufacturer with desirable product. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, most journalists would spread their legs so wide, they’d crack their pelvis if it meant that they didn’t have to spend seven consecutive days at home with their wife and kids (if they even have any). Keeping quiet about a crappy car is part and parcel of this. Say the wrong thing, and the free cars and lavish junkets will disappear.

I don’t have a family, but I do live in a modest but lovely home and I have a Hertz #1 Club Gold Card. If a car sucks, you’ll hear about it.

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Chart Of The Day: Gas Prices, Trucks And Automobiles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/chart-day-gas-prices-trucks-automobiles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/chart-day-gas-prices-trucks-automobiles/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 15:49:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=952969 Courtesy of our own Tim Cain. The fain green line represents gas prices, starting from the peak price of crude oil in 2014. Elsewhere, we see market share figures for passenger cars, SUVs/CUVs and pickup trucks. We’ll be keeping an eye on this as the months roll on. Crude oil dipped below $70 a barrel […]

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tcgaspricechart

Courtesy of our own Tim Cain. The fain green line represents gas prices, starting from the peak price of crude oil in 2014. Elsewhere, we see market share figures for passenger cars, SUVs/CUVs and pickup trucks. We’ll be keeping an eye on this as the months roll on. Crude oil dipped below $70 a barrel today – truly a black Friday for world oil markets. Let’s see how consumers respond in terms of new vehicle choices.

 

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And The Winner Is… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/winner/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/winner/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:50:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=928185 Well, my Grandma has found a car! Despite looking at the Fit, Accent and other subcompacts, she’s decided to go with a 2014 Jaguar XK-RS convertible. Thanks for your help everyone! In unrelated news, I will no longer be getting my inheritance. Just kidding. The winner has been selected, and will be revealed when she takes delivery […]

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photo (2)

Well, my Grandma has found a car! Despite looking at the Fit, Accent and other subcompacts, she’s decided to go with a 2014 Jaguar XK-RS convertible. Thanks for your help everyone! In unrelated news, I will no longer be getting my inheritance.

Just kidding. The winner has been selected, and will be revealed when she takes delivery at the end of the month*

*Unlike in America, ordering/waiting for your new car is common in Canada

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That Green Car: Winning And Losing At Your Own Auction http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/green-car-winning-losing-auction/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/green-car-winning-losing-auction/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 18:27:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=906721 Jack Baruth has a very thoughtful post on selling his green stick, apparently an Audi. (See No Fixed Above: Stick it to ‘em.) Here I delve into his logic as a devil’s advocate. A key observation throughout his post is that most (newish) used cars move through dealerships, and for many there is an auction […]

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Jack Baruth has a very thoughtful post on selling his green stick, apparently an Audi. (See No Fixed Above: Stick it to ‘em.) Here I delve into his logic as a devil’s advocate.

A key observation throughout his post is that most (newish) used cars move through dealerships, and for many there is an auction through a Mannheim or Adesa in between the trade-in and the used car lot. The same is true in Japan: the graphic above is of a car auction in Osaka, though on-site buyers sit at computers with a huge display of the two virtual “lanes” with no audible action. (For more see my post on a June 2014 visit at Auto Auctions, Japanese Style.)

1. Now you and I may want a stand-out color, but I think if Jack talked to marketing people, this blandness comes from careful study of what color choices consumers make – not from dealers and auctions. After all, there remain regional differences in color preferences across the US, and particularly for high-end cars there’s a significant bespoke demand. Dealers only see a small and potentially unrepresentative slice of the market. Furthermore, color decisions have to be made well before the start of production, long before dealers get a chance to order. Things can and do go wrong in paint shops (I’ve been through BMW Spartanburg with PPG as guide, gloating over a problem their rival BASF was having). Things get tested in advance. Color choices must be made on a predictive basis.

As it happens, there’s a good history of the professionization of colorists, of how such predictions are made: Regina Lee Blaszczyk’s book, The Color Revolution, MIT 2012. She spoke at the Business History Conference a few years back at the Hagley Museum outside Wilmington; DuPont was central to mass-market cars being available in color, and their museum has some wonderful examples. Be warned, though: a lot of her book is about the fashion industry and about the technical side of developing color systems and color cards, and on experimental psychology with color perception, and not just the impact of wartime camouflage experts bringing their skills to Earl Harley’s design studios where they could play with DuPont’s new Duco paints.

2. Back to used cars. I think Jack argues that the variance of niche markets is high. Jack was fortunate in that he got a “high” draw, finding that match with someone else who really wanted a stick shift in a green package. High variance means that when you may have the opposite experience when you try to sell your pink Cadillac – wasn’t that a Mary Kay cosmetics thing? – and you may get a bad draw. Indeed, the only pink Caddy I know is used purely for its decorative value, such as that is, parked outside the Pink Cadillac cafe in Fancy Hill, Virginia. That use surely reflects a low market value, not a high one – be warned!

3. Jack is very correct in noting that dealerships need to turn their inventory. What he fails to point out is that he personally bore the same costs. So let’s detail those:

  • Jack surely continued to insure his car,
  • he accumulated (pro-rated) property tax and paid various annual registration fees,
  • he lost the use of the part of his garage in which it sat,
  • he lost the opportunity of having that new drive he wanted today rather than months from now,
  • he continued to face the slow but inexorable depreciation from which all cars suffer, and
  • he had to personally put in time first marketing his car and then acting as his own salesman.

Now personally Jack may have had fun being a used car salesman, and playing with Craigslist and similar services, so those weren’t costs, they were benefits. Would that be true for you? Particularly if it takes 6 months to sell your Pink Cadillac? And if you can’t sell your old wheels immediately, the other costs add up: the longer you wait, the lower the net price you are actually charging.

A dealer sitting on an inventory of 200 cars can’t ignore such costs. You shouldn’t ignore them either, and you may not be so lucky in making a good match.

4. Indeed, I suspect the buyer of Jack’s car must have had money to burn: if you are lusting after a lime green car, why would you tell the seller that? Instead you’ll make a lowball bid: when markets are thin, the buy-sell (ask-offer) spread is high. You can find a bargain if you’re patient as a buyer, and are good at bluffing when you’re holding a losing hand. You can lose a lot if you’re impatient as a seller, and not a good horse trader.

5. Conclusion: Jack offered one anecdote of coming out well in a thin market. Here’s mine of doing not so well, shopping for a vehicle with niche specs on a Chevy Cruze early this year.

Sticks aren’t popular, and for a daily drive in DC they were less popular than dealers had hoped – I know why, having made a day trip from the mountains of Virginia into stop-and-go traffic in my Cruze. My guess is that the dealer may well have accepted them as part of their allotment (standard factory “push” marketing, where dealers must accept unpopular combinations of features). So even though we made it clear that a stick was what we wanted, we also made it clear that we weren’t going to hang around if they tried to get a premium from us. We got what appeared to be a very good price, I spent quite a bit of internet time checking things out. Our hand was weakened a little when we didn’t want black, not many in inventory, but we were OK with a couple different colors [green and blue but not dark blue] and there were enough around. So we didn’t have to give back anything at that point.

When we went to pick up the vehicle and saw the actual interior, it was clear from our faces that it was no go. Black. Not just black, but some sort of textured “cloth” surface. And all the cars they had were that same black. All our negotiating power disappeared: instead of getting a better price than with an automatic, we ended up handing back a chunk of the margin, though we still paid less that what any of the other dealers we visited asked for. (They had to make a dealer trade, so out of pocket costs may have eaten up that difference.)

So thin markets are thin markets, patience and negotiating skills matter.  But those niche cars are out there. You don’t have to pay to be bland, but it does carry risk.

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Editorial: The Car That Answers Today’s Questions? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/editorial-the-car-that-answers-todays-questions/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/editorial-the-car-that-answers-todays-questions/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 13:58:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=850914 Most car advertisements tout the abundance of features that the car offers: big engines, advanced electronics and sexy styling. Not this one. The Citroen C4 Cactus is, in my opinion, one of the coolest cars on sale today. Yes, it does not make much power, its looks are, well, polarizing (I happen to love it) […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Most car advertisements tout the abundance of features that the car offers: big engines, advanced electronics and sexy styling. Not this one.

The Citroen C4 Cactus is, in my opinion, one of the coolest cars on sale today. Yes, it does not make much power, its looks are, well, polarizing (I happen to love it) and it is deliberately spartan.

Sounds a lot like Steve’s famous base model “strippers”, right? Well, this thing is, for lack of a better word, quite chic. A Cactus is cheap in the way that Zara clothing or Ikea furniture is cheap. A base Versa with crank windows is cheap in all the wrong ways.

As many people pointed out, the sheer value of new cars on sale today in the United States means that strippers will never see much success in the market. As commenter Paul wrote

I acknowledge stripper does not equal base, but look at the options list on a totally base Accord LX Sedan with a manual:

Interior Features
Dual-Zone Automatic Climate Control with Air-Filtration System
i-MID with 8-Inch High-Resolution WVGA (800×480) Screen and Customizable Feature Settings
Rearview Camera with Guidelines
Bluetooth® HandsFreeLink®4
SMS Text Message Function5
Power Windows with Auto-Up/Down Driver’s Window
Cruise Control
Illuminated Steering Wheel-Mounted Cruise, Audio, Phone and i-MID Controls
Tilt and Telescopic Steering Column
Map Lights
Fold-Down Rear Seatback with Center Armrest
160-Watt AM/FM/CD Audio System with 4 Speakers
Pandora® Compatibility6
Bluetooth® Streaming Audio4
USB Audio Interface7
MP3/Auxiliary Input Jack
Exterior Temperature Indicator

Thats not a bad list at all.

All this for just $21,995. Phenomenal value by any measure. A base Cactus, on the other hand, starts at $22,000 USD (just under 13,000 GBP). Even a base Nissan Juke in Europe, which retails for similar money, comes with a 1.6L engine making just 94 horsepower.

The point I’m trying to make is that in America, where cars are so comparatively cheap, something like the Cactus would be a non-starter. But in the rest of the world, where cars, as well as parking, fuel, insurance and other associated costs are much higher, it’s easy to see why the answer to today’s questions might be “less is more”.

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New or Used : Tastes Of The Weird http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-tastes-of-the-weird/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-or-used-tastes-of-the-weird/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:28:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=799402 Steve L., just a short note to thank you for your TTAC articles. They are my favorite at TTAC and I look forward to a new article each week. Quick question: I noted in your last article you like some of the newer Mazdas. Can you tell me what new Mazda you would consider keeping […]

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beachsideresident

Steve L., just a short note to thank you for your TTAC articles. They are my favorite at TTAC and I look forward to a new article each week.

Quick question: I noted in your last article you like some of the newer Mazdas. Can you tell me what new Mazda you would consider keeping for your own personal vehicle?

regards, Steve T.

The Other Steve Says:

My personal tastes are probably a quick study in the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I like weird stuff. Part of the blame lies in the fact that the wholesale auctions are slam packed with the lemmings of modern day transport. There will often be a line of 30 to 60 cars at the factory sales where the same exact model will be offered with minimal changes in features and specs. The strength of rental cars at auctions also skews me away from the common place car, which is why the rolling Big Mac Value Meal that is/was the Chevy Impala doesn’t raise my eyebrows.

What interests me Mazda wise? I like the Mazda 2. If you are careful with the spec sheet, you can get one out the door for under 15k. One of the regulars here bought one recently for less than $14,000 out the door, and made a nice pithy summation of it’s virtues, “The 100HP is plenty. The stereo is outstanding. The controls, shifter, it all works, and none of it makes you feel like you gave up anything.”

A generic popular car is not my thing because every day I’m surrounded by overproduced generic popular cars. What interests me is a Ford Fiesta hatchback. A base Mazda 3 with a stick that I likely won’t see at the auctions for a while. Even the new base Corolla with a 6-speed would interest me on paper because it offers the better engine and shifter of the high end model and cost about $5000 less.

If I had to buy new I would keep it cheap and try to hit em’ where they ain’t. Not because I want the deal. But because I just don’t value touchscreens, over-sized A-pillars, and a car that I can’t maintain myself. The cars I keep at the retail lot reflect my weirdness compared with mainstream consumers. 20% are sticks, and I always seem to have a couple of offbeat ones (Solara V6 /5-speed, green Beetle TDI) on hand that I buy for low prices, due to their lack of mainstream popularity.

Small, stick, powered for real-world performance, and preferably in the last year or two of production. Throw in easy access for basic DIY maintenance, and you pretty much have my perfect recipe for the in-town commuting and smooth Georgia roads I see on a daily basis.

So what about you? What would be the perfect ingredients for your new car recipe? Does anything in particular strike your fancy?

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Editorial: The Jeep Renegade Is Geneva’s Most Important Debut http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/editorial-the-jeep-renegade-is-genevas-most-important-debut/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/editorial-the-jeep-renegade-is-genevas-most-important-debut/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 05:23:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=761281 What you’re looking at is a four-wheeled ATM for Fiat Chrysler. The Jeep Renegade is a unibody crossover based on a Fiat car platform. To satisfy the Jeep faithful, it has an available all-wheel drive system with a 20:1 crawl ratio, 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a rock crawling mode as well as a […]

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2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

What you’re looking at is a four-wheeled ATM for Fiat Chrysler. The Jeep Renegade is a unibody crossover based on a Fiat car platform. To satisfy the Jeep faithful, it has an available all-wheel drive system with a 20:1 crawl ratio, 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a rock crawling mode as well as a 2,000 lb towing capability with the 2.4L 4-cylinder (Euro-spec diesels get as much as 3,300 lbs). None of that matters as much as the fact that it’s an entrant for Jeep in one of the automotive world’s fastest growing segments.

The Renegade will be they key to FCA’s plan to turn Jeep into a “global brand”. The Geneva unveiling is just the tip of the iceberg, with the car expressly designed for the needs of world markets – two diesel powertrains, a 1.6L making 118 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, and a 2.0L making 140 or 170 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque will be offered outside North America. Both the diesels, the 1.4L Multiair engines and the naturally aspirated 1.6L gasoline I4 get start-stop, with a 6-Speed DCT offered on certain 1.4 models.

The wide range of powertrains will help the Renegade stay competitive in Europe, Asia and other markets where high fuel costs and taxes on displacement and CO2 emissions. Other features like blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning and lane departure warning, as well as UConnect, offer advanced active safety features in what is typically a value segment.

Vehicles like the Dacia Duster and Ford Ecosport have been more no-frills, valued priced affairs. The Opel Mokka and Renault Captur offer more content, but both feature the “amorphous blob” aesthetic so typical of most entrants in this segment. The Renegade, on the other hand, looks like nothing else. Practicality aside, buyers in the small crossover segment are looking to make a statement, rather than opting for the same old B and C-segment hatchbacks – especially in emerging markets.

In many ways, Jeep can thank Fiat for what is essentially a Panda 4×4 dressed up in Carhartt jeans and Red Wing boots. Fiat has provided the platform, the powertrains, the assembly plant and the understanding of what it takes to compete in world markets. But only Jeep could make the Renegade so desirable, with its just-right proportions, Wrangler-esque design cues, and the halo effect of the Jeep brand.

The Renegade looks to be a rare synthesis of the best parts of the Fiat-Chrysler partnership. It is the right product, delivered at a time when the automotive market cannot get enough small crossovers. FCA’s biggest problem will be finding enough capacity to build them.

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February 2014 Sales: Sales Flat, As Auto Makers Blame Bad Weather http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/february-2014-sales-sales-flat-as-auto-makers-blame-bad-weather/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/february-2014-sales-sales-flat-as-auto-makers-blame-bad-weather/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 04:34:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=762817 Subaru, Nissan and Chrysler were the big winners this month, with GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai-Kia blaming poor weather for their decline in sales for February. Subaru, up 24 percent, seemed unfazed by the cold snap. N.B: You can now access the full table at Automotive News. Tim Cain will continue with his full […]

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Subaru, Nissan and Chrysler were the big winners this month, with GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai-Kia blaming poor weather for their decline in sales for February. Subaru, up 24 percent, seemed unfazed by the cold snap.

N.B: You can now access the full table at Automotive News. Tim Cain will continue with his full segment of sales segment analysis pieces.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Soul ! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/capsule-review-2014-kia-soul/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/capsule-review-2014-kia-soul/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 14:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=749409 Winter can be stern and humorless. Into the frozen fray trundled a visitor from California. I told the 2014 Kia Soul that it was out of place. Then a whole bunch of snow fell. The Soul’s chipper personality replied “no worries, brah.” With only all-season tires, I was worried, though. Without winter tires, any-wheel drive […]

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Winter can be stern and humorless. Into the frozen fray trundled a visitor from California. I told the 2014 Kia Soul that it was out of place. Then a whole bunch of snow fell. The Soul’s chipper personality replied “no worries, brah.” With only all-season tires, I was worried, though. Without winter tires, any-wheel drive may be inadequate, proper equipment really does matter. The California license plate peeked out as if to say “Let’s crush some dendrites.”

Turns out the Kia Soul is more than just a whimsical set of wheels. See, whimsy is a tricky thing. It’s a subset of humor, and humor requires a deft touch. The joke is funny when it bends. Go too far, though, and it breaks. Nobody laughs when the funny breaks.

The Kia Soul has been a practical personality box since 2009, and it’s all-new for 2014. You might have to look closely to spot the changes, and that’s good. The original Soul was charming and stretched the gags just enough. In contrast, the Scion xB, this segment’s pioneer, had already lost the plot by 2009.

The example of the xB’s second-generation Thorazine shuffle hung ominously over the 2014 Kia Soul. Would Kia mess up its cheeky little hedgehog-inspired dumpling?

 

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If styling permanence works for the Porsche 911, why can’t it work for the Kia Soul? In fact, it works quite well. It’s hard to be unhappy with so much style for so little money. The base Soul will run you $14,900. I was driving the Exclaim trim, and it turns out the price of my totally-loaded Soul was $27,000. At that price, there’s lots of alternatives, but nothing is quite like the Kia Soul.

Like MINI or the Volkswagen Beetle or even the Jeep Wrangler, the 2014 Soul hews tight to the look established by its predecessor. Park them next to each other, though, and the 2014 Soul instantly makes the original look old. The styling of the new Soul is further refined and smoothed out. Kia makes it sound like there’s a bunch of the Track’ster concept in the new car, but it’s mostly just details like the lower fascia, grille and floating body-color panel in the tailgate. The 2014 Soul looks mostly like the 2009 Soul, though it sits on its wider, longer wheelbase with more visual authority. The stoplights are the easiest tell, if you’re a car-spotter.

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We are in a new age of “Lower! Longer! Wider!” but the dimensional growth is welcome in the 2014 Soul. The back gate is wider, which leads to a larger cargo area. There’s more legroom for both front and rear seats, more front headroom, a lower hip point and reduced step-in height, adding up to a Soul that’s friendlier and more useful. The 2014 Soul turned out to be surprisingly excellent in the snow, even on the all-season tires the standard 18” alloys it wears, so it’s not useless outside of Cali.

Think of the Soul as the 2000s version of the Honda Civic Wagovan or Nissan Stanza Wagon. It’s usefully boxy, economical, easy to get in and out of and easy to drive. For something on a small 101.2” wheelbase, the 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat is impressively large. Fold that second row down and there’s 61.3 cubic feet of room.

Being loaded up with features that used to be luxury car stuff probably didn’t hurt my impression, either. I sat on ventilated leather. Everyone had seat heaters, front and rear. Automatic HID projector headlights burrowed through the swirl of the storm, and I was directed by the navigation system. Above my head, a giant panoramic moonroof gave me an underside view of the glacier on the roof, the Infinity audio system was plenty entertaining, though the pulsing Hamster-Nightclub interior lights were doused quickly. The top-spec infotainment system was easy to use, and the rest of the ergonomics in the Soul are good because they don’t try to be cutesy. The dash speakers that look like coasters are a little weird, though.

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Even without the list of equipment that’s longer than a Dickens story, the Soul would be a pleaser. The base engine for the Soul is a 1.6 liter DOHC direct-injected four cylinder with a healthy-for-its-size 130 hp and a slightly disappointing 118 lb-ft of torque. It’s probably nice enough, like listening to the neighbor kid’s well-practiced rendition of Sing, Sing, Sing, but the Plus and Exclaim get a 2.0 liter that’s Benny Goodman backed by Gene Krupa, instead. (Hey, you carped about my Led Zeppelin reference…) That’s an exaggeration, but the 2.0 liter has 164 hp, 151 lb-ft, and a high 11.5:1 compression ratio. It’s a snappy little number, for sure.

What kinda harshes the buzz is the fact that the only way to get a six-speed manual is to go with the small engine. The six-speed automatic that’s paired with the 2.0 liter is a pretty decent consolation prize, though. It’s well matched to the engine and shifts well, though it exhibits some of the pulsating wonkiness under hard acceleration that’s an apparent trademark behavior of this Hyundai design.

The Soul is perhaps the most vivid example of Kia’s learning curve. Kias used to look great on paper, with lots of features and equipment for less money than the competition, but you could always count on them being short on integration. In less than a decade, that’s been completely reversed. The 2014 Soul drives like a car designed, assembled, and tuned by people who actually spoke to each other.

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The last piece of the puzzle was suspension tuning, and Kia has figured out how to make the seemingly-dowdy combo of MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion-beam rear axle ride with compliance and yet handle with some spirit, too. Other style-boxes can’t pull that off. The xB is hopelessly uninteresting to drive, and the Nissan Cube is as soft as nursing home pudding. It’s like Kia looked at what they had, realized that the first-generation VW GTI managed to do pretty damn well with the same basic parts, and got inspired.

I’d still have preferred to try the Soul in the snow on winter tires, but on its 18” alloys and surprisingly wide 235/45 Kumho Nexens it cut through like a champ. I’m also a little surprised that there’s not an all-wheel drive version of the Soul, because I think it would sell like moonshine in a dry county. I’d have an alternative to the Subaru Forester to recommend to people, and  that’s something I dearly desire. On the other hand, there’s a new Soul EV, which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

The Soul is aptly named. It’s a boxy little car with a bunch of personality. In this time of bland-but-pretty, rare is the car that both stands out for its styling and delivers some fun for everyone at a price normal people can swing. Get down with your bad self, Kia.

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Hammer Time: Is Reliability Getting Old? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-is-reliability-getting-old/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hammer-time-is-reliability-getting-old/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:24:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=701097 “You can have any car you want. So long as it’s a Toyota or Honda.” My parents had offered to split the costs of a new car with me back in 1994. That matching policy eventually included an awful lot of disclaimers and exclusions. “No V8! No V6! No turbo! No stick! No convertible! No […]

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“You can have any car you want. So long as it’s a Toyota or Honda.”

My parents had offered to split the costs of a new car with me back in 1994. That matching policy eventually included an awful lot of disclaimers and exclusions.

“No V8! No V6! No turbo! No stick! No convertible! No small car! No! Nein! Nyet!”

I eventually settled on a red Toyota Camry Coupe that served me well for 12 years and nearly 240k miles. It’s still on the road, which is funny because my brother, who had an equal bent on the Toyonda reliability supremacy, did something unusual recently.

He bought an Audi. Then he did something even stranger than that… he bought another.

Now the first Audi he bought was a lease. So that doesn’t count for very much. But the second one he bought outright for his college attending daughter. A sharp girl who simply couldn’t give two flips about the brand of car she drives.

It was a used, CPO, three year old Audi A4. Even with a few minor electric bugaboos, the car went out the door real quick. This car buying decision was highly unusual for a guy who kept up with cars and had bought nothing but new Hondas and Toyotas for nearly 30 years.

He knew all too well about the historical reliability issues with VW products. He even enjoyed the two Toyotas and one Honda he bought before going completely cold turkey on them about 10 years ago. When it came to spending that large chunk of cash on a daily driver, he crunched the numbers just like he always does on a spreadsheet, and checked off the usual must-haves.

But those numbers and wants yielded a final decision that was far different than those times of 10, 20 and even 30 years ago.

The 1984 Celica Supra. The 1994 Camry Wagon and the 2003 Honda Pilot have all given way to a 2012 Audi A6 and and a 2013 Audi A4.

I can see three big reasons why this happened.

The first is the length of warranties for used cars Certified Pre-Owned programs. The pushing of long-term warranties into the late model used car market have enabled brands that were once reliability pariahs, to become unusually competitive to today’s once untouchable reliable brands.

The removal of repair risk is a game changer for car buyers like my brother. Just as the Treasury guarantees their notes regardless of the current debt, that CPO warranty is guaranteeing the manufacturers product regardless of it’s potential repair issues. That vehicle may have thick black dots on Consumer Reports. Or even a long list of complaints about a specific mechanical issue that is a mere Google search away. It doesn’t matter, at least for right now. Because all those parts that may go south are covered to a further extent than the boring new car alternative.

The consumer’s perception of a CPO vehicle is that the warranty will make the repair costs for that sporty, fun, prestigious vehicle similar to the most drop dead boring, toaster personality, reliable competitor. Perception is often the only reality that matters in the marketplace, which is why late-model European models in particular have largely adapted a process of catering to the lease crowd first and the CPO seeking customer later.

So why buy a new boring or cheap car when a three old fun-to drive alternative offers more bang for the buck and a better warranty? For those who are used to trading or selling their car once it hits 100,000 miles, the broadened CPO programs have greatly expanded the scope of vehicles that are considered reliable enough to handle that mileage period.

The second reason for the decline of reliability based car buying, is that cars are increasingly  seen as a durable goods in the marketplace. Old diesel benzes, Volvos, Toyotas & Hondas were once the gold standard  for those who were seeking long-term car ownership.

Now, even the worst brands are assumed to have lifetimes well into the double digits. Some may last as long as 15 or 20 years in many parts of this country.

There is a long list of legitimate reasons why this has become the case. The institution of lean production methods. The development of polymers, petrochemicals and other materials that have longer lives and better resistance to age and wear. Even the shuttering of unprofitable brands has enabled certain manufacturers to focus more on the quality of their offerings, instead of what could kindly be called a pointless plentitude of cosmetic primpings.

There are countless honest to goodness reasons why the 10 to 15 year old car of today is seen as capable of lasting 20 years or beyond, and that psychological reality has made reliability seem to be more of a rule and less of an exception.

The final issue I will cover here (I’m sure all of you will chime in with other good ideas) is that the internet has essentially wounded the standard bearers of reliability information in the automotive industry. I can go to carsurvey.org and find over 100,000 feedbacks from folks who have actually owned and kept specific vehicles. Edmunds, Yahoo!, MSN, Kelly Blue Book, a long, long list of automotive sites that provide information to a mass audience now offer reliability information and insights for essentially nothing. Want to go deeper? There are hundreds of enthusiast sites that make the car buying experience as detail driven as you want it to become.

You don’t need to subscribe to anything. You don’t need to wonder what the real difference is between a half blackened oval and an almost fully blackened oval with a strange dot in the middle. You can read actual personal feedback from folks who have owned the specific model that interests you and if you want to learn more, just keep reading… and reading…

This access to knowledge has changed not only what people buy, but what they’re willing to spend. A young person may not have a fondness for older cars in the beginning of their search for a daily driver. But if they reads a long list of happy feedback from a brand that is defunct, or a model that is no longer sold, that consumer may just decide that the popular reliable car is not worth what could amount to a near five-figured price premium.

A 15 year old so-called beater car, at least according to the information in front of them, can do the commutes just as well as a five year old car that would put them in debt. So why not? After all, many of those older beater cars still look great, drive well, and last for the long haul.

There are a long list of reasons why reliability is becoming more of a given and less of a means to differentiate one car over another. So feel free to share your thoughts, and to those of you who offered me a Happy Birthday yesterday, thanks. I am still thankfully young in what may very well be a long, long period of middle-age.

 

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TTAC Editors Pick Their Best And Worst Of 2013 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/ttac-editors-pick-their-best-and-worst-of-2013/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/ttac-editors-pick-their-best-and-worst-of-2013/#comments Thu, 26 Dec 2013 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=684394 Over the past year, we’ve collectively driven hundreds of cars between us. We thought that we’d bring you an unofficial list of some of our favorites for the year. Jack Baruth: Best car: Regrettably, it’s the Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series. It combines all the drama and thrill of the Viper with a buttoned-down suspension […]

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Over the past year, we’ve collectively driven hundreds of cars between us. We thought that we’d bring you an unofficial list of some of our favorites for the year.

Jack Baruth:

Best car: Regrettably, it’s the Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series. It combines all the drama and thrill of the Viper with a buttoned-down suspension that makes it usable on fast back roads. Did I mention the gullwing doors? You can drive the car with them up. This car causes more dropped panties than a Victoria’s Secret changing room. It’s so far above the other $296,000 cars on the market it isn’t funny.
Honorable Mention: If you don’t have $296,000, then this year I’m recommending the Camry SE in four-cylinder trim. Supple, capable, trackable. Probably will last forever. And for 2014 they upgraded the interior just a bit.
Least favorite car of the year? Probably the BMW 435i, which isn’t a bad car measured objectively against the Audi and Mercedes competition but which utterly fails to evoke any of the delight you used to get from the E46 or even the outgoing E90 coupe.
Derek Kreindler:
Best car: The Ford Fiesta ST lives up to the hype, and is even better than the “warm hatch” Focus ST.  On a 250 mile highway round trip, while returning 34 mpg. The 1.6L Ecoboost chugged along, delivering tugboat-like thrust, and I sat comfortably in the fat-bolstered Recaro bucket seats, enjoying a relatively civilized ride. It may not beat Jack’s beloved Camry V6 in a stoplight drag race, but when the road deviates from straight, it delivers the “driving a slow car fast” thrills of a Miata without being all that slow. If you can get past the build quality issues (which were present on my tester), it’s the most enjoyable junior performance car on sale today, bar none.
Honorable mention: The Jaguar F-Type is not as competent on track as its rivals, but nothing I’ve driven this year makes you feel so alive. On the truck side, the Ram 1500 Diesel delivers outstanding fuel economy in a capable, half-ton package.
Worst car: The Lincoln MKZ. My review may have been a bit harsh, but it offers no real compelling reason to buy one over any competitor. The Jeep Cherokee I drove was competent off-road but immensely disappointing on-road considering how much promise it had – and how good the Grand Cherokee is – but I’ll be getting another production example in March to re-evaluate it.

Ronnie Schreiber:

Both cars are Chrysler products. The car that impressed me the most was the Chrysler 300S AWD and the car that disappointed me the most was the Dodge Dart Limited.

Favorite car I drove all-year: Last year I reviewed a Chrysler 300 Luxury Series that was fully loaded save for the fact that it came with a Pentastar V6 and an 8 speed automatic transmission, not the Hemi and a six speed. I happened to have driven it back to back with a Jaguar XF Supercharged and since the cars were both 5 passenger RWD sedans with tons of features, I couldn’t help but ask if the Jaguar was worth $25,000 more than the Chrysler. I decided that the refinement and the extra 200 horsepower of the XF explained the difference. This year I got to drive a Hemi powered AWD Chrysler 300S and while it didn’t have quite as many luxury features as the 300 I drove last year, if that Luxury Series 300 had been equipped with the Hemi, that $25,000 question would have been much harder to answer. The 300 is a fine automobile, evidence that American car companies are capable of building a great sedan.

Biggest let-down: the Dodge Dart to see if the folks in Auburn Hills had made a class competitive compact car for the American market from the bones of an Alfa Romeo platform. There were things about it that I liked, it’s spacious and comfortable and can almost handle but the 2.0L/automatic drivetrain was such a dog that it impacted my overall impression of the car. I rarely used paddle shifters or autostick it in cars so equipped but it was necessary to keep up with traffic safely in the 2.0/auto Dart. Also, driving it back to back with the Chrysler 300 drove home the fact that there are substantial differences in component and build quality between a car with a base MSRP of ~$17,000 and one that starts closer to $30K. While photographing the car I noticed a paint flaw, where the paint had left a “run” about an inch and a half long. I used to work in an automotive paint R&am
p;D lab and I haven’t seen a flaw on a production car’s paint like that in about 20 years.

Special Honorable Mention: the Toyota Crown Royal I got to drive at a Toyota hybrid event, because I’m old and I sometimes like a little insulation from the world. In many ways it’s the antithesis of the Chrysler 300S or the Jaguar XF. There is nothing sporty about the Crown Royal, it has no S setting, but it was just so smooth and serene that it was worthy of note. There were a lot of unusual and interesting vehicles to drive at that event, but just about everyone wanted to try out the Crown Royal and all that did exited the car with smiles on their faces.

Bark M:
Favorite Car of the Year: 2014 Shelby GT500 Mustang. Yes, yes, it’s predictable that the Mustang owner would pick a Mustang as his favorite car of the year, but it’s also just the truth. We may never see its kind again—a whomping 662 horses in a no-excuses package. They removed the grill, for chrissakes. It’s hard to see Ford greenlighting another monster like this one. Grab one if you still can. It’s just insanity on four wheels.
Worst car of the year: 2013 Chevrolet Captiva Sport/2013 Volkwagen Passat. The Captiva is just a discredit to everybody involved—GM, the rental car companies, the dealers who buy it at auction. It’s based on a platform that’s a nearly a decade old, with none of the modern conveniences one would come to expect with a vehicle labled as a “2013.” If they kept it rental-only, fine. It’s when it shows up as a late-model on a Chevy lot that it becomes truly embarrassing.
The Volkswagen Passat (The American version, that is) has done nothing but get worse and worse every year, to where it’s barely recognizable as a Volkswagen. Even VW has apparently realized the damage they’re doing to their nameplate with this car and is restoring a few features to it for 2014. Thank God.

Alex Dykes:

Best:
RAM 1500 Diesel – The car company lampooned last decade for doing everything wrong seems to have found their mojo. 2014 combines a sweet 3.0L V6 turbo diesel engine with a ZF 8-speed automatic, healthy tow ratings and one of the best infotainment systems on the market. Chrysler will gladly stuff the torque-happy towing champ in their base Tradesman pickup or their cowboy Cadillac with stitched leather dash bits and real wood trim. Yeehaw!

Honda Accord Hybrid – Honda has tried dethroning the Prius for ages with hybrid Civics and even dedicated hybrid models to no avail. Until now. The 2014 Accord is combines decent handling, traditional sedan looks and impressive fuel economy numbers. There have been others that have claimed 47 MPG, but the Accord is the first to deliver in the real world putting the better handling, more attractive and more comfortable Accord just 3 MPG shy of Toyota’s fuel sipper. By not attacking the Prius head, on Honda has accidentally created the best Prius alternative to date.

Worst:

MitsubishiOutlander – Let’s face it, unless Mitsubishi pulls a rabbit out of their hat, they are the latest dead brand walking. The new Outback is unremarkable inside and out.  Old engines combine with slow transmissions and 1990s interior styling to create a completely forgettable crossover. The Outlander is $4,000 less than a 7-seat Kia Sorento, unfortunately for Mitsubishi, the Sorento is totally worth the $4,000 bump.

Smart FourTwo – At $13,270 the Smart sounds like a great idea. Until you look at the price and discover a Nissan Versa sedan is 10% cheaper, seats 150% more people, carries more stuff, gets better fuel economy and has a transmission that doesn’t shift like a drunk 14 year old learning to drive a stick. If you really must own a 3-cylinder conveyance in America, get a 3-cylinder Fiesta or a Mitsubishi Mirage.

Murilee Martin:

Best car: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with manual transmission. This car is so spirally-eyed ridiculous and its powertrain such an engineering masterpiece that you won’t mind the tooth-loosening ride, tinny Lancer bodywork, and dismaying thirst for fuel. Of all the press cars I’ve driven in recent years, this is the one I’m most tempted to go out and buy. You must get the manual transmission to appreciate this car, even though it’s an early-90s-style 5-speed that keeps the engine screaming at nearly four grand on the highway.

Best light truck: Piaggio Ape. So small it barely exists, yet does most of what a truck should do: haul stuff, keep the rain off you, repair easily. Needs a stereo, though.

Worst: Rental-car-grade Nissan Altima. The civilian Altima might be just fine, but the several rentals I had over the last year managed to be even more unpleasant to drive than the previous LeMons Staffer Worst Rental Car of All Time (the Dodge Nitro). Steering feels disconnected from driver input (a pro racer says it feels like there’s a built-in 1/10th-second delay in steering input), resulting in exhausting and constant overcorrections on the highway. CVT howls, hunts for ratios, can’t find them. If you have a choice between the Altima and a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe at the rental-car counter, take the Cozy Coupe.

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2015 Mustang: Ronnie’s Live Pics From the Dearborn Reveal http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/2015-mustang-ronnies-live-pics-from-the-dearborn-reveal/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/2015-mustang-ronnies-live-pics-from-the-dearborn-reveal/#comments Fri, 06 Dec 2013 03:16:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=671954 First off, I want to apologize to our readers for not getting these photos posted in a more timely manner. T’is the season and the Mustang reveal was not the only press event in Detroit today. That being said, the segment of the four continent six city reveal that took place in Dearborn was part […]

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First off, I want to apologize to our readers for not getting these photos posted in a more timely manner. T’is the season and the Mustang reveal was not the only press event in Detroit today. That being said, the segment of the four continent six city reveal that took place in Dearborn was part new product reveal, part car show and part pep rally and a good time was had by all. In addition to the all new 2015 Mustang up on stage, the lobby of Ford’s conference center was filled with a number of significant customer owned historical Mustangs. Mark Fields, Ford’s COO, did the reveal in Dearborn, aided by soon-to-retire VP of styling J. Mays, and in general the crowd of Ford employees (the allotted tickets were grabbed up in 4 minutes I was told), executives, dealers, members of the media and a number of Mustang club members who drove in for the event had a positive reaction to the new ‘Stang.

I was hoping to get some photos of the new Mustang’s new independent rear suspension, but the car up on stage was a pushmobile. The few actual running prototypes were allotted to other cities in the multi-location event and the Mustang’s hometown got the “leftovers” as one member of the Mustang team told me.

Full gallery after the jump.

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Meet The New MINI, Same As The Old MINI http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/meet-the-new-mini-same-as-the-old-mini/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/meet-the-new-mini-same-as-the-old-mini/#comments Mon, 18 Nov 2013 15:17:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=654306   Photos of the re-designed MINI Cooper have been leaked ahead of its debut at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show. As you can expect, it looks a lot like the old car. The big news here is an all-new engine for the base car, a 1.5L turbocharged three-cylinder engine making 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft […]

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2014-MINI-cooper-hardtop

 

Photos of the re-designed MINI Cooper have been leaked ahead of its debut at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show. As you can expect, it looks a lot like the old car.

The big news here is an all-new engine for the base car, a 1.5L turbocharged three-cylinder engine making 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. The Cooper S retains a 4-cylinder, this time a 2.0L with 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque.

Both 6-speed manual and automatics are on offer, while the car is 4.5 inches longer, 1.7 inches wider and 0.3 inches taller. Absent on the new MINI is the goofy giant speedometer, now placed with a giant LCD screen.

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS250 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:58:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=639233 After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of […]

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2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior

After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of their lineup has been overhauled. Initially, I was a little concerned that the Lexus IS sedan would receive nothing more than a new nose and some LED lights for 2014 but the Japanese 3-Series fighter came out swinging when we were invited to the launch event earlier in the year. I came away impressed with the IS 350’s road manners, but most buyers will be shopping for the less powerful IS 250 and it’s taken us this long to get our hands on one.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

Instead of refreshing the IS, Lexus decided to give their smallest RWD sedan a complete overhaul for 2014. Lexus crafted a new IS platform with a 3-inch longer wheelbase that addresses a big complaint about the old car – it was too small inside for American consumers. The result is an entirely new unibody that is three inches longer than the old model riding on a three-inch longer wheelbase. In addition to the stretch the 2014 model gets a hair wider, a hair taller and ground clearance drops by half an inch.

2014 Lexus IS 250 2014 Lexus IS 350, Exteruiotr, F-Sport Front grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

In addition to the Lexus “Spindle” grille up front, the IS sports an entirely different side profile that is easily the most expressive in the small luxury segment. Although I like Cadillac’s new ATS on the outside, I think the IS provides a more balanced blend of aggressive and luxury styling cues from the angry front end, to the almost-Swedish shoulder bulges. Unfortunately I just haven’t warmed up to the Lexus daytime running lamps which are now divorced from the headlamps and have their own cut-out in the bumper cover. Lexus says they are styled after the Lexus “L” but they just look like Nike “Swooshes” to my eye. Even so, if it were my money to spend I’d be torn between the restrained but elegant BMW 328i and the aggressive but sometimes questionable IS 250. I like Cadillac’s angular lines, but I slot the design just below the BMW and Lexus in my mental tally. Add the F-Sport package to the IS 250 however and Lexus breaks the tie with a more aggressive grille. (In the picture above.)

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Because the GS and LS share interior design cues I had expected the IS to follow suit, I was wrong. While the other Lexus models have opted for a more open and expansive interior theme, the IS feels tight and close to the driver. The feeling is amplified by a high beltline and a tall center console. If you like your car to make you “feel big,” then this is the sedan for you. Rather than the “double bump” style that seems to be popular right now, Lexus opted for a tall two-tier look with the infotainment screen positioned farther away from the driver than the gauges, and centered in the tall dashboard. Opting for the F-Sport package replaces the analog gauges with a configurable LCD cluster.

Cabin plastics in the IS lead the competition, especially those farther from the driver’s usual reach. While BMW cut a few corners with the current 3-Series by using hard plastics low in the dash, the IS maintains a quality feel no matter how low your hand wanders. As you’d expect from Lexus, one can still get acres of stained wood and soft leather. “Can” is the operative word here,since  real leather can only be found in the top two option packages in the IS, while all other models get Lexus’s faux-cow that is bonded directly to the seat foam to prevent stretching or folding as the seat ages. The imitation-hide is perfectly convincing and the only covering available in the IS 250 F-Sport.

Front seat comfort proved excellent during my week with the IS 250, easily besting the Audi A4, Mercedes C250, Cadillac ATS and the base seats in the BMW 328i – but if you want the best seats in this segment, you’ll find those in the Volvo S60 or the optional M-Sport seats in the BMW. Thanks to the wheelbase stretch, rear legroom is up by 1.6 inches over the last generation IS, while front leg room grows about an inch at the same time. The improved rear legroom is welcome as that has long been an IS shortcoming, but it’s obvious by both Lexus and Cadillac’s latest 3-Series fighter that nobody expected the 3-Series to grow as much as it did in this last generation. As a result the 328i beats the IS 250 by a whopping three inches of rear legroom. The Lexus does counter with a slightly larger trunk, but I found the overall trunk dimensions to be slightly more advantageous in the BMW balancing out the extra cube the IS offers.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Although I couldn’t find a single example on a dealer lot, the base IS with no options is the only way you can escape the infamous Lexus Remote Touch joystick. All other models use a small controller with haptic feedback to control a software interface originally designed for use with a touchscreen LCD. Regardless of the input method, all IS models get a 7-inch color LCD positioned far away from the driver. The base model sports a noticeable low resolution screen while all other models get a high resolution screen of the same size. The distance from the driver and the large plastic bezel conspire to make the screen look much smaller than it is. The problem is further compounded by the screen being actually smaller than the competition as well.

2014 brings some mild software updates to the infotainment software including a new home screen (shown above), HD Radio support and traffic information via HD radio instead of satellite so you don’t need an XM subscription to get a color-coded traffic map. If you can get beyond the input method, the system proved reliable and moderately intuitive. Overall however I am still forced to rank this system below BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Infinit’s new two-screen setup, Volvo’s Sensus, and even Mercedes’ aging COMAND system. The only system to offend my inner-nerd more is with the Cadillac CUE system.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Operating by the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fit it” mantra, there are no significant changes under the hood for the IS 250 this year. That means we have the same 2.5L, direct-injection, 60° V6 engine as before, good for the same 204 ponies and 185 lb-ft of twist. (The IS 350 gets a 3.5L version of the same engine, making 306 HP and 277 lb-ft.) Just as before, we have a 6-speed transmission on offer (The RWD IS 350 gets a newer 8-speed), with AWD commanding $2,535 more. Should you opt for the F-Sport package, Lexus will add a sound amplifying snorkel to the intake plumbing to amplify the engine’s growl.

With everyone else moving to forced-induction four-cylinder engines, the smooth V6 engine is what sets the IS 250 apart. I know that calling a V6 “smooth” or, dare I say it, “buttery smooth” sounds like sacrilege, but since BMW no longer offers their naturally aspirated in-line 6 under the hood of the 328i, the refinement crown goes to Lexus.  There is more going on here than just the numbers however, because the small turbos not only deliver more torque, they do so across a much broader RPM range than Lexus’ 2.5L V6. Even the Mercedes 1.8L turbo in the C250 blows out more torque across a broader band than the six cylinder mill in the IS 250. For reasons known only to Lexus’ product planning team, the 220 horsepower IS 300h, which mates the same engine to Lexus’s RWD hybrid drivetrain, remains forbidden fruit on our shores.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The IS’s 2.5L V6 may be down on power compared to the Americans and Germans but it is no contest when it comes to refinement or engine note. Sadly refinement isn’t what propels you to 60, so when the light turns green you’ll have a whisper quiet view of the competition’s rear bumpers. Our tester ran to 60 in 7.02 seconds, a full 1.3 seconds slower than the 328i and 1 second slower than the ATS 2.0T.  Even the 1.8L turbo in the Mercedes C250 and the bargain-basement BMW 320i beat the IS 250 to 60 MPH by a few tenths.

The responsiveness of the IS in tight corners demonstrates how much time Lexus spent engineering the 2014 model. The old IS came across as isolated, perhaps even sloppy, while the third generation chassis is sharp and crisp. Every system in the IS feels like a team player from the numb suspension to the transmission shift logic and the revised double-wishbone front suspension. While the IS isn’t the hard-core corner carving machine the ATS 2.0T is, the IS 250 feels more harmonious and balanced on the road. Oddly enough, the BMW is the wild card. The E90 3-Series (previous generation) was precise and engaging, but the F30 (current generation) has traded handling prowess for a softer ride and a ginormous back seat. Meanwhile the Audi and Volvo plow like a John Deere when they encounter a corner and the Mercedes feels just as you would expect: heavy and soft. That’s not to say the IS is the performance winner. The Lexus is a hair heavier in the nose than the BMW, so at-limits handling is not as neutral as the ATS and because of the power deficit, the 328i is faster around the track. While the Lexus feels more precise and engaging than the BMW, the 328i’s better weight balance means it is both faster in the straightaways and holds its own in the corners. How about the Cadillac? It beats both the Lexus and the BMW hands down.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004

Without taking price into consideration, the IS 250 makes a compelling argument for those that value smooth drivetrains, excellent steering feel and chassis dynamics. If however you value performance, luxury amenities and cabin room, the BMW is your best bet. If you’re a BMW shopper that is after the “ultimate driving machine” then you need to visit the Cadillac dealer.

Reviews are nothing without pricing information however. The IS 250 is the cheapest car in this shootout by a long shot. The IS undercuts the BMW 328i by $3,600 (adjusting for feature content) and even manages to be $1,700 less than the BMW 320i. Option up the BMW and Lexus with navigation, sport pack and leather and the delta grows to more than $5,000. The story is the same with the Cadillac and Mercedes with the ATS ringing in $4,200 to $7,500 more and the C250 a whopping $5,500-$7,500 more. The Infiniti Q50 may seem like a natural competitor but Infiniti has yet to release a model that competes directly with the low output options in this segment.

After a week with the IS 250 and a few hours in the Cadillac ATS and 328i in the same week something dawned on me. Lexus and Cadillac have managed to do what they set out to: beat BMW at their own game. Cadillac has nearly replicated an E90 3-Series in terms of handling and chassis performance, Lexus has crafted a drivetrain and steering rack that are superior in smoothness and feel to what BMW is selling. But just when the competition caught up BMW decided to play a different game. By chasing luxury, roominess and fuel economy, BMW has shifted the focus away from driving dynamics. (Yep, I said that out loud.) And in the process BMW is laughing all the way to the bank. By chasing BMW Lexus has created the finest IS 250, yet the sales indicate what Lexus should have been chasing is the customer.  For a car guy like me, the way the IS 250’s systems seem to work in perfect harmony combined with the low sticker price make it a winner. For the average shopper however, Lexus is an 8-speed automatic and a four-cylinder turbo away from true competition.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.58 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.37 Seconds @ 89.1 MPH

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 66 Db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 27.5 MPG over 591 miles

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-005 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-003 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-010 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-011 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Trunk

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Marchionne Presents Yet Another Turnaround Plan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/marchionne-presents-yet-another-turnaround-plan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/marchionne-presents-yet-another-turnaround-plan/#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2013 18:03:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=639241 Another day, another turnaround strategy from Sergio Marchionne. The plan, which won’t be revealed until April, reportedly includes a rear-wheel drive architecture as a key element, with enough flexibility to be used in everything from Alfa to Dodge vehicles. Although Alfa Romeo is said to be a key factor in Fiat’s overall future growth, it […]

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Another day, another turnaround strategy from Sergio Marchionne. The plan, which won’t be revealed until April, reportedly includes a rear-wheel drive architecture as a key element, with enough flexibility to be used in everything from Alfa to Dodge vehicles.

Although Alfa Romeo is said to be a key factor in Fiat’s overall future growth, it currently fields just two small hatchbacks and the low volume 4C sports car. Most of its sales happen in Europe, where the new car market is weak. Alfa badly needs this new architecture to flesh out its product line with larger sedans, station wagons and SUVs, but nothing is expected to bear fruit until 2016 at the earliest.

Previous plans have called for Alfa to sell 500,000 units by 2014, a goal that was established in 2010. Since then, there has been a constant lowering of volume targets while the date itself is pushed back further and further into the future. The return of Alfa Romeo to America is a bit of a running joke amongst car enthusiasts, but at this point, it’s a matter of global survival for the brand, and each delay only makes the situation increasingly precarious.

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Review: 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-acura-ilx-2-4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-acura-ilx-2-4-with-video/#comments Sat, 26 Oct 2013 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=629290 The Acura ILX has been derided as being nothing more than a gussied-up Honda Civic, an analogy that I too applied to the compact Acura when it first arrived. But then our own Brendan McAleer caused me to question my dismissal of the ILX. How many shoppers out there are willing to option-up a base model […]

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2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Acura ILX has been derided as being nothing more than a gussied-up Honda Civic, an analogy that I too applied to the compact Acura when it first arrived. But then our own Brendan McAleer caused me to question my dismissal of the ILX. How many shoppers out there are willing to option-up a base model by 50% and don’t think twice about the fact their “limited” model looks just like the base model? All of a sudden the ILX, especially the 2.4L model we tested made sense to me. What was the revelation? Click through the jump to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

I know that we have a segment of readers that believe all modern cars look-alike, but I’m going to say it any way. The best thing about the ILX is that it doesn’t look like a Civic. Don’t believe me? Park a Civic and an ILX next to one another and you might even think the two cars are totally unrelated. How is this possible?  First off, no sheetmetal or glass are shared between the two and Acura decided to tweak just about every hard point other than the wheelbase for Acura duty. If you look at the picture below (which highlights how poor my Photoshop skills are) I have overlayed the ILX on the Civic for reference.

In addition to a blunter nose, lower roof and a more aggressive character line, Acura modified the structure of the car by moving the pillars around. The A pillar moves 8 inches rearward vs the Civic giving the ILX a hood that is several inches longer and a windshield that is more deeply curved. The C pillar has also been tweaked giving the ILX a more graceful silhouette and a smaller trunk lid. While they were at it they swapped in an aluminum hood for some moderate weight savings.

2013 Honda Civic EX-L SedanThe result of Acura’s nip/tuck is an attractive, albeit sedate, premium look. I think that Buick’s Verano is more exciting and the not-yet-on-sale 2015 Audi A3 looks more luxurious, but the ILX plays right to the conservative heart of the target Acura shopper. In keeping with the premium image, 17-inch wheels are standard on all ILX models except the hybrid where things drop to eco-minded 16-inch rims. The most demure Acura “beak” integrated into the front grille and hidden exhaust tips complete the design of the smallest Acura.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes
Interior

The ILX’s interior represents more of an upgrade over the Civic than I had expected. Soft injection molded plastics span the dashboard and very few parts are shared with the Honda . By my estimation. the interior parts sharing is limited to a traction control button, air vent open/close dials and the door handles. Anyone worried that the Civic’s funky two-tier dash is along for the ride will be pleased, the interior style of the ILX is very mainstream from the double-bump dashboard to the four-dial gauge cluster.

In typical Acura fashion the ILX comes well equipped in base form and options are bundled into packages helping to keep dealer inventory manageable. All ILX models get zone climate control, keyless ignition, push button start and a steering wheel wrapped in soft leather. Base hybrid models get manual cloth seats but all other ILX models get heated leather thrones coated in perforated leather with a driver’s side only 8-way power mechanism.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012Front seat comfort is substantially similar to the Honda Civic thanks to shared seat frames and adjustment mechanisms. The ILX’s front seats get more generous seat back bolstering in keeping with its more premium and sporting image while the seat bottoms remain as flat as Kansas. Thanks to the platform changes that make the ILX more attractive on the outside, interior room is compromised slightly with headroom and legroom figures falling when you compare it to the Civic.  Compared to the Buick Verano the numbers are right in line.

The ILX’s rear seats are slightly less comfortable than the Verano, but a step above the mainstream compact segment with more thigh support for adults. Opting for the hybrid ILX forces the removal of the folding rear seat backs (the batteries have to go somewhere), while the ILX 2.0 and 2.4 sport the same 100% folding mechanism as the Civic. This means it’s not possible to carry long cargo and three or four passengers like you can in the Verano. This deficiency is made more of a problem by the ILX’s small 12.3 cubic foot trunk, notably smaller than the Verano, Lexus CT, or even the Mazda3.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Nestled in the “double bump” instrument cluster is a standard 5-inch color LCD that does double-duty as a trip computer and infotainment display. This base system runs the same software as the Honda Civic but places the screen in a more “normal” location and uses a button bank that should be familiar to current Acura owners. The base system features standard iDevice/USB integration, Bluetooth speakerphone/streaming and Pandora smartphone app integration. The 200-watt amplifier and 7 speaker sound system are well-balanced but volume isn’t this system’s forte.

ILX 2.0 and Hybrid models with the “technology package” link the climate control system to a sun sensor and the GPS system for improved comfort and bumps the sound system up to a 10-speaker surround sound system with a 410-watt amp. Also along for the ride is the same 8-inch navigation system found in the Acura TSX and TL. The system doesn’t sport the improved high res interface in the MDX and RLX but is among the easier to use on the market as long as you don’t try to use Acura’s voice commands for browsing your iPod. Seriously, just don’t even try. Sadly 2014 hasn’t brought any major changes to the options lineup meaning that the more powerful engine and the more powerful sound system are mutually exclusive. The choice to saddle the 2.4L model we tested with the same 5-inch display and software as the Civic is the biggest flaw with the ILX so far.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Under the ILX’s long hood you’ll find an “interesting” assortment of engines. Why interesting? Let’s start at the beginning. First off, Acura uses three different engines in the various ILX models. Rumors that Acura planned to kill off the base 2.0L four-cylinder appear to be unfounded as the 2014 ILX can still be had with the 150 horsepower mill. This is the same engine found in European market Accords and other world Honda models but appears to be exclusive to the ILX in America.  Honda’s old 5-speed automatic was tapped to send the 140 lb-ft to the ground. The ILX Hybrid gets the Civic’s 111 horsepower, 127 lb-ft hybrid system without modification. While the 1.5L engine seemed adequate in the Civic, I found the small engine and traditional belt/pulley CVT vexing in a near-luxury sedan.

On to what we’re here to talk about: the 2.4L Civic Si engine. Yes, Acura decided ILX shoppers should get a little sport-love and snatched the Si’s 201 horsepower engine for premium duty. In typical Honda fashion, the 2.4L engine screams like a banshee on its way to its 7,000 RPM redline and matching 7,000 RPM power peak. 170 lb-ft come into play at 4,400 RPM and the engine is mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual. Yes, you heard that right, Acura is trying to get a larger share of the premium compact market with a high-revving engine four-cylinder and a slick shifting stick. Although the manual-only policy is an obvious impediment to sales success, if you have outgrown your Civic Si, or if you think the Honda looks a little too “boy racer”, you can get a classier, leather coated version at the Acura dealer.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Once out on the road the ILX’s powertrain deficiencies become obvious. The base 2.0L engine may be smoother and more refined than the 1.8 in the Civic, but compared to Buick’s modern 2.4L direct injection mill, it is rough around the edges and anemic. How about the 111 horsepower ILX hybrid? It is quite possibly the only car that can make Lexus’s underpowered CT 200h seem quick. But we’re not here to talk about those ILX models, this is TTAC and we’re interested in MOAR POWARR.

The 2.4L four-cylinder is an entirely different animal. With 33% more power than the base model our 0-60 run clocked in at a respectable 7.29 seconds. That slots the ILX between the regular Verano and the Verano Turbo that accomplished the same task in 6.5 (Verano Turbo with the 6-speed manual). The time was closer than I thought it would be considering the 90 lb-ft of torque that separate the two but the driving experience couldn’t be more different. The Verano’s turbo engine provides an extremely broad torque curve which negates the need for frequent downshifting on winging mountain roads while the ILX’s engine needs to scream like a leaf blower to deliver the maximum thrust. While I found the Verano’s power delivery more liveable, the ILX at 7,000 RPM made me giggle. (Yes, I said that out loud.) As you would expect from the “luxury Civic Si,” the ILX’s shifter action is precise, clutch engagement is nearly perfect and the shifts are short. In contrast, the Verano’s clutch is rubbery, vague and the shift throw is lengthy.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006

Instead of lifting the Civic Si’s suspension as is, Acura decided to tweak the design with dual-valve damper technology lifted from the RLX and MDX. The two valves allow the damping to be firm and body roll to be well controlled under most conditions while soaking up large road imperfections like a sedan with a softer suspension. The system retains most of the Civic Si’s road holding ability while delivering a ride that more composed than the Verano. Similarly the lightly revised steering setup is a little less direct than the Si but yields better feel than the baby Buick. Despite incorporating laminated glass and an active noise cancellation system, the ILX manages to be several decibels louder than the eerily quiet cabin of the Verano.

At $29,200, our ILX was about $6,500 more than a Civic Si. When you factor in the additional equipment you find in the ILX and the expanded warranty coverage, the difference between the Honda and the Acura drops to about $2,000. When you look at the ILX in this light, the sales proposition makes perfect sense. While the Civic Si is a great compact car, it looks just like a regular Civic. The ILX on the other hand nets you a better brand name, longer warranty, an improved ride and car that won’t make your boss question your maturity. Like the Integra of yesteryear, this is the sort of “gateway” product Acura needs.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009

There are just a few problems however. The ILX’s option list and spec sheet is a mess. Despite getting better fuel economy than the Verano in every trim, Acura needs to drop their 6-speed tranny into their base model for spec-sheet-shoppers to give it a second look. Likewise the 2.4L engine needs a 6-speed auto and some infotainment love, the 2.0L engine needs more grunt and the hybrid needs to be euthanized. Without changes like these the Acura ILX will remain a sensible Civic upgrade but as a competitor to Buick’s new-found mojo, Acura has some catching up to do. The ILX’s driving dynamics may be superior, but taken as a package the only reason to avoid buying the Verano is if you still associate Buicks with the blue-haired set.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.55 Seconds

0-60: 7.29 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 89.9 MPG

Interior sound level: 74db @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 26 MPG over 345 miles

 

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-011 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-008 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-008 . 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-004 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-015 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-014 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-003 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-011

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

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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

2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda

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

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

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

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

MY2014 Mazda 3

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Drivetrain

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

2014 Mazda3 exhaust manifold

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

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004

Drive

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009

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

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

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

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 73 db

 

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

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First Drive Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/#comments Mon, 14 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=607433 Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different […]

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2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different configurations. If you’re in a 2014 Corolla, the odds are about one in five that the Corolla next to you is identical save for paint color. Often derided by the automotive press as a “driving appliance,” is there more to the 2014 Corolla or is it just a toaster with wheels? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When you plan on selling 330,000 of anything, mainstream styling is essential. When many of those shoppers are repeat Toyota and repeat Corolla buyers, it’s also essential to avoid anything that could be described as “adventurous.” The result is the attractive but plain sheetmetal. You won’t find any Mazda-esque swooshes, any Ford/Aston inspired grilles and you certainly won’t find anything “aggressive.” And that’s how Corolla shoppers like it. Corolla shoppers apparently also like getting bigger cars with every re-design, so this 11th generation model has grown by 3.9 inches. Why don’t they shop up the ladder to a Camry? Who knows.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Plenty of reviewers have found fault in the way the 11th gen Corolla looks, most of them complain vehemently in private and say little in public. I however, am not afraid to say what I think in public: the Corolla is pedestrian but far from offensive. I also find the Corolla S (pictured above) to be the more attractive of the bunch although neither nose is any more or less exciting than the Sentra, Civic or Elantra. The biggest problem with the way the Corolla looks has nothing to do with the Corolla and everything to do with timing. I drove the 2014 Corolla two days before sampling Mazda’s hot new Mazda3. If looks matter to you, the Corolla is unlikely to be on your short list. Adding a little visual flair to the front, Toyota made LED headlamps standard on every Corolla. Yep, even the $16,800 stripper model. The other thing that’s standard is an oddly tall ride height resulting in a larger than average distance between the top of the tire and the wheel-well making the Corolla look “off road ready.” Make of that what you will.

2014 Toyota Corolla Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

After a week in the RAV4’s discordant interior, I was concerned what Toyota would do with the volume leader. Thankfully my concerns were unwarranted and I found the Corolla’s interior surprisingly elegant. Yes, I said that out loud, I found the design elegant. (Notice I didn’t say exciting.) There are a few caveats however. While the dashboard styling reminded me a great deal of the Mazda6, parts quality still lags behind the Focus, top-level Forte and, in some ways, even the Chevy Cruze. The picture above is of the more attractive (in my opinion) two-tone interior. You’ll only find this on the LE, LE Plus, LE ECO and LE ECO Plus model as everything else is black on black and looks a hair cheaper. 2014 brings soft touch points to most of the Corolla’s cabin and a new fabric headliner in most models. The exterior may be plain my bottom line on the interior is that I could live with it long term without a problem.

Front seat comfort proved average for the segment but I found the lack of adjustable lumbar support to be a problem for my back. Stepping up to the “Premium” trim LE or S gets you an 8-way power seat but still very little back support. The big change for 2014 is out back, the stretch allowed Toyota to add 5.1 inches to the back seat, ballooning to 41.4 inches total, just 2/10ths less than a Camry. More legroom meant more room for the seats themselves and allowed the rear bench to be lengthened for more thigh support. Putting that in perspective, that’s 5 inches more than most compacts, four inches more than the Sentra’s cavernous back seat and a whopping 8.2 inches more than the Focus. Sadly even the Corolla hasn’t been able to escape the low-roof trend limiting headroom for taller folks in the back. 2014 brings some trunk love, bumping the cube carrying to 13, respectable for the class but below the Sentra’s large booty. If bag carrying is your thing, you should know that the Sentra can swallow four 24-inch roller bags in a vertical orientation, and four more horizontally. I can’t even think of a modern full-sized sedan that can do that.

2014_Corolla_S_017

Infotainment and Gadgets

The new Corolla gets Toyota’s latest infotainment software package and this represents a new direction. Previously there were two separate navigation/infotainment operating systems, a low cost unit found in cars like the Prius C, and the totally different (and expensive) one found as an option in vehicles like the Avalon and the Lexus line. Toyota shifting to common software running on different hardware depending on the model. Cheaper cars get smaller screens, Toyotas stick to touchscreens while Lexuses (Lexi?) get the joystick.

Representing the Corolla’s place at the bottom of the Toyota food chain, you’ll find an 6.1 inch touchscreen standard on all models except for the L. (The L is expected to represent less than 10% of sales.) While I find this software one of the worst in the luxury class, my negative impression is entirely down to the Lexus joystick. In the Corolla the system is fast and responsive and the graphics are all perfectly suited to the 6.1 inch touchscreen. Toyota tosses in weather and traffic updates on certain models without having to add navigation which is a handy feature. USB and iDevice integration is excellent and easily the equal of Ford’s SYNC in terms of voice control and tops the segment in touch-screen ease of use. The standard Bluetooth speakerphone worked well and had excellent sound quality. Depending on the trim you can also add smartphone app integration to Pandora, OpenTable, etc. Like the rest of the Corolla, the Entune system doesn’t break any new ground, but it is easy to live with.

On the gadget front the Corolla covers all the basics with those LED headlamps, a standard cabin air filter, air conditioning and power door locks and windows. LE and higher models (again, 90% of sales) gain  automatic climate control, six speakers, a backup camera, cruise control and keyless entry. If you want any whiz-bang features like self parking, heads up displays, blind spot monitoring, power folding whatnots or dynamic cruise control, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013

Drivetrain

The engine under the hood of 90% of Corollas is carried over from last year. The 1.8L four-cylinder engine is good for a class middling 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. A new six-speed manual replaces the old 5-speed as the base transmission and delivers 28/37 MPG (city/highway) when so equipped. If you’re one of the incredibly few that plan on getting an L with an automatic, be warned that this is the same old four-speed automatic as last year’s Corolla.

All other Corollas, even the supposedly “sport” S model, get Toyota’s new continuously variable transmission. I can already hear the groans, but if you’re groaning about finding a CVT under the hood, then I’m going to generalize and say you’re not the target demographic. For the rest of you, you should know this CVT is one of the best I’ve ever driven and is a close second to the Honda CVT in the new Accord. Somehow Toyota and Honda have managed to exorcise the rubber band demon from the CVT in a way that Nissan has been unable. Ratio changes are quick and fuel economy is an impressive 29/38 MPG. S models get paddle shifters and all models will imitate a  seven-speed automatic when floored. The impersonation is passable, but I fail to see the point.

If you want to break the 40 MPG barrier, than the 30/42 MPG LE ECO model is the one to get. In order to get there, Toyota swaps new heads onto the 1.8L engine which incorporates their new ValveMatic variable valve lift, timing and duration system. Like BMW’s Valvetronic and Fiat’s MultiAir, this system acts as the throttle body under most circumstances to increase efficiency. When so equipped, power rises to 140 HP and torque drops to 126 lb-ft. It was hard to tell if the system delivered any real-world benefit because of the limited time I had in the Corolla but I can tell you that the extra 8HP didn’t make the ECO model any faster to 60.

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Why does the Corolla sell so well? It has more to do with brand loyalty and a reputation for reliability than road manners. Everything about driving the Corolla can be summed up in one word: average. From steering feel to suspension dynamics and road holding the Corolla is neither class leading nor class trailing. After a day and 140 miles, it reminded me of my flight to Seattle to see the Corolla in the first place. I flew in one of Southwest’s new 737-900 planes and the experience was entirely ordinary. The plane got me from point A to point B, it was as comfortable as I expected and the looks didn’t offend.

This middle-of-the-road mentality explains why Toyota jammed their new CVT into the Corolla. They aren’t the first to the CVT party and they won’t be the last. The CVT lags a hair behind Honda’s new Earth Dreams CVT but is more refined than Nissan’s Sentra. The combination of 132 ponies and a CVT make mountain climbing easier in the Corolla than the Civic with ye olde 5-speed, but not as nice as the large engine equipped Forte or Mazda3. Repeat Corolla buyers will find the Corolla peppier than before thanks to the CVT, since the old 4-speed automatic seemed to never have the right ratio for the situation.

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cabin noise measured in higher than average at 74 db at 50 MPH. 74db is a bit disappointing since even Honda made the latest Civic considerably quieter. Fuel economy was, yet again, middle of the road at 29 MPG over all after a day of city driving and stop-and-go traffic.

Even the Corolla’s recent “marginal” IIHS small offset crash score is class middling with the Civic snatching “good,” the Focus and Elantra “acceptable” and the Forte and Sentra slotting in below the Corolla at “poor.” While I can think of good reasons to buy something other than the Corolla, I honestly have troubles finding any reason to not buy one. When I tallied up my personal score card I was shocked to find I had ranked the Corolla 3rd behind the new Mazda3 and the Kia Forte. That ranking is based on the easy to use infotainment system, enormous back seat, large trunk, attractive interior and (of course) the reliability reputation the Corolla has maintained over the years. Yes, even I can be tempted (at least a little bit) by the logic of the driving appliance.

Perhaps that is what the bulk of the automotive press finds so vexing: The Corolla is probably the only car on the market that is deliberately designed to be average and Toyota nailed it.When I talked to a few Corolla owners about their purchase, none of them considered another model or brand before signing on the dotted line.

 

 Toyota provided airfare, accommodations and meals for this event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.93 Seconds

0-60: 9.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.61 Seconds @ 81.8 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29 MPG

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 74db

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-009 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-009 2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013 2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003

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First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=612689 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 […]

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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.

Exterior

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

Interior

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

Drivetrain

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

Drive

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

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Leasing Accounts For A Quarter Of New Vehicle Sales As Payments, Residuals Stay Low http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/leasing-accounts-for-a-quarter-of-new-vehicle-sales-as-payments-residuals-stay-low/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/leasing-accounts-for-a-quarter-of-new-vehicle-sales-as-payments-residuals-stay-low/#comments Wed, 25 Sep 2013 16:29:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=528489 While the engine behind the exceptional growth in new car sales is a hotly debated topic, leasing is proving to be an undeniable catalyst behind this year’s impressive new car sales numbers. Through June of this year, leasing accounted for 25.7 percent of new car sales, versus 22.2 percent in 2012.  A decade ago, that […]

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While the engine behind the exceptional growth in new car sales is a hotly debated topic, leasing is proving to be an undeniable catalyst behind this year’s impressive new car sales numbers. Through June of this year, leasing accounted for 25.7 percent of new car sales, versus 22.2 percent in 2012.  A decade ago, that number stood at just 17.5 percent.

Leasing saw a big jump in 2010, up to 21.3 percent of new car transactions, a nearly 5 percent rise compared to the prior year. Since 2010, leasing has been on a steady rise. One possible factor for this was that GM and Chrysler resumed leasing in late 2009, with the full effects of this becoming clear in 2010.

On the manufacturer side, OEMs are beginning to peg residuals at a higher number so that lower lease payments are made available for consumers. One TTAC source told us that a European luxury brand has spent close to ten figures buying down residuals to offer coveted “$299/month” lease payments on a popular model. An article in Automotive News explored this practice in the mainstream segment as well

Toyota is one of the risk-takers. It introduced the redesigned 2014 Corolla with low lease payments and residual values that are higher than those of the previous model. Toyota is betting the 2014 Corolla will be worth 63 percent of the sticker price three years from now compared with 53 percent for the 2013 model.

There is risk for the auto makers who go with a high residual. If the vehicle turns out to be worth less than the residual used by the automaker, it could cost the OEM money. But by pegging the residual value higher, customers can borrow less money (since they borrow the difference between the vehicle’s cost and its expected value after the lease term), allowing for lower payments. Keeping the monthly payment low has been a crucial element of auto financing in the post recession era.

Average transaction prices for new vehicles have topped $31,000 while the prosperity of Americans has not seen proportionate increases. Census data shows that the average income for a family has fallen 8 percent since 2007, with no growth occurring in 2012. Understandably, many consumers are put in a financially precarious position when it comes to paying for a new vehicle. Used car prices have also risen to the point where buying a second-hand vehicle is no longer as attractive as it once was. In response, vehicle loan terms have gotten longer, so that consumers can keep their monthly payments manageable despite having to finance increasingly expensive vehicles. The average term for a new vehicle loan in Q2 of 2013 was 65 months. On the other hand, subprime delinquencies have remained on a downward trend and commercial banks are looking to get in on the action as securitized loans are one of the few products providing yields in an era of ZIRP.

An expansion in consumer credit has been one of the underlying themes in the growth of new car sales and auto financing in recent years, but the spike in leasing, and the emphasis on keeping payments low is worth keeping an eye on, if only as an indicator of a larger macroeconomic trend. Cars are getting more expensive and increasingly out of reach for many. But as long as there’s a way to keep it “affordable”, even if it means leasing, not buying, or incredibly long loan terms, then new car sales can keep soaring to record heights.

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