The Truth About Cars » New Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 21:27:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » New Cars Editorial: The Car That Answers Today’s Questions? Tue, 24 Jun 2014 13:58:32 +0000 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 Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:28:17 +0000 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 Tue, 04 Mar 2014 05:23:30 +0000 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 Tue, 04 Mar 2014 04:34:18 +0000 db6783680a0d02b7000c4cee2ff1397a

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 ! Fri, 21 Feb 2014 14:00:45 +0000 red 2014 kia soul under snow cover

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?



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.


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.


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.


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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]]> 107 Hammer Time: Is Reliability Getting Old? Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:24:41 +0000 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“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 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 Thu, 26 Dec 2013 13:00:55 +0000 FiestaSTExterior12-main_rdax_646x396

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:

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.


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 Fri, 06 Dec 2013 03:16:08 +0000 IMG_0283

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 Mon, 18 Nov 2013 15:17:17 +0000 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.

2014-MINI-cooper-interior-04 2014-MINI-cooper-hardtop-04 2014-MINI-cooper-hardtop-03 2014-MINI-cooper-cooper-s 2014-MINI-cooper-hardtop 2014-MINI-cooper-rear 2014-MINI-cooper-yellow MINI-lineup 2014-MINI-cooper-interior-08 ]]> 60
Review: 2014 Lexus IS250 (With Video) Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:58:43 +0000 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.


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


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


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


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


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 ]]> 113
Marchionne Presents Yet Another Turnaround Plan Thu, 31 Oct 2013 18:03:43 +0000 2013-03-05_Geneva_Motor_Show_8286

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) Sat, 26 Oct 2013 13:00:29 +0000 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.


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

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


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


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


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


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First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 (With Video) Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:17:22 +0000 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.

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.

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

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


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 ]]> 191
First Drive Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla (With Video) Mon, 14 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 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.


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


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.


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.



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


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 ]]> 111
First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007

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


Click here to view the embedded video.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

2014_Accord_Hybrid_Touring_043, Picture Courtesy of Honda

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

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

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

2014_Accord_Hybrid_EX-L_ Picture Courtesy of Honda

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

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

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


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

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

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

Front Wheel Drive Biased

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 45.9 MPG over 129 miles.


2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Trunk ]]> 82
Leasing Accounts For A Quarter Of New Vehicle Sales As Payments, Residuals Stay Low Wed, 25 Sep 2013 16:29:36 +0000 7d4a7430404638720165ab399f429b03

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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Pre-Production Review: 2014 Toyota 4Runner (With Video) Fri, 13 Sep 2013 18:01:04 +0000 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I would normally start a car review with an item of trivia or history about the vehicle under review, or about the segment in general. This time I’m going to start by talking about the elephant in the room: the 2014 4Runner SR5/Trail front end. Yikes! I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when the attractive new 2014 Tundra pulled away revealing the 2014 4Runner, I was reminded of a woman I worked with in 1998. Drawn in by the promise of eternal good looks, she had her eyebrows surgically removed and lines tattooed on her face. The only problem was the tattoo artist (accidentally?) gave her a permanently surprised “eyebrows”. Oops. Perhaps the 4Runner also regrets going under the knife and that’s why the fog lamp slits make it look like it’s crying. What say the best and brightest? Click through the jump and sound off in the comment section.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Toyota


Are you relieved by this picture? I was. Things change if you’re willing to pony up $41,365 for the Limited model which adds chrome to break up the frowning grille and deletes whatever is going on around the SR5/Trail foglights. While I still think the headlamps are a little odd, the 4Runner Limited’s nose is attractive overall but it makes me ask: why do you have to pay more for the good-looking nose. Never mind, I answered my own question.

Aside from the new schnozz and some clear tail lamp lenses, little has changed for the Toyota’s mid-sized go-anywhere SUV. That means the 4Runner’s body still sits on a frame. That also means the 4Runner, Nissan Xterra and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited are the only mid-sized non-luxury body on frame SUVs left in America. (And I’m not sure I’d even call the smallish Wrangler a mid-size SUV.) Since I currently own two GMT360 SUVs, I “get” the BOF argument in many ways. Aside from the SR5′s nose, which is still giving me nightmares, there is something decidedly attractive about the proportions and profile of a body on frame rock crawler. Of course I can’t go further without mentioning the 4Runner’s modern nemesis: the decidedly unibody Jeep Grand Cherokee. The big Jeep isn’t just the current darling of the press, TTAC included, it’s also one of the most attractive SUVs for sale right now.

Click here to view the embedded video.


2014 brings a gentle refresh to the interior consisting of a new steering wheel, radio head units, gauge cluster, seat fabrics and plastic color choices. The new steering wheel is essentially shared with the 2014 Tundra and features a thick rim, well places sport grips, soft leather and well placed radio buttons. While Toyota claims that the front seats are unchanged from 2013, they seemed softer and more comfortable than the 2013 model made available for comparison. This could be down to the new fabric choices, but I think some foam was changed as well.

Ergonomics in the 4Runner have always been secondary to the off-road mission, and because little substance has changed for 2014 that remains. Window switches have gained an Auto feature but are still in an awkward and high place on the door, possibly to keep then out of the water should you stall in a stream. Radio knobs and switches and the 4WD shift level all require a decent reach for the average driver. Unlike the Grand Cherokee you can still get a 7-seat version of the 4Runner in SR5 and Limited trim, Trail remains 5-seat only. The extra two seats are an interesting option because the Nissan Xterra and Grand Cherokee, the only two rugged off-roaders left, are strict 5-seaters.

Toyota re-jiggered the features lists and the Trail model now gets heated SofTex faux leather seats with an 8-way power frame for the driver and 4-way power for the front passenger. You also get an integrated 120V inverter, auto-dimming mirror and programmable homelink transmitter. This placed the Trail model firmly between the SR5 and Limited in the lineup.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Like the new Tundra, the 4Runner gets Toyota’s latest infotainment head units. All models come standard with the 6.1-inch touchscreen unit with iDevice/USB integration with voice commands, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth speakerphone integration and smartphone apps. Toyota has “changed their Entune” lately and made the service free, however you need to sign up for an online account to make things work. SR5/Trail  Premium and Limited models add navigation software and improved voice commands with text messaging support to the same screen. Limited models upgrade the speakers from 8 Toyota branded blasters to 15 with JBL logos. If you want the detailed look, check out the video.


Anyone hoping for a resurrected V8 4Runner needs to head to the Jeep dealer, engineers I spoke with indicated the V8 will never return. Unless you need to tow with your mid-sized SUV (like I do) this isn’t much of a problem since the V8 model existed primarily to bolster the 4Runner’s towing numbers and consume more fuel. Instead, the same 270HP 4.0L V6 as last year soldiers on cranking out a respectable 278 lb-ft of torque across a broad RPM range. For off-road duty the V6 is perfect as it’s lighter than the V8 and with the right gearing you don’t need more power. About that gearing. Toyota continues to use their old 5-speed auto in the 4Runner and that’s my only beef. The 5-speed unit has a fairly tall 1st gear with an overall effective gear ratio of 12:1, notably higher than something like a Wrangler. SR5 and Trail models feature a 2-speed transfer case bumping that to 31:1, still taller than the Wrangler’s insane 73.3:1 ratio. If you opt for the Limited model the 2-speed transfer case is replaced with a Torsen center differential for full-time four wheel drive with better on-road manners.

Keeping with the 4Runner’s mud-coated mission, the rear axle is still solid, features a mechanical locker and skid plates are still standard. The Trail model still uses an open front differential, but like the Jeep Patriot uses the ABS brakes to imitate a limited slip unit. Toyota claims this keeps weight down and improves grip on certain surfaces. Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select, active traction control and crawl speed controls continue for 2014. It’s worth noting here that the Wrangler still has a solid front axle.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Out on the road the 4Runner’s manners are defined by the high profile (70-series) rubber and body-on-frame design. Toss the 4Runner into a corner and the high profile tires cause a “delay” in responsiveness that you don’t find in modern CUVs with their 35-series rubber. In terms of grip, the wise 265/70R17 tires on SR5 and Trail models help the 4Runner stay competitive with mainstream crossovers. The Limited model gets reduced grip but improved turn in and feel with its 245/60R20 rubber. Going lower profile but reducing width at the same time seems like an odd choice, but it helps the heavier Limited model with full-time AWD get the same 17/22/19 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) as the part-time SR5/Trail models.

Soft springs and trail tuned dampers mean the SR5 tips, dives and rolls like a traditional SUV, which makes sense as it is a traditional SUV. These road manners have caused a number of reviewers out there to call the 4Runner “conflicted,” “confused” or “compromised.” Clearly these guys don’t live in the country and have never been off-road. The 4Runner is quite possibly the last utility vehicle with a singular mission: retain off-road ability.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Yes, Toyota continues to add creature comforts, and I’m sure they will sell plenty of the RWD Limited model in suburbia, but at its heart the 4Runner is an off-road SUV. This is quite different from the Jeep Grand Cherokee which has been on a constant march toward the mainstream. (Albeit with an eye toward off-roading.) This is obvious when you look at Jeep’s switch to fully independent air suspension, constant size increases, a plethora of engine options and curb weight gone out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Grand Cherokee, but if you want to climb rocks, it’s not the best choice. Meanwhile, Toyota has in many ways re-focused on off-roading. The 4Runner offers a myriad of off-road software aids and the retention of a mechanically locking solid rear axle and rugged frame. In this light, keeping the old drivetrain makes sense: it’s tried and true and there are plenty of aftermarket accessories designed with it in mind.

The 4Runner may be a go-anywhere SUV, but it’s not a tow-anything SUV. The V6 and 5-speed combo limit the 4Runner to 4,700lbs, down from the 7,300lbs the defunct V8 model could shift. That’s thousands of pounds less than the Grand Cherokee and even 300lbs less than the Ford Explorer crossover. However, even this can be seen as a refocusing on the 4Runner’s core mission. As I’ve noted before, nobody seems to tow with their mid-size SUV except me, and off-roaders prefer the lower weight and better balance of the V6 for true off-road duty.

With Toyota canning the slow selling FJ Cruiser at some point soon, the 4Runner will soldier on as one of the last rugged SUVs. For a model that helped ignite the SUV/CUV explosion, it’s refreshing that the 4Runner has stayed true to its roots: providing a daily driver capable off-road machine. The Wrangler Unlimited is a better rock crawler with solid axles front and rear, better approach/departure/breakover angles, better ground clearance and a lower range gearbox, but the Wrangler is too off-road dedicated for the school run. If you’re one of the few that drops the kids off and heads over to the off-road park on your way to Costco, the 4Runner is for you. If you’re the majority of SUV shoppers, there are more “conflicted” “compromised” options out there that will fit your lifestyle better. Jeep will be happy to sell you one.


Toyota provided the 4Runner for a few hours at the Tundra launch event. Food and flights were covered by Toyota.


2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-001 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-002 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-003 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota 4Runner Interior-005

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Pre-Production Review: 2014 Toyota Tundra (With Video) Wed, 11 Sep 2013 20:02:31 +0000 2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior-002

We don’t just love pickup trucks in America, we practically worship them. The half ton pickup truck is an American icon embedded into our music, our entertainment and almost the core of our culture. If you haven’t owned or wanted to own a pickup truck, you’re probably a communist infiltrating American society and should be stopped. Despite inroads from the Japanese competition, the full-size truck market is a solidly American segment that isn’t just led by the big three, it’s dominated by them. In August, RAM took third place with 33,009 pickups sold in the US of A, more than three times the number four player: this week’s Toyota Tundra. Why is this gap so large when Toyota crushes the big three in so many other segments? Let’s explore that while we look at Toyota’s refreshed 2014 Tundra.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When it comes to trucks, we’re talking half-ton cargo haulers, not the compact truck market where Toyota arguably leads. The full-size truck market is about image and brand as much as it is about capability. Aside from men’s razors, no other product in America is marketed in such a completely-divorced-from-reality fashion. We buy trucks both because they haul and because they make us look cool. (Come on, you can admit it.) Truck advertising tells us that real Americans buy trucks, have cattle ranches, sing in country groups and get all the blonde babes. Real Americans also go muddin’, drink Bud and (most importantly) buy American. It is therefore no surprise that Toyota’s biggest market is California. (Make of that what you will.) It’s also no surprise the folks at the launch event were trying hard to sell the Tie-o-ter as the most American pickup on the market. With the highest percentage of American content, plus assembly in San Antonio, there is some truth to their assertions.


I think that part of Toyota’s tuck sales problem was the old T100 from 1993-1998. That truck was a half-step between the American mid-size and full-size trucks leading people to consider the T100 more of a mid-size competitor. Then came the 1999-2006 Tundra which grew but failed to keep up with the Americans in terms of styling and dimensions. In 2007 we got the all-new Tundra which yet again grew a half size and was finally competitive with the big three featuring two V8 engines and part-time 4WD. Sales were less than stellar. Why? Toyota believes styling was to blame and I’m inclined to agree. The “bubbly” theme of the old Tundra was fairly emasculating when you parked next to the “rugged” F-150 or RAM 1500.

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

For 2014 Toyota has addressed this problem with an enormous new grille that comes in three flavors (you can see two of them in the gallery) and features a prominent Toyota logo and very upright styling. It’s so upright the front bumper hardly protrudes from the grille at all. The larger and “chromier” grill is flanked by new headlamps that pay homage to the daring big-rig style of the 1994 RAM. The new nose makes the Tundra look bigger and meaner even though the dimensions have barely changed at all. Mainstream looks? Check.

2014 maintains the Tundra’s three cab, two bed, two wheelbase product mix. Things start out with the three-seat, two-door SR and stretch up to the six-seat four-door SR5. In a nod to the large number of truck shoppers that buy for image, not payload, Toyota offers three premium trim levels: Limited, Platinum and 1794. 1794 is named after the ranch that used to operate on the property the Tundra factory was built on. Mainstream product portfolio? Check.

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


Truck makers have finally read the memo that truck shoppers expect passenger car quality interiors. Toyota listened in 2007 but didn’t catch the all important detail “car quality interiors” not “car-like interiors.” Thankfully the 2014 refresh banishes the awkward Camry-esque of the old model for a more masculine design language. Like the competition there is plenty of hard plastic in this cabin, more fake tree than a 1970s suburban tri-level and plenty of bling. I can finally say with a straight face that the Tundra’s interior looks like a truck.

Unfortunately for Toyota, 2014 also brings a raft of refreshed, redesigned and tweaked trucks from the big boys. Compared back to back with the 2014 Silverado and the 2013 RAM, the Tundra’s interior looks a little too “try hard” with shapes that are discordant and not harmonious and parts quality that is a notch below the pack. The F-150 is getting a little old with a 2015 redesign widely expected, but I still find the Ford’s interior to be a better place to spend my time than the Tundra. Mainstream interior? Check.

2014 Toyota Tundra Interior, entune, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


2014 brings a few changes to the Tundra’s infotainment head unit. The major change is that all Tundra models will come with Toyota’s 6.1-inch Entune system only. The 7-inch system that ran the high-end software shared with the Lexus brand is not available in any model of Tundra. Consider me pleased. Toyota’s low-end system still seems to suffer from a dim LCD but the software itself is slick, speedy and easy to use. As before navigation is optional as is smartphone app integration. If you want the detailed look, check out the video. Mainstream tunes? Check.

2014 Tundra 5.7L V8, Picture Courtesy of Toyota


Delivering a new truck with an old drivetrain isn’t new, Ford’s been doing that for years. Unfortunately Ford is known for refreshing the under-hood-bits the next year while Toyota is known for  maintaining the status quo until a redesign. Unless Toyota breaks from tradition, this puts the Tundra at a serious competitive disadvantage. The base engine is ye olde 4.0L V6 mated to Toyota’s tried-and-true (but also tired and behind the times) 5-speed automatic. The rated 270 ponies and 278 twists are competitive with RAM’s 3.6L V6 and Ford’s 3.7L V6 on paper where torque is more important than horsepower for towing, but in the real world Ford’s 6-speed automatic makes better use of the power and 2014 brings ZF’s 8-speed to the RAM 1500 giving Chrysler’s 3.6L engine three more 60% more gears to play with. Toyota claims the V6 exists for a low entry price and as a result doesn’t even list a rated towing capacity for the V6 SR model. (Toyota says it’s 4,400 lbs.) I think that’s a serious mistake when we take two things into account. First, many truck buyers, especially those in California where Toyota is making headway, have no idea what a trailer even looks like. Second, Detroit is changing their tune on the V6 models changing them from entry engines to fuel efficient options that can haul some serious loads. RAM’s 2014 V6 model will tow 7,450lbs. Toyota was quick to say that they are the only ones with SAE verified towing numbers but I’m here to tell you the Chrysler 3.6L V6 and ZF 8-speed transmission are a weekend warrior’s towing wet dream.

Because the V6 is the milquetoast discount engine, Toyota offers two different V8s to fill out the product portfolio. Because Toyota only offers the V6 on the base SR model with the regular cab, most buyers will have a V8 under the hood. Both V8s are closely related to the engines found in modern Lexus models and as such are buttery smooth with a rich V8 burble and a torque curve that’s higher and “peakier” than the American competition. The 4.6L V8 is good for 310 horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque, only slightly higher than GM’s 4.3L V6 and well behind Ford’s fire-breathing Ecoboost 3.5L V6. Still, this is not going to be the most popular engine because most Tundras will have Toyota’s 381HP 5.7L V8 capable of cranking out 401 lb-ft. Both V8s are mated to a mode modern 6-speed automatic which is on par with GM and Ford but notably shy of the RAM’s new ZF 8-speed for 2014. If you need more power TRD will be selling the same supercharger kit as before (as a TRD accessory it is covered by the Toyota factory warranty) which bumps the 5.7 to a class blowing 504HP and 550 lb-ft.

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

Driving and hauling

If you are one of the few that tow with their pickup truck, you may be happy to know that Toyota is the only company that follows the SAE standard completely when determining tow ratings.  Or, like me, you may look at the situation more skeptically and say “OK, so Dodge, Ford and Chrysler fiddle with their numbers” but does that matter? Not to me. The big three’s 1500 series trucks all slot in around 10,000 lbs with Chevy currently claiming king of the hill. Big deal. How the vehicles behave while towing is more important to me than the numbers and with that in mind there is one clear winner: the 2014 Ram 1500. Why? It’s all about ZF’s 8-speed automatic. The octo-swapper is two gears ahead of the competition and as a result can better keep the engine in its respective power band. Towing with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 and 8-speed automatic is an eye opening experience and even though Chrysler’s 5.7L V8 lacks the power of the larger GM and Ford V8s the extra gears make a huge difference. Still, most half ton truck owners in suburbia have a truck because they bought a Ski-Doo and can’t imagine towing a 500-pound jetski behind a crossover with a meager 5,000 pound tow rating. (Seriously, I know some of these people.) With that in mind we can just say everyone in this segment can tow more than you need.

Out on the road the Tundra drives just like a pickup truck. If you had hoped that Toyota’s badge on the nose would turn the full-size cargo hauler into a FR-S on stilts you will be disappointed. The Tundra tips/dives and leans just like a Chevy, RAM or Ford and like the competition the horizontal grip varies depending on the cab, bed and rubber you choose. Steering is accurate but numb amd cabin noise is well controlled for a pickup truck.

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

With limited time behind the wheel of the pre-production models I must draw my V6 experience from a dealer provided 2013 model. The V6 is slow and thirsty, with the 5-speed automatic always a step behind what’s required. The 4.7L V8 is thirstier than the V6 but doesn’t drink anymore than the competition. Power delivery is smooth and  the 6-speed automatic shifts firmly with a relative eagerness to downshift when towing. The 5.7L V8 drinks like a college co-ed on spring break and has a somewhat high (3,600 RPM) torque peak which makes it feel out of sorts when towing compared to GM’s 6.2L monster.

After a day tossing the Tundra around Washington state and towing trailers with unknown weights inside (seriously, nobody seemed to know how much weight was in the demo trailer) I came to the conclusion that the Tundra is finally a solid middle of the pack contender. With the exception of ye olde 5-speed on the V6, there’s nothing about the Tundra that’s smaller, weaker, less masculine or less capable than the popular configurations of the Detroit trucks.

Everything about the Tundra is quintessentially middle of the pack, but does that make it the Goldilocks of the 1/2 ton truck market? Yes and no. In the pursuit of mainstream, Toyota has abandoned the attempt to be class leading. As a result, there is nothing extraordinary about the Tundra in a positive or negative way except, possibly, Toyota’s reputation for reliability. In a segment where brand is practically more important than payload and towing (just ask the Chevy vs Ford guys), that’s a problem for Toyota as it gives shoppers little reason to try something new. The 2014 Tundra is the best pickup truck Toyota has ever made and it’s a solid alternative to any of the American pickup trucks.  But, unless Toyota breaks out of their shell and does something radical, the Tundra isn’t likely to sway many shoppers in the heartland.


Tundra flew me to Seattle to sample the Tundra refresh.

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Honda Civic Tourer Debuts For Europe Only Tue, 13 Aug 2013 19:32:29 +0000 honda-civic-tourer-1

honda-civic-tourer-1 honda-civic-tourer-2 honda-civic-tourer-3 honda-civic-tourer-4 honda-civic-tourer-6 honda-civic-tourer-8 honda-civic-tourer-9 honda-civic-tourer-10 honda-civic-tourer-11 honda-civic-tourer-12

Ahead of the Frankfurt show, Honda revealed their Europe-only Civic Tourer, a wagon version of Honda’s bread and butter compact. Notable features include a Fit-style “Magic Seat” (that can be folded in multiple ways for maximum cargo carrying) and a tailgate that swings up extremely high – something that will likely be an issue in low underground garages. The Civic’s rivals include established players like the Skoda Octavia, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. But Honda is hoping that class-leading cargo capacity and distinctive styling will be enough to entice new customers.

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June 2013 Sales: 16 Million SAAR Projected Tue, 02 Jul 2013 20:08:21 +0000 Jaguar_F-Type_Paris_2012_7

A great month for Jaguar, which posted a 59 percent bump in sales, year-over-year. Strong sales of pickups helped the Big Three post some solid gains. Transaction prices were up $617 year-over-year, with an industry average of $31,125. Table below, courtesy of Automotive News.

Automaker June 2013 June 2012 Pct. chng. 6 month
6 month
Pct. chng.
BMW Group 33,729 27,799 21% 173,291 159,037 9%
    BMW division 27,074 21,725 25% 140,431 126,504 11%
    Mini 6,571 5,995 10% 32,356 32,059 1%
    Rolls-Royce 84 79 6% 504 474 6%
BMW Group 33,729 27,799 21% 173,291 159,037 9%
Chrysler Group 156,686 144,811 8% 908,332 834,068 9%
    Chrysler Division 27,249 26,863 1% 163,839 167,754 –2%
    Dodge 49,843 44,315 13% 318,414 261,578 22%
    Dodge/Ram 80,778 69,425 16% 493,476 404,061 22%
    Fiat 4,050 4,004 1% 21,612 20,706 4%
    Jeep 44,609 44,519 0% 229,405 241,547 –5%
    Ram 30,935 25,110 23% 175,062 142,483 23%
Chrysler Group 156,686 144,811 8% 908,332 834,068 9%
Daimler AG 27,162 25,394 7% 155,892 142,655 9%
    Maybach 4 –100% 24 –100%
    Mercedes-Benz 26,381 24,373 8% 151,433 137,883 10%
    Smart USA 781 1,017 –23% 4,459 4,748 –6%
Daimler AG 27,162 25,394 7% 155,892 142,655 9%
Ford Motor Co. 234,917 207,204 13% 1,289,736 1,140,383 13%
    Ford division 227,448 199,660 14% 1,251,448 1,098,421 14%
    Lincoln 7,469 7,544 –1% 38,288 41,962 –9%
Ford 234,917 207,204 13% 1,289,736 1,140,383 13%
General Motors 264,843 248,750 7% 1,420,346 1,315,713 8%
    Buick 18,078 18,851 –4% 100,837 90,198 12%
    Cadillac 13,929 12,124 15% 83,679 62,812 33%
    Chevrolet 193,460 180,098 7% 1,015,134 961,662 6%
    GMC 39,376 37,677 5% 220,696 201,041 10%
General Motors 264,843 248,750 7% 1,420,346 1,315,713 8%
Honda (American) 136,915 124,808 10% 745,578 700,982 6%
    Acura 13,765 15,370 –10% 76,981 72,936 6%
    Honda Division 123,150 109,438 13% 668,597 628,046 7%
Honda (American) 136,915 124,808 10% 745,578 700,982 6%
Hyundai Group 65,007 63,813 2% 361,010 356,669 1%
    Hyundai division 65,007 63,813 2% 361,010 356,669 1%
    Kia –% –%
Hyundai Group 65,007 63,813 2% 361,010 356,669 1%
Jaguar Land Rover 5,105 4,632 10% 30,782 27,497 12%
    Jaguar 1,637 1,030 59% 7,798 6,506 20%
    Land Rover 3,468 3,602 –4% 22,984 20,991 10%
Jaguar Land Rover 5,105 4,632 10% 30,782 27,497 12%
Maserati –% –%
Maserati –% –%
Mazda 22,496 19,911 13% 144,943 143,797 1%
Mazda 22,496 19,911 13% 144,943 143,797 1%
Mitsubishi 5,297 5,411 –2% 30,469 32,873 –7%
Mitsubishi 5,297 5,411 –2% 30,469 32,873 –7%
Nissan 104,124 92,237 13% 624,709 577,721 8%
    Infiniti 9,114 10,436 –13% 52,233 54,377 –4%
    Nissan Division 95,010 81,801 16% 572,476 523,344 9%
Nissan 104,124 92,237 13% 624,709 577,721 8%
Subaru 39,235 27,702 42% 204,597 164,304 25%
Subaru 39,235 27,702 42% 204,597 164,304 25%
Suzuki* 2,299 –100% 5,946 12,994 –54%
Suzuki 2,299 –100% 5,946 12,994 –54%
Toyota 195,235 177,795 10% 1,108,791 1,046,096 6%
    Lexus 21,355 20,022 7% 118,415 108,132 10%
    Scion 6,340 8,400 –25% 35,000 35,121 0%
    Toyota division 167,540 149,373 12% 955,376 902,843 6%
    Toyota/Scion 173,880 157,773 10% 990,376 937,964 6%
Toyota 195,235 177,795 10% 1,108,791 1,046,096 6%
Volkswagen 54,613 54,102 1% 303,828 291,668 4%
    Audi 13,706 12,664 8% 74,277 65,158 14%
    Bentley 204 223 –9% 1,174 1,077 9%
    Lamborghini 46 43 7% 276 258 7%
    Porsche 3,700 3,002 23% 21,309 16,450 30%
    VW division 36,957 38,170 –3% 206,792 208,725 –1%
Volkswagen 54,613 54,102 1% 303,828 291,668 4%
Volvo Cars NA 6,678 7,107 –6% 32,578 34,618 –6%
Volvo Cars NA 6,678 7,107 –6% 32,578 34,618 –6%
253 246 3% 1,518 1,471 3%
TOTAL 1,352,295 1,234,021 10% 7,542,346 6,982,546 8%

Source: Automotive News Data Center


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First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback (Video) Fri, 28 Jun 2013 17:41:21 +0000 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-007

I seem to be the only car guy with a soft spot for the Versa. My peers at Car and Driver, Consumer Reports and Autoblog (among others) came off less than impressed by the least expensive car in America when we were all invited to its launch. That left me scratching my head. So I borrowed another one and came to the same conclusion: “Versa delivers a totally unobjectionable experience at a very compelling price.” This apparent disconnect bothered me for a while but I wrote it off as a “lack of perspective” suffered by my peers in the biz. Seriously guys, what do you expect out of the cheapest car in America? The new 2014 Versa Note however isn’t the cheapest car in America, nor is it the cheapest hatch in America. How does it stack up? Nissan flew me to San Diego to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The last Versa Hatchback we had on our shores wasn’t the least expensive hatch in America either and that was a big problem. I can forgive anything for the right price, but the old hatch sold along side its redesigned sedan namesake which had a much lower price tag. Before we dive too far into the Versa Note, let’s talk price. Why? Because Nissan didn’t just completely redesign their smallest hatch for 2014, they slashed the price tag as well. At $13,990 the Note misses the title of “cheapest five-door hatchback” by $190 to the 2013 Kia Rio 5-Door. Admittedly that’s not the best way to start a conversation about a Versa which usually sells on “least expensive” taglines. Still, the Versa isn’t terribly expensive and undercutts the Accent by $585, Fiesta by $610, Mazda 2 by $730, Yaris by $1,405 and the Fit by $1,435.

About that Note. Nissan’s Versa hatch has been sold in other markets as the Nissan Note for a while and they decided to globalize things. Instead of renaming the car, they just tacked Note to the end since “Versa” seems to be a well-known model. That’s why this hatch is singing this tune.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-006

On the outside, the Note wears completely different sheetmetal than the Versa sedan thanks to being 13-inches shorter overall (163 inches long). That’s six inches shorter than the 2012 model (There was no 2013 Versa) and about three inches shorter than a Rio. Nissan left the Versa’s 102.4 inch wheelbase intact so all those inches were removed from the front and rear overhangs. The result is a profile that is more attractive than the last generation hatch to say the least. Nissan finished off the transformation with new doors and a new horizontal grille with large headlamps. Why not graft a hatch onto the existing Versa? Nissan’s PR folks told us that even as ancient as the 2012 model was, it accounted for nearly half of the Versa volume. Apparently nobody told Versa shoppers that Americans hate hatchbacks.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-002

Inside the cabin we get the same dashboard as the Versa sedan with a few tweaks. 2014 brings Nissan’s new Nissan Connect radios to the low-cost platform and Note engineers snagged the Sentra’s more attractive steering wheel to help justify the $2,000 price bump from the sedan. By all appearances the headliner and seat fabrics seemed to be a notch above the base Versa sedan I last sampled but you’ll still find plenty of hard plastics on the dash and doors. Jumping up to higher trim does buy you nicer fabric, so keep that in mind.

Seat comfort proved good for me during my 6 hours in the Versa, but I would like to see at least optional adjustable lumbar support offered on the driver’s seat. Cushioning is firm but comfortable and the range of motion offered in the 6-way manual seats is average for this segment. Sadly Nissan doesn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel in the Versa Note like many of the competitors do.

Base shoppers will find standard air conditioning, 60/40 folding rear seats and sun-visors that extend, but notably missing from the starting price are power windows, power door locks, vanity mirrors and rear cup holders. This is where I say “what did you expect?” No, the Rio doesn’t offer these goodies for the same price, or even for $190 less. If you want a basic hatchback, this is your ride.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior

No matter, Nissan claims that less than 10% of Versas are the low-rent model, so what of the $15,990 SV? The price bump buys you a car with a fabric headliner (instead of trunk-liner material), Nissan’s 2-speed CVT, cruise control, center armrest for the driver, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and some Bluetooth love.  This 16-grand SV and the oddly named “SV with SL” ($17,690) and “SV with SL Tech Package” ($18,490) Versa Notes will be the bulk of sales. These models push Nissan’s “value” message more believably than the bargain model with better fabric, nicer headliners, USB/iPod interfaces and an optional nav system that is one of the best on the market. Nissan’s new Connect system builds on their old “low-cost navigation” unit by adding streaming media, smartphone and Google data services to the mix. Nissan even tosses in their all-around camera system from the Infiniti product line on that high end “SV with SL Tech Package” model. Can’t we just call that an SL? Please? If you want to know more about that snazzy camera system, check out the video.

The Kia still puts up a fight in this 16-19-grand space with a nicer dashboard, more modern design and a few more gadgets. Hwoever, the Kia doesn’t manage to be any more comfortable or quieter on the road, especially if you’re often carrying rear passengers. Like Nissan’s new Sentra, the Note puts an emphasis on rear accommodations. You’ll find 7 inches more rear legroom than the Rio making it possible, and relatively comfortable, for a quartet of six-foot-five guys on a road trip. Try that in any other compact hatch, none of the competitors even come close.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior, Back Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Under the hood beats the same 1.6L four-cylinder engine as the Versa sedan. The new mill uses dual variable valve timing and two injectors per cylinder to pump out 109HP at 6,000 RPM and 107 lb-ft of twist at 4,400 RPM. While I wouldn’t say no to the turbocharged version you find in the Juke, acceleration is liveable thanks to a light 2,460lb curb weight. Although I didn’t get a chance to test it, I expect 60 to happen in the same 11.5 seconds as the Versa sedan since the hatch weighs a scant 25lbs more. Thanks to a 300lb reduction over the 2012 model and Nissan’s new “CVT with sub planetary gerarset,” the loss of 13HP vs the old 1.8L engine goes largely unnoticed. What you will notice is the 31/40/35 MPG  (city/highway/combined) in every model of Versa Note with the CVT. If you’re paying attention to fine print on the Fiesta and Rio, you know that the respective 30/41 and 30/36 numbers only happen in the special “economy” trim models.

I’m not sure how Car and Driver (and a few other publications) got this one wrong, but contrary to reviews that imply the Versa “starts off in a fixed gear” and then “switches to the CVT at a predetermined speed,” Nissan’s technical documentation on the CVT is clear. The two-speed planetary gearset sits AFTER the CVT belt/cone unit inside the transaxle, not in parallel with it. The transaxle uses the high/low range planetary gearset to extend the ratios of the CVT design beyond what you’d find in a traditional 7-speed automatic. When starting out the CVT is at its lowest ratio and the planetary is in “low.” Once the CVT reaches a high ratio, the planetary gearset switches to high allowing the CVT to reset to a lower ratio as you continue to accelerate. At certain speeds this also allows the Versa to “downshift” faster than you’d think a CVT could because the planetary gearset drops to low rapidly compared to a traditional CVT ratio change.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Note manages 40MPG highway thanks to a combination of engine down-sizing, new CVT, electric power steering, aero improvements, low rolling resistance tires and that crash curb-weight-diet. The 35MPG combined score is perhaps more important because it shows the true impact of curb weight savings on your pocket-book. Over 156 miles of driving we scored an admirable 34.9 MPG during our day with the Note, a “notable” improvement over the competition. Keep in mind we spent plenty of time idling, at wide-open-throttle and generally abusing the car around town.

So it gets great mileage and is inexpensive to own, how does it drive? Like I said, it gets great mileage and is inexpensive to own. The low rolling resistance rubber puts the Versa towards the bottom of the pack when it comes to road holding if you compare it to the regular editions of the competition and middle of the pack with the “special economy versions” of the same. The electric power steering is accurate but as numb as anything on the road and you shouldn’t expect much from 109HP. Acceleration is lazy, but then again so is a Prius. Thanks to along wheelbase, the Note’s ride is well composed, and Nissan spend considerable time injecting more sound insulating foam in every nook and cranny making this the quietest Versa ever. Nothing here is objectionable and every dynamic metric of the Note met or exceeded my expectations. Expectations which (I think) were set reasonably with the $15,990-18,490 price tag in mind. Again, don’t expect Savoy Grille experiences at Taco Bell prices. Now I’m hungry, and guess where I drive-thru. (Hint: it’s not the Savoy.)

The Versa sedan is the easy sale in my mind. As the cheapest car in America I can forgive anything. Seriously. But the Note is a trickier ball of wax. The “I can forgive anything” title goes to the Rio 5-door which is the cheapest hatch. Except I find less to forgive in the Rio than in the base Note. That being said, the Note delivers better fuel economy, more rear seat legroom than many luxury cars and if it follows in the Versa sedan’s footsteps it is likely to be very inexpensive to own. That leaves me with a split decision. If you want sporty, buy the new Fiesta. If you want the biggest little hatch with the best real-world fuel economy, the Versa Note is likely the option for you. Where the Rio and the Note lock horns is in the value argument. The top-end SL (I’m going to call it that since its easier) has almost all the goodies I need in a car at an impressive price. The Rio on the other hand offers a similar value but trades improved thrust for lower MPGs.  With the 2014 Versa Note Nissan has really stepped up their game and it’s still a car I would buy, but keep an eye on that Kia, the Koreans aren’t resting on their laurels either.


Nissan flew me to San Diego and stuffed me full of Italian food for this review.

Observed fuel economy over 156 miles: 34.9 MPG

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Review: 2013 Fiat 500e Electric (Video) Sat, 22 Jun 2013 16:45:32 +0000 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Despite being an incredibly small part of the US market share, you don’t have to look far in California’s urban areas to find a car with a plug. The reason for that is California’s controversial EV mandate. California wants 1.4 million EVs and plug-in hybrids on the road by 2025. Up till recently, California’s regulations seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream with a far-away deadline. That changed last year when CARB (California Air Resources Board) mandated (in a nutshell) a combined 7,500 zero-emission vehicles be sold between 2012 and 2014 by the large auto makers in the state. (Credits and trades are not included in that number.) Come 2018, smaller companies like Volvo, Subaru and Jaguar will have to embrace plug-love and at the same time, most of the silly green credits go out the window. By 2025, if my home state has its way, 15% of new cars will be an EV. In California. This brings us to the little orange 500 Fiat lent us for a week. Because everyone is getting into the EV game, this will be our first EV review where we make no mention of living with an EV, range anxiety or charging station availability. If you want to know about that, click over to our 7-part saga “Living with an EV for a week.”


Click here to view the embedded video.


Fiat’s pint-sized car started its life as a Fiat Panda, a popular European car that is constantly bashed on Top Gear. (The Panda isn’t a bad little car, but it looks like something the soviet government would have cooked up.) The 500 however is modern Italian chic from bumper to bumper. While the Nuova 500 (as the Italians call it to distinguish it from the original) isn’t as handsome as the original “new” Mini, it is a plucky little car that makes people smile and point as you drive by. It could have been the $500 optional bright orange paint, but the 500e received more points and waves from passers by than a BMW M6 drop-top or a $120,000 Jaguar.

How small is a 500? We’re talking 139 inches long and 64 inches wide. That’s 7.0 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower than the Mini and a whopping three feet shorter than a Civic and 5 inches narrower than the compact Honda.

For EV duty, Fiat stuck with the 500′s winning formula. The EV gets a tweaked front and rear bumper for improved aerodynamics, wheels that have very little open space to reduce drag and a spoiler designed to do the same. Together the aero improvement reduce drag by 13% over a gasoline Italian. Fiat dropped the charging connector behind the fuel filler door and kept EV badging to an absolute minimum. The 500e’s discrete personality (you know, aside from the orange paint) didn’t go unnoticed by me or by my weekly troupe of lunch guests. Oddly enough when I first drove a 500 gasoline version two years ago everyone I met asked me if it was Electric. Now that there is a 500 electric, nobody thought about asking if it was an EV.

2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


EV variants of “normal” cars suffer from the same problem as high-performance variants: the common parts bin. The 500′s plastics and trim parts are entirely appropriate in a $16,000 500 Pop edition but a gasoline vehicle starting at $31,800 would normally be expected to have nicer bits. But this isn’t a gasoline car so we should talk actual competition before we go much further.

The gas 500 finds itself head-to-head with the likes of the Mni Copper, Scion iQ and Smart, the $31,800 500e swims in a larger and more varied pond. We have the $28,800 Leaf, $29,135 i-MiEV, $39,200 Focus Electric, $26,685 Spark EV, as well as the lease-only Fit EV, the expensive crossover RAV4 EV, the crop of “almost EV” plug in hybrids and, yes, even the Model S. (The Mini E is not available for sale yet and Think! went belly-up.)

With the competition now in mind we can assess the interior more honestly. As a dedicated EV, the Leaf was built to a weight so plastics are hard and thin. Ditto the Volt and i-MiEV. The C-MAX and RAV 4, being based off slightly more expensive gasoline vehicles have more luxurious interior plastics. Meanwhile the 500 has plenty of hard plastics but Fiat cast them in stylish shapes that are sure to lure PT Cruiser, HHR and Mini buyers. The only real change to the 500′s interior was the installation of shift buttons where the traditional shifter used to live. I think the change was fine but I wish Fiat had gone further and just removed that portion of the dash so you’d have more knee-room.

EV efficiency is driven as much by environmental concerns as the reality that range is limited and charging times are long. Weight the enemy of efficiency so you won’t find heavy items like cushy seats, adjustable lumbar support or power adjusting mechanisms. The 500e’s thrones aren’t uncomfortable, but they lack the range of adjustibility you find in an average mid-sized sedan. Thanks t0 the 500′s upright profile, the rear seats are surprisingly easy to get into and provide enough headroom for a pair of 6-foot tall adults. On the down side, the battery pack intrudes making the footwells four-inches shallower than the regular 500. (Check out the video for more.) The EV conversion doesn’t really shrink the cargo area as much as it converts it. The 500e has a flip-up cargo floor that reveals a can of fix-a-flat and the 120V “emergency” charging cable which suck up about six-inches of cargo load floor.
2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Infotainment & Gadgets

The 500 may seem fresh to Americans since it’s only been sold here for three years. Unfortunately for gadget lovers, the 500 is really a 6 year old car launched in 2007. That means that the gadgets on offer were already ageing when “our” 500 hit dealers in 2010.  That means you won’t find any snazzy touchscreen LCDs, self parking doodads or Ford SYNC aping voice commands. To correct this deficiency, 500es sold in the USA come standard with Fiat’s customized Tom-Tom nav system that “docks” into a dedicated hole in the dashboard. For some reason our Canadian brothers and sisters (who are able to buy the 500e) don’t get standard nav-love but Fiat will sell you one for some extra loonies.

Helping counter the 500e’s price tag, Fiat throws in the up-level Alpine sound system from the gasoline model with Bluetooth speaker phone integration and a USB/iPod interface. EV buyers also get a snazzy 7-inch LCD gauge cluster. The disco-dash offers slick graphics but limited customization in this generation. Instead of reworking the car’s controls for the 500e, the LCD is still controlled via the complicated combination of steering wheel buttons, a button on the wiper stalk and three buttons on the dash. Confused? Check out the video to see what they all do.

2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

In place of the gasoline engine sits a 111HP/147lb-ft three-phase AC synchronous motor. That’s a 9HP and 49lb-ft improvement over the 1.4L four-cylinder gasoline engine. Power is stored in a 624lb, 24kWh battery pack that’s liquid cooled and heated that is located mostly under the 500′s Italian body. Power gets to the front wheels via a single speed transaxle. Transaxle is perhaps not the best word to use here since the 500e doesn’t have a transmission in the traditional sense; its more of a reduction gear and differential combination. No reverse gear is needed because the motor can spin backwards just as easily as it can forwards.

Charging is handled by an on-board 6.6kW charger which will take the pack from zero to 100% in just under four hours if you have access to a 240V level 2 charger. 120V charging will take 22 hours, a notable improvement over some EVs thanks to the small size of the 500′s battery. Range clocks in at 80-100 miles depending on how you drive and my range numbers landed in the middle at 90. Thanks to an efficient drivetrain and the 6.6kW charger, the 500e can “opportunity” charge while you’re shopping gobbling up 20-25 miles of range for every hour of 240V public charging. Due to the ongoing DC-charging standard war, Fiat decided to skip on the feature leaving 500e owners to gaze longingly at the possibility of gaining 4 miles of range a minute.

The 111HP motor changes the way the 500 drives dramatically. Motors deliver all their torque from nearly zero RPM to moderate speeds. As a result the 500e has far more “oomph” from a stop than the regular gasoline model that needs to rev to bring the power to a boil. This means the EV version has more torque steer and more one-wheel-peel, but it also runs out of breath over 65 MPH in a way the gas model doesn’t. If you mash your foot to the floor you’ll clock 30 MPH in a very respectable 2.69 seconds, 60 MPH in a four-cylinder Accord 7.87 seconds and a slow 79.7 MPH quarter mile after 16.37 seconds. Keep your boot in it and 88 MPH will happen eventually, at which point the Bosch battery management system will kick in with German efficiency reducing power to keep you from toasting your Samsung cells. Those performance numbers slot the 500e right between the $16,000 500 Pop and the $19,500 500 Turbo which makes sense given the linear power delivery EVs are known for.

2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 500e may have more around-town scoot than its gasoline brother, but an overall weight gain of 600lbs vs the dino model and low rolling resistance rubber define the 500′s handling. While its true the battery pack causes the 500e to have a better weight balance than the gasoline 500, it just means you’re going to head into the bushes door-first rather than nose-first. Still, 2,980lbs is a fairly light electric car and that is obvious when you drive the 500e back-to-back with a Leaf or Fit EV. Electrification hasn’t destroyed the 500′s dynamics, but it has dulled them.

Despite the changes, the 500e is still an excellent runabout with a tight turning radius, decent visibility and (thanks to is small size) it’s a breeze to park. The same can be said of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but it’s dreadfully ugly and the 500′s pug nose has a cute factor that can’t be denied. The 500e is also running Bosch’s latest regenerative braking software which handles the friction brake/regen brake transition the smoothest of any car I have driven to date, an important feature in a city-EV. Fiat has one selling point we haven’t covered, the ” Pass program” which gives owners “free” access to 12 days of rental car access per year for three years via Enterprise, National or Alamo. The logic is to quell range anxiety with almost a fortnight in a gasoline car for your yearly road trip. Speaking of leases, I’m not sure how many people would pay $31,800 for 500 that ran on electrons, but Fiat’s $999 down, $199 a month (plus a heap of taxes and fees) is fairly attractive. Nissan is also offering a $199 a month lease on the Leaf, but it required another grand down. Based on the little car’s operating costs, the 500e would make an ideal commuter, especially if your employer foots your charging bill (a growing number in California do.) Just keep in mind that you can’t claim that $7,500 tax credit that is heavily advertised by EV makers if you lease, and Fiat only sells the 500e in California. Bummer dude.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Most fun to drive EV this side of a Model S.
  • Good looks can’t be overlooked.
  • 36 days in a rental car sounds like a reasonable perk.

Quit it

  • Fiat’s infotainment options are old school and awkward interfaces abound.
  • No DC quick-charging ability leaves you wishing you had a Leaf sometimes.

Fiat provided the vehicle, insurance and 24kWh of electricity for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.69 Seconds

0-60: 7.87 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.37 Seconds at 79.9 MPH

Average Observed Economy:148 MPGe over 580 miles


2013 Fiat 500e Cargo Area 2013 Fiat 500e Cargo Area-001 2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor 2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-001 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-002 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-003 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-004 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-005 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-006 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-007 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-008 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-009 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-010 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-011 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-012 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-013 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-014 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-015 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-016 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-017 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-018 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-019 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-020 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior 2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-002 2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-004 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-005 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-006 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-007 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-008 2013 Fiat 500e Radio 2013 Fiat 500e TomTom Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Wheels IMG_4666 2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4758 ]]> 26
Capsule Review: 2014 Fiat 500L Wed, 19 Jun 2013 13:00:07 +0000 Fiat_Multipla_silver_front

The car you see above is actually not the 2014 Fiat 500L. For most of you, this will be a relief. It’s actually a Fiat Multipla from the mid-1990s. It is ugly. So ugly, in fact, that I love it. I’ve been thinking about importing an LPG-fueled version for use as a daily driver, so that I can fill up at the local taxi garage here for roughly $2/gallon. It’s a terrible idea, I know. Especially when Fiat now sells the Multipla’s successor Stateside.


This is the 500L Trekking, a pseudo-crossover version of the 500L. Is the North Americanized version of the old Multipla, in the same way that Domino’s pizza is the dougy, Americanized version of a thin crust Neapolitan Pizza Margherita. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh though. The 500L’s Euro-creds should be enough to excite those who cling to the notion that l’erba è più verde del continente. It is technically a small wagon, at least according to the EPA. It comes in brown, as well as a shade of brown that looks like coffee with a couple creamers added to it. It’s built in the old Yugo factory in Serbia (errm, that might be too European for some people). You can even get an honest-to-goodness three-pedal transmission, but it’s not very good.

For the rest of the populace that harbors no pretensions to living in the Eurozone, there are two automatic gearboxes; an ironically named “Euro Twin Clutch” transmission, and a conventional 6-speed automatic that will be available later on. Fiat couldn’t really give us a straight answer as to why they offered both, but using my mother as a sample size of one, it’s because she found the DSG in my Dad’s old Jetta 2.0T a bit odd after driving automatics all her life. Perhaps Fiat is prepared for an anti-DCT backlash and they tooled up a run of slushboxes. Maybe they couldn’t get the automatics ready in time? I’m not sure. The “Euro Twin-Clutch” is more like a Powershift than a DSG, but there are subtle hints that this transmission is not a conventional torque converter automatic. Tap the throttle after moving your foot over the from the brake and the revs rise briefly as if you were in a real manual. Shifts aren’t particularly quick or snappy, but they are fairly transparent. The DCT is a better choice than the balky, Novocaine-laced manual, and it does a decent job of keeping the 1.4L turbo engine in its proper powerband. Put aside any notions of the 500L sharing an engine with the Abarth. The acceleration of a 1.4T Dart is a better comparison here.

To its credit, the 500L seems massive inside, likely the result of its goofy looking proportions. Headroom is cavernous and the high driving position makes you feel like you’re in something much bigger than a B-segment car. Although I don’t have kids, I can see the appeal of this car for young families living in urban centers where parking space is scarce; you can easily get a couple car seats in and out of the rear seat, as well as the flotsam and jetsam that goes along with the baby, while sitting having room for groceries, dry cleaning and the pricey espresso maker you just bought at Williams-Sonoma.

Yuppie families aside, I’m not sure who will buy this thing or who it’s intended for. Fiat says it’s a way for current 500 owners to grow into the brand, but I’d imagine that a larger crossover might be a more practical option, albeit a less stylish one – and Fiat seems to be counting on the self-consciousness of their customers to keep them in the brand, constantly referring to the 500L as an “emotional purchase”.

Then again, B-segment tall wagon-thingy market isn’t very big, and the 500L isn’t exactly battling against any heavyweights. The Kia Soul isn’t a bad car, but the interior looks cheap and nasty after you get out of the Fiat, and worst of all for the Baby Bjorn crowd, it wears a Kia badge. The Nissan Cube is utterly dreadful in everyway, and the Countryman isn’t far behind in the “biggest turd on sale today” sweepstakes.

The base model “Pop” trim starts at just $20,195, while the top-spec “Lounge” comes in at $27,445. All trims come with Chrysler’s excellent UConnect system (with varying levels of interfaces, from a small headunit to a large touchscreen), and for the first few months of production, Fiat will throw in navigation, a backup camera and park assist on all trim levels above the Pop. Even if Fiat doesn’t sell a lot of these cars, it won’t matter. The 500L rides on Fiat’s new global small wide architecture, which is expected to underpin a whole bunch of new cars, from the upcoming 500X crossover to some new B-Segment Jeeps aimed at Chinese and European customers. Fiat will make their money back on the platform one way or another, the dealers will be kept happy with some additional product and everyone can go home happy.

Except me. Not until I get my Multipla. That’s a face that only a car writer (or Juke owner) could love.

]]> 50
Review: 2013 Juke Nismo (Video) Fri, 14 Jun 2013 23:24:30 +0000 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Let’s get one thing sorted. The picture above is not, I repeat not, the wasabi-snorting-485-horsepower-3.7-second-to-60 Juke that Nissan has been teasing. Instead, this is the Nismo treated Juke we saw at the Chicago Auto Show in February. If you’re disappointed, or if the unusual confluence of shapes that is the Juke has made you throw up a little in your mouth, don’t click past the jump. We warned you.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Calling the Juke’s styling “not everyone’s cup of tea” (as one person I met put it) or even “polarizing” hardly begins to describe what’s going on here. My week with Nissan’s smallest crossover in America was filled with awkward stares, gaping mouths and looks of revulsion. But that’s not the whole story. For every 10 people that wanted to run the Juke out-of-town like villagers wielding pitchforks, there were two or three that thought it was fantastic looking. No, cross that, they wanted to bear the Juke’s children. That’s how far they went. This makes the Juke the most polarizing car design I have seen. Yes, I’m including the unholy Aztec and Rendezvous. However you feel about the Juke’s design, you have to admit it took some brass balls to design it, produce it, and then keep selling it.

Let’s toss in another photo:

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior

Our own Sajeev Mehta performed one of his excellent “Vellum Venom” critiques of the Juke in March, so be sure you check that out. My personal reaction is mixed. I appreciate the overall dimensions of the Juke as most crossovers on the road are ridiculously over-sized, but I think that the design team got just a bit carried away. Especially with the front end. I don’t mind the round headlamps, the round proboscis doesn’t bother me at all, but those turn signal pods that rise from the hood reminded me of a frog. Frogs are tasty, but I don’t find them cute. Making them stand out even more is the fact that they can be seen inside by the driver and front passenger. That said, I appreciate polarizing designs because of the passion they inspire. If you’re one of those people who want to interbreed with a Juke, more power to you. One thing is for sure, you get an enormous heaping of style for Nismo’s $22,990 starting price.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Because the base Juke wears a starting MSRP of $18,990, my expectations were low. If you keep your expectations at a similarly realistic level, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For $22,990 the Nismo version adds heavily bolstered Alcantara sport seats, a leather and Alcantara wrapped steering wheel, center arm rest, red tachometer, plenty of Nismo badges and red-stitching galore. Unfortunately, the standard hard plastic dashboard and the world’s least attractive headliner remain. Seriously, this has to be the same material the trunk liner in a Versa is crafted from, how much would it have cost for something out of the Altima? On the flip side, you have to keep reminding yourself that 27-large is as expensive as any Juke gets and the Nismo tops out at $26,460 with navigation, the CVT and AWD. That’s well below the average new car transaction price in America.

The Alcantara thrones are some of the most attractive (and best bolstered) seats you can find for under $30,000, but they still ride on the same 6-way manual driver’s and 4-way passenger’s seat frames as the regular Juke. This means the range of motion is limited and lumbar support is non-existent. Still, one must have perspective and you’ll find the same situation in most cars this price. I was disappointed to find that the Juke’s steering wheel doesn’t telescope making it hard for me to find an idea driving position.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Thanks to the  hatchback-like profile, the rear seats offer more room than you’d think by looking at the outside with enough head and legroom for a quartet of adult men. More surprising, those four guy’s bags will fit in the Juke’s surprisingly large and deep trunk. The reason for that large cargo area (with more under the load floor) is the Juke’s fairly tall profile and low ride height which allows for a deep (if strangely shaped) cargo hold. (Check out the video to see under the load floor.)

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Nismoing your Juke doesn’t improve the way your tunes sound, you get the same base AM/FM/XM/CD/iPod/USB head unit as the base Juke, with the same six unbranded speakers. For $1,150 you can add what Nissan used to call their “low-cost navigation unit” bundled with a Rockford Fosgate speaker system and 8-inch subwoofer. I was a bit skeptical about this combination, but the tuning of the RF system was surprisingly well-balanced for a factory up-sell. The big draw for me is the nav unit.

The nav system by itself seems to go for about $750 in other Nissan models and is one of the best navs on the market in my opinion. It’s not that it offers a huge feature set or slick graphics, what appeals to me is the low-cost and simple, straight-forward interface. The system has the basics covered from XM traffic and fuel prices to on-screen USB/iDevice integration and Bluetooth speakerphone integration. The one strange omission from the system is Bluetooth audio streaming which isn’t supported.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Shifter, 6-Speed Manual, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

Despite being the antithesis of square, the Cube and the Juke ride on the same Nissan Versa underpinnings. Thankfully the underpinnings are all they share. Instead of the wheezy 1.8L mill, Nissan cooked up an all-new 1.6L direct-injection four-cylinder for the Juke (they have since jammed it in foreign market Versas as well). The small engine is good for a [comparatively] large 197 horsepower (9 more than the regular Juke) and 184 lb-ft from 2,000 to 5,200 rpm (7 more). That’s a reasonable amount of power for something that could be seen as an upgrade from a loaded Sentra SR.

The Juke may be a funny looking creature with some cheap plastics inside, but even in base form it has road manners that impress. To create the Nismo, Nissan bumped up the tires to 224/45R18, stiffened the springs by 10%, tweaked the dampers, fiddled with the steering and bumped the final drive ratio. They then made the 6-speed manual transmission the standard cog-swapper rather than the CVT (standard in the regular Juke), added red mirror caps and called it a day.

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

A trick that is sometimes used to make the sporty version of a car more dynamic on the road is to swap out the electric power steering for a traditional hydraulic unit. When I first hit the curves in the Juke I assumed Nissan had employed this trick. Much to my surprise, Nissan didn’t do that. Instead they tweaked the EPAS (Electric Power Assist Steering) system for improved feedback and a different level of assist. The result is impressive but made me ask: why don’t all EPAS equipped Nissans feel like this? In truth, the feel is still lacking compared to the “good old days,” but the steering is notably more direct and linear with just a hint of feedback from the wide front rubber. This is as good as it gets with EPAS.

Before the Juke arrived I had spent a week in the 2013 BMW X6M (our reviews are obviously out of order). Having the Nismo and an X6M back to back may sound like a real let down, but there’s another side. Obviously the Juke doesn’t handle or accelerate like an M, but there is something of the personality that struck me. No, I’m not just talking about the X6 being similarly polarizing in the style department, I’m talking on the road personality. They are similarly “eager.”  In this way, the Juke reminded me of a small dog that thinks it’s a big dog. It even has a chihuahua’s eyes. Is that good or bad? Good seeing as the Juke costs about 1/4th the price. I managed a 7.45 second 0-60 dash in the 6-speed manual model, let’s just say the X6M didn’t get there in 1/4th the time.

It gets a bit more complicated. You see, the Juke is two kinds of animal. If you get the 6-speed manual transmission you get plenty of torque steer, slick shifts and a more engaging ride. (And for some reason torque steer makes me smile when it’s on a small-scale like this.) If you get the AWD Nismo, you’re stuck with Nissan’s CVT. I’m no CVT hater but even I have to admit the CVT dulls the Juke’s personality. On the flip side, the torque vectoring AWD system makes the CVT/AWD Nismo the faster car on the track by a reasonable margin. If you have an oddly shaped place in your heart for Nissan’s over-styled crossover, you have a difficult decision on your hands. Either way the Juke is destined to be one of the rarer vehicles on American roads and I get the impression that’s just how lovers and haters of the Juke like it.


Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • The best handling chihuahua on the road.
  • Nissan’s torque vectoring AWD system is a hoot and a half.

Quit it

  • Saying the Juke’s looks aren’t for everyone is being polite.
  • What’s up with that headliner anyway?


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.45 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 90.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 27.8 MPG over 589 miles

2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Engine 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Engine-001 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-001 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-002 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-003 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-004 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-005 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-006 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-007 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-008 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-009 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-010 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-011 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-012 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-014 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-015 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-016 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-017 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-019 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-020 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-021 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Exterior-022 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-001 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-002 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Shifter, 6-Speed Manual, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-004 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-005 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-006 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-007 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-009 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-011 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-012 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-013 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-014 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-015 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Interior-017 2013 Nissan Juke Nismo Wheel ]]> 42
Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG (Video) Mon, 03 Jun 2013 21:34:45 +0000 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes
My statement “BMW is the new Mercedes” may have ruffled the most feathers, but the second thing that gets thrown in my face is: “what then has Mercedes become?” I’m sorry if the forum fanboys can’t adjust to the new normal that is a softer, more civilized, more luxurious BMW that puts comfort over balls-out performance. Sometimes you just have to let the ostrich keep its head in the hole. If you think the M6 is the best thing since sliced bread, read no further. This isn’t about BMW, this is about the German luxury company. What of them?  To find out we were tossed the keys to a six-figure beast for a week.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The first generation CLS wasn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps it’s because I like the traditional profile of the E-Class with the high greenhouse and excellent rear headroom. Perhaps it’s because I’m a stickler and in my world a “coupé” can’t have four seats. Perhaps it’s that the first generation CLS looked like it had been laid, and I’m not referring to an egg. That’s probably it.

But that was then, this is now. Up front we get one of the more attractive and aggressive grilles I have seen lately. The side profile has ditched the “half-moon” character line that I disliked for one that I would call “American muscle,” especially those rear haunches. Out back we have a more traditionally shaped trunk lid which finally puts an end to any CLS vs suppository comparisons. Whew. That’s not to say the CLS has become more upright, quite the opposite, it just isn’t trying as hard as it used to.

Mercedes’ naming scheme needs to be explained. If you take an S and remove two doors, you get a CL. Yet the CLS is not created by adding two doors back. Instead you take an E, delete the fifth seat, squash the profile, remove the window sashes and add a whopping $20,200 to the price tag (base E vs base CLS). By having the CLS, Mercedes has been able to keep the E-Class’s upright profile while increasing profits by charging huge sums for a more stylish four-seat version. When it comes to the high performance models, the CLS is a slightly better value. Starting at $109,150 it is “only” $19,350 more than the E63 AMG. It’s good to be king.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


There is a common problem with performance models: all the cash goes to making the car go faster, handle better and stop shorter. While there are some interior tweaks to the CLS’ interior for AMG duty, they boil down to AMG badging, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and unique AMG controls in the center console. There is another problem for the CLS in general; it shares a large portion of its design and components with the $51,900 E350. It’s not that the E-Class and CLS-Class parts are low rent by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that they are a bit too popular. This doesn’t apply only to the Mercedes, the Audi A7, S7 and RS7 have the same thing going in inside with parts from the A6. The BMW 6 on the other hand has a much steeper base price of $74,900 (640i coupé) so your $113,000 M6 Gran Coupé won’t be sharing dash parts with the $599 lease special. Based on my personal likes and dislikes, the M6 Gran Coupé is the interior winner, but with a decently larger price tag, it should be.

Front seat comfort in the CLS63 is excellent thanks to a large range of motion in the seat bottom cushion, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel that will practically telescope into the back of the seat if you wanted it to. As part of the $3,690 “Premium Package,” our CLS included MB’s “active multicontour” driver’s seat. This is what separates the CLS from the truly expensive Benz models which can have the same system applied to the passenger’s seat. The active throne massages your back, offers more adjustibility to the seat contour and has dynamic bolsters that inflate and deflate to keep you in your seat on winding roads. The active bolsters feel like someone is slowly groping you from behind as you drive, something I missed after the car left us.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

No coupé, even a four-door model, is about rear seat comfort. They are about looking good while carrying a pair of people to the opera and masses of luggage to your vacation chateau. This point was proved when I repeated my role as “prom chauffeur” for my godson. I suggested that his 6’4 frame would fit better in my ginormous long wheelbase and decidedly upright Jaguar Super V8, but the angry face and demonic burble of the CLS stole his heart, so he and his date jammed themselves in the back. Legroom isn’t the problem, it’s headroom. The CLS isn’t alone here, headroom is a precious commodity in the A7 and 6 Gran Coupe as well. The 15.3 cubic foot trunk doesn’t sound terribly large at first, but when you consider it’s a trunk for two, and the rear seats fold the CLS turns into a fairly practical vehicle (oddly enough). The A7 sports more cargo room and the hatchback lid means you can jam a barbecue in there should you need to, but it also means more road noise coming from the rear. The BMW Gran Coupe has a hair more trunk space but the rear seats don’t fold as flat as those in the CLS and the integrated headrests made front-seat room a bit tighter when the seats were folded.


Dogs may be man’s best friend, but I’d take a snazzy infotainment system any day, so would many luxury shoppers by all accounts. This is where the sharp dressed CLS looses in a big way. Mercedes hasn’t rested on their laurels as some would suggest, COMAND has been updated continuously, you’d just be hard pressed to notice. COMAND still uses a 7-inch LCD set high in the dashboard surrounded by a plastic bezel seemingly designed to accentuate the small dimensions of the screen. Audi uses a large 8-inch screen that pops out of the dash and screams “look at ME!” while BMW has gone for a ginormous 10.2-inch wide screen system. While I find Audi’s MMI system frustrating to use and overly complicated, BMW’s iDrive has evolved into a relatively intuitive system that I have been able to get anyone off the street to figure out. COMAND lands somewhere in the middle being fairly simple to use but looking a little old school. Part of Mercede’s modernization efforts have gone into integrating smartphone apps and internet connectivity into COMAND, but the system’s processor seems to slow to take full advantage of the improvements. Voice commands are one thing this system has always done well and Mercedes has expanded the system to now offer SYNC-like voice control of your USB/iDevice. Notably, the system lacks the annoying “talk now” beep that most systems use making it more natural to interact with. For in-depth infotainment commentary, check out the video.

M157 EngineDrivetrain

Ah, the section we’ve all been waiting for. For RS7 duty, Audi took the existing turbo V8 and punched up the boost. For M6 Gran Coupe duty BMW did the same thing to their 4.4L V8. (Yes, I know that there were a few other changes but my point is they are the same basic engine.) Based on the competition, AMG could have very easily done the same thing to their twin-turbo 4.6L “M278″ V8 engine. Instead the AMG built a larger 5.5L V8 off the M278′s design and dubbed it the M157. No, I don’t know why they didn’t call it the M279 or just Thor’s Hammer. The RS7′s 560 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque and the M6′s 560 ponies and 500 twists sound impressive as do the CLS63′s base 518 horsepower and 516 lb-ft. But for $7,300 Mercedes will toss in a re-tuned (read: stiffer) suspension, sportier steering wheel, 186MPH top-speed limiter and bump the engine to 550 horses and 590 lb-ft of diesel-like pull. Still not enough? (Why should it be?) The engine puts down 664 lb-ft in a variant of the CL63 AMG and there are tuners that will happily flash your ride to get you there too. Why the big difference in torque? It’s all about displacement.

The difference in the way the Audi/BMW and the Mercedes engines behave is also quite different. Thanks to the large displacement, low end torque is much more pronounced than the smaller V8s. While there is still a bit of turbo lag, you’d be hard pressed to notice on your way to a 12 second 1/4 mile at 123 MPH. In a 4,300lb sedan. While burning unbelievable amounts of rubber. For the record, that’s the same speed we clocked in the M6 drop-top. With this much power, traction is the CLS’ Achilles heel, something Mercedes is planning to rectify in 2014 with the addition of AWD to the performance pack CLS63. I’d like to compare the Panamera to the CLS, but since Porsche won’t return my calls I have to rule the CLS superior.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Engine, 5.5L twin-turbo V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Since every silver-lining is wrapped in a cloud, we need to talk about the AMG Speedshift MCT transmission. If you take a look at the cut-away above, you’ll notice something. What Mercedes calls a “multi-clutch” transmission isn’t the same as a “dual-clutch” unit. BMW’s M-DCT transmission is two robotically shifted manual transmissions inside the same casing. One does the odd gears, the other handles the even gears. The Mercedes unit is a variant of their regular 7-speed slushbox with a wet clutch replacing the torque converter. The MCT acronym refers to the multiple clutches and bands used in the planetary gearsets.

I haven’t been a huge fan of this transmission since it launched, because in some ways the MCT combines the “slow” shifts of an automatic and unrefined feel of clutches in one unit. Thankfully the 2013 software has made the transmission much more liveable but the way the transmission shifts is an issue for me. My complaint is simply software, Mercedes chose to not allow the car to “queue” shifts. So two pulls on the steering wheel paddle does not take you down/up two gears. You have to wait until the transmission shifts before commanding the next gear. Holding the “down” paddle will get the transmission to scoot to the lowest gear possible (except for first), but going down 5 gears takes an eternity compared to the BMW M-DCT. When the high-rev fun is over, you’ll find there is no command for going “up” to the highest gear possible. Mercedes has improved the speeds of the shifts which now come in around 170ms in “Comfort” and 100ms in “Manual” with Sport and Sport+ slotting in-between those times but the 20-80ms shifts of the BMW/Getrag DCT are lightning fast in comparison.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Brakes, Wheel, Caliper, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


When you get the CLS on the road, complaints about the MCT fade thanks to a positively devilish V8 burble that is 100% authentic rather than computer generated like in recent BMWs. The steering comparison is somewhat similar, with the CLS feeling light, but more accurate and transmitting more feel than the M6. The Audi on the other hand has that Quattro system to interfere with steering feel, something I notice many reviews fail to notice. I’m very torn about AWD in a high performance car. AWD’s ability to put power down more effectively is usually worth the steering feel penalty as long as it doesn’t change the car’s neutral handling characteristics. Next year you will be able to have this debate as 2014 brings standard 4MATIC to the CLS AMG. At 150lbs, 4MATIC adds less weight than Quattro and will have a nearly 70% rear bias. If however RWD shenanigans are more important than grip, snag a 2013 while you can/

When it comes to driving dynamics this becomes a two-way fight between the BMW and the Mercedes. Aside from the fact that the RS7 isn’t officially out yet so few have driven it, we have to keep Audi’s platform designs in mind. The A6/A7 platform was designed with FWD base models in mind and that cause some inherent compromises most namely the weight balance. Although Audi has not officially said, I doubt the RS7 has improved much upon the S7′s 54.5/45.5 percent weight distribution. I recently had the opportunity to drive the S6 and a number of BMW and Mercedes models on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the impact that Audi’s engine layout has on handling is obvious on a track. The S6 felt nose heavy and less willing to change direction than the other Germans. Some of that has to do with the AWD system but more has to do with where the weight is located. (And remember, Porsche wouldn’t lend us a Panamera which means it looses by default.) Weight balance is important with performance cars because big engines usually equal a heavy nose. This is the case with the 6-Series Gran Coupe in which the 640i model is a near perfect 50/50 but the M6 version bumps the numbers to 52.3/47.7 % and in the CLS as well with the CLS63 having a 52/48% distribution. You might think “there’s little difference between the S7 and CLS in distribution” which is true, but the difference combined with tire choices and suspension dynamics made the S6/S7 feel decidedly front heavy in comparison.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Our tester had the performance package suspension which turns the CLS63 into the best handling and the best feeling four door coupé. With precise steering, tenacious grip and excellent feel, the CLS is quite simply a willing dance partner. The M6 on the other hand comes off as a little artificial at times and a little less connected the rest of the time. That being said, I prefer the ride in the M6 because it’s not as punishing as the CLS63 with the stiffer springs. If you don’t get that $7,300 performance package, then the softer CLS63 gives a little away in performance to the M6 Gran Coupé, but has a ride more fitting of a Mercedes in my opinion. The performance package is without a doubt breathtaking, but in my mind it is at odds with the “mission” of a Mercedes-Benz.

While we’re talking options, if you plan on exercising your CLS63 on a regular basis, the $12,625 carbon ceramic brakes are a must. The stock brakes do a fine job keeping up under normal circumstances, but with this much power and 4,300lbs it is possible to overreach the ability of the stock stoppers. Also, the $2,030 limited slip differential is an absolute must have if you’re serious about applying this much power from a stop. That jacks up the price of the CLS63 to $127,247. If that price shocks you, just stick with the CLS550 since the RS7 and M6 are more expensive.

2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The CLS63 that Mercedes lent us is a serious performance machine, but it’s more than that, it’s the first AMG product I have driven lately that’s a better performance machine than BMW’s M line. I have long preferred AMGs to Ms because they were slightly softer, slightly more luxurious and easier to live with on a daily basis, but the CLS63 isn’t that Mercedes. While the 2014 AWD model might tame the beast, this 2013 model hustles with the M6 coupé, handles with greater precision than an M5 and the sense of urgency that 590lb-ft of torque bring to the party must be experienced to be believed. Is this the new Mercedes?


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Endless torque.
  • Did I mention the torque? Yea, it’s that good.
  • Impeccable road manners and the last stand against numb steering.

Quit it

  • Mercedes needs to snag someone’s dual-clutch transmission or swallow their pride and buy ZF’s 8-speed.
  • COMAND needs to be replaced, stat.


Mercedes-Benz provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.0 Seconds

0-60: 4.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12 Seconds @ 123 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy over 740 miles: 19MPG


M157 Engine M157 Engine M157 Engine 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Engine 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Engine, 5.5L twin-turbo V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Brakes, Wheel, Caliper, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-002 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-004 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-005 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-006 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-008 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-009 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-012 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-011 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-014 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Exterior-015 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster-002 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Instrument Cluster-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-002 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-005 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-006 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-007 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-008 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-010 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-011 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Interior-012 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-001 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-005 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-004 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-003 2013 Mercedes-Benz  CLS63 AMG Mercedes COMAND-002 ]]> 45