The Truth About Cars » Reviews The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:23:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Reviews Car Review: A Tale of Two Darts, Part the First – 2013 Dodge Dart Limited 2.0 L Tue, 10 Jun 2014 20:02:16 +0000 IMG_0092

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A while back Chrysler loaned me a Dodge Dart Limited with the 2.0 liter Tigershark engine and six-speed automatic transmission for the purpose of writing a review. That’s how it works, they loan you the car, you write the review. A social contract, if you will. In this case, however, though I drove the car for a week and took scores of photos and copious notes, I decided not to write the review at the time. That sort of behavior comes with some risk, particularly if the next time you ask for a press car and they ask for a link to your last review. I had my reasons for putting off the review, and now that I’ve driven a Dart with the larger 2.4 liter motor, I’m glad that I waited, and I think Chrysler should be glad that I waited as well.

I’ll explain all that gladness in Part Two, my review of the 2014 Dodge Dart GT 2.4 L, but everything has a backstory.

Why didn’t I write the review? To begin with, I don’t particularly like to say what everyone else is saying, even if I may agree. I don’t need to add my voice to an echo chorus. If I don’t have something original to say, why bother with “me too”?

What everyone else was saying was that the combination of the 2 liter engine with the automatic resulted in rather canine behavior and we’re not talkin’ greyhounds here. The fact that the Dart with the two liter engine and slushbox is a dog has been attested to by most reviewers and it’s hardly any secret with Chrysler folks too. Detroit is a place where you might run into a decision maker in the auto industry at the grocery when out to buy bread and milk for your mom and where the Dart you park next to might very well have been bought by an engineer on an employee discount. Whenever I mention to Chrysler folks about that drivetrain being a slug, they sort of shrug their shoulders and smile sheepishly.

After my week with the Dart Limited 2.0L/6AT, I wanted to check out the Dart with the larger 2.4L engine. Unfortunatley, there weren’t very many of those made in the Dart’s early production mix. That’s another reason why I’ve waited to write this review. I wasn’t sure just how representative the car I tested was of the Darts you’d be able to buy going forward. I knew that months before I got the test car Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne admitted that the 2.0L/6AT and the Fiat 1.4 Multiair Turbo powertrains “were not the ideal solution,” and a company spokesperson said that the production mix would be rebalanced as 2.4 L engine production ramped up at the company’s Dundee, Michigan engine plant. The production mix has indeed changed and the 2.4 liter is now installed in the majority of Darts. The 2.0 liter is now only available in the base SE car and the 1.4 turbo shared with the Fiat 500 is only offered on the Dart Aero. In that sense I was correct, the car that I’m describing to you is not representative of what you can buy. In fact, you can’t even buy a 2014 Dart Limited with the 2.0.

So why write the review now? Well, to begin with the drivetrain is still available on the Dart, if not with the same high trim level. Also, as it turns out, I think the basic car is pretty decent, even better than that, and some buyers, out of a sense of frugality or budget realities, might decide to buy the Dart SE, thinking that they’ll get a nice car, and save money both on the purchase and on gasoline. As you’ll see, though, the 2.0 liter may be a false economy. Finally, reviewing this car puts the upcoming Dart GT review in context and much of this review will also still be relevant to those considering a Dart Limited.

The problem as I see it isn’t how much power that engine has, or doesn’t have. With 160 hp, it’s not going to be a speed demon but under normal circumstances with that much power in a slightly chubby compact car you should be fine in traffic and on the highway. However, every combination of engine and transmission these days seems to be calibrated to yield maximum Ms per G on the EPA test cycle, not maximum driveability. The 2.0L/6AT combination is EPA rated at 25/36 and it seems calibrated to get into the highest gear ratio as quickly as possible, meaning you’re in a higher gear before you ever get to the meaty part of the power curve.

I tend to treat “it was so slow as to be unsafe in traffic” reviews with some skepticism because 20 year old Hondas and Camrys can keep up with traffic just fine, even today when 300+ horsepower cars are commonplace. However, the way the 2.0/6AT combo drove, I genuinely felt nervous when trying to zip into a spot in traffic or when merging onto the freeway. I love a good stick shift, but I’ve never warmed to using paddle shifters or manually shifting with automatic transmissions. I figure that ZF et al know more about shifting than I do. Still, with this Dart I discovered that I had to autostick it to force the car to hold a gear long enough to be able to get on top of it and accelerate safely in traffic.

I also discovered why the transmission and engine are mapped the way they are. Leaving the car to its own devices in mixed suburban driving I was getting an indicated gas mileage in the high twenty-nines, but when I started shifting myself that dropped to about 26.5 mpg.

I really wanted to like the car. Based on the Compact U.S. Wide platform that Chrysler’s engineers in Auburn Hills derived from Fiat’s C-Evo platform first seen under the current Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Dart feels spacious, at least for front seat passengers. Wide is no misnomer, there’s an airy feel to the cabin from behind the wheel. The belt line sweeps up towards the rear of the car but at the driver’s window it’s almost low enough for resting your elbow. Because of that rising belt line, though, rear passengers might feel a bit more closed in.

Visibility for the driver is pretty good, except for the fact that the hood slopes down sharply and you can’t see the front corners. Sajeev Mehta will rejoice at the Day Light Opening (DLO) win, as small triangular windows behind the rear door glass provide a clear look at your blind spots over your shoulders. They also help keep rear passengers from getting claustrophobic from the high belt line in back. Speaking of DLO, there is some DLO fail around the mirror and A pillar, with a black plastic insert.

Speaking of black plastic, there’s a variety of black colored and textured polymers at play in the interior. Most of the surfaces that you’d come into contact with, though, are of the soft touch kind.

Everything up front was properly ergonomic, with Chrysler’s industry leading 8.4″ UConnect touchscreen well integrated visually with the configurable display that sits directly in front of the driver. I thought the default red color scheme of the liquid crystal displays was a bit garish, compared to the cooler blue scheme on the Chrysler 300S I’d had the week before, but that’s just a matter of personal taste. YMMV. The instrument panel is surrounded by a band of red trim that lights up subtly when the headlights are on. It’s a nice touch in this class of car, providing you like red.

Chrysler is big on their sliding console storage bin in the company’s minivans. I think that’s where they got the idea for a two position armrest on top of the console storage bin. Whichever position you slide it to, when you open it, you’ll find a USB port, a 1/8″ AUX port, and, what is getting to be a rarity these days, a CD drive.

The 60/40 fold-down back seat features a console that flips down from the seat back and contains cupholders and a storage bin. When that console is flipped down, it reveals the hatch for passing though long items that are being stored in the trunk, like skis.

I thought the rear seat was roomy enough but then I’m a 5’6 tall guy with a 28″ inseam. I was left with about 3″ of headroom and about 5″ of knee room. Will it Zayde? Yes, I had no problems getting my grandson’s rear facing car seat in the Dart. There are child seat latch anchors on the back deck for all three rear seat positions.

In Limited trim, the Dart had most of the features most drivers will want, in fact, most of the options offered on the car – it was pretty loaded. With the Technology Group, Premium Group, automatic transmission, UConnect and a few odds and ends, it stickered out to $25,190, including a $795 destination charge.

The seats were full leather and quite comfortable. They feature the now ubiquitous contrasting detail stitching. The passenger seat has a hidden storage compartment under the hinged seat squab for stowing small valuables.

Visually, to my tastes it’s an attractive car, sort of a muscular and squat wedge. Car companies are putting more style into their mass market compact sedans. There’s a lot of sheet metal contouring happening on the hood and around the front end that you probably wouldn’t have seen a few years ago in a class of cars that American’s have considered to be economy cars. On the outside, the Dart looks more expensive than it is.

I like the way the headlamp lenses stand proud of the fender and the rear end goes together in harmony, with an integrated. duck tail spoiler. The rear end also features a version of the Dodge Charger’s brand identifying full-width LED tail-lights. I think that the smarter designers today are using the flexibility of LED and other modern lighting technology to make a brand statement in the dark of night as well as in the light of the day.

Other than acceleration, what’s it like to drive? The Dart wants to handle. Those Alfa genes are strong. The problem is that under normal driving, letting the car shift for itself, the drivetrain’s lack of acceleration compromises the handling. You can dive bomb into a corner and it holds the line just fine, but when you want to power through the exit letting front wheel drive understeer help straighten the car out, there’s just no there there.

At first I was struck at some obvious price-pointing, but I realized that impression was biased by the fact that when they dropped off the Dart, they picked up that Chrysler 300S AWD with a Hemi, a car whose base price is almost double that of a stripper $16K Dart. While there’s indeed $14,000 worth of visible and tactile difference between the Dart and the 300, the Dart feels solid and has a fairly comfortable ride for a compact. The test car was equipped with 17″ X 7.5″ aluminum wheels mounted with 225/45 R17 Continental ContiproContact tires.

There was one visible quality control issue, a surprising one. While doing the photo shoot I noticed something I haven’t seen in a long time, a paint “run”, a drip at least an inch long near one of the rocker panels. I worked at a DuPont automotive paint lab from 1982 into the 21st century and I haven’t seen a visible paint defect that bad since the early 1990s. To be fair, the rest of the paint, and the rest of the Dart seemed to be defect free.

I noticed something else that, no pun intended, touches on quality control, or at least attention to detail, while doing the photo shoot. If you have to open the hood and the engine is hot, make sure that you’re wearing an oven mitt or using something else to protect your hand before you grab the prop rod that holds up the open hood. When stowed, the prop rod sits right above the radiator and it gets very hot.

I had high hopes for the Dart but as equipped with the 2.0L/6AT powertrain it left me disappointed. I thought the revival of the nameplate was brilliant, with many Americans holding fond memories of a reliable, inexpensive compact American car, powered by the almost indestructible Slant Six. I also knew that when they have tried, eg. Neon, the boffins in Auburn Hills know how to make a compact car, even if the company as a whole didn’t quite get the continuous improvement thing. I think that they still know how to make a decent small car, but my first encounter with the Dart suffered from expectations not met. So much so that it was my choice as my least favorite test car of 2013. Yep, not only did I not review a loaned car, I slagged it off at the end of the year. I suppose that also risked some displeasure of the folks in Auburn Hills, but they can’t complain that much since in that same end-of-year wrap up I also said that the Chrysler 300S AWD Hemi was my favorite car of 2013.

Maybe all that stuff about ticking off car companies with negative reviews is a bit exaggerated, because despite doing somethings that wouldn’t necessarily curry favor with them, the folks at Chrysler approved it when I asked the fleet company if they had a 2.4 liter Dart for me to try. We’ll look at that car, a GT model, in Part Two.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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The Wobble Comes To An End As Consumer Reports Echoes TTACs Criticisms Of The Jeep Cherokee Tue, 11 Feb 2014 21:22:05 +0000 450x337xIMG_4625-450x337.jpg.pagespeed.ic.CmfCHZbR1g

In late 2013, TTAC was invited to review the Jeep Cherokee. As the journalist assigned to cover the launch, I gave what I felt was a nuanced but critical assessment of the vehicle: that it delivered with respect to its off-road prowess, but left a lot to be desired in other areas, namely the on-road driving experience and overall packaging.

TTAC was alone in its criticisms, with other outlets heaping praise on the Cherokee for attributes that I felt were lacking. A backlash from readers, Mopar fans and other entities ensued, and we were left looking like a fringe element of anti-Cherokee cranks, despite what we as an organization felt was a fair and nuanced, if – ahem – slightly colorful review of the car. It turns out that in the end, we weren’t alone.

Consumer Reports recently delivered their verdict on the Cherokee, and their examples (ostensibly one that they purchased) were criticized for many of the same issues that TTAC did, namely, poor dynamics, a choppy ride and an unrefined 9-speed automatic transmission. Only TTAC and CR have called out the Cherokee for these issues, with other media outlets either downplaying, ignoring or outright praising these elements. Since then, the media has been happy to give the car more positive press, spinning its respectable but mid-pack sales figures into some kind of Cinderella story.

When you are the lone outlet taking a controversial stance on a new car, it can be tough to weather the accusations of bias or even outright malice. Everyone wonders why your impressions are so different from the rest of the pack. In addition, you are left even more vulnerable to punitive actions from the auto maker for having strayed off message. But CR’s impressions of the car, even months later, feels like vindication on some level.

Chrysler has graciously offered to let TTAC have another go at the Cherokee, and I’m slated to have my own re-test in April. It’s been my hope that these issues have been ironed out, especially after the costly delays that Chrysler implemented with the objective of improving the Cherokee’s transmission. They deserve immense credit for having the courage to do so. Whatever the outcome, you can be sure that we will refrain from The Wobble. We will continue to bring you The Truth About Cars.

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Capsule Review: Lexus IS250 AWD Tue, 31 Dec 2013 16:28:29 +0000 DSC_4625
It’s happened, all in a neat confluence of threes. By my decree, the third generation of the Lexus IS has surpassed the BMW 3 Series. While BMW has been busying itself creating niches for increasingly grotesque vehicle-type-things, Lexus has turned out a pair of legitimately great sports sedans, first in the GS and now in the new 2014 IS. This from a company who’s top sellers are Camry cousins.

After spending a week with the 2014 Lexus IS250 AWD it took me another couple weeks to shut up about it. That rarely happens, and when it does, it means that the car is simply fantastic. You’re probably all incredulous now, especially since this isn’t even the F Sport version with its stiffened suspension tune. This IS should be the least exciting of all, except it’s not.

There’s something about the way this car is pieced together and highly burnished that transcends the tiny 2.5 liter V6 and its equally-tiny 204 hp, not to mention the even-tinier 184 lb-ft of torque. A base-model Chevrolet Malibu has 10 more lb-ft and nearly as much horsepower from a four cylinder. A six-speed automatic, even with paddle shifters, pales in comparison to the eight- and nine-speed proliferation, and the IS has always been known for its cozy dimensions. And yet, it all comes together to just feel right.

Let’s get real for a minute. A 204 hp V6 in this era is only noteworthy for what it lacks, but look past the cylinder count and you’ll find that the output numbers square with the displacement. That Malibu I cited earlier has a 2.5 liter four cylinder, which, when you think about it, explains why the torque is better and the horsepower is about the same. The Lexus uses Toyota’s 4GR-FSE V6, which has 77 mm of stroke, while the Ecotec in the Malibu has a 100 mm stroke. There’s your torque difference, right there, though the Chevy’s 88 mm bore is also larger than the 83 mm cylinder diameter of the Lexus V6, which means bigger pistons travelling a longer distance and fewer firing pulses to go around. So, while it rocks a small V6, the power level is right on the money for a 2.5 liter engine, and because it’s a 60-degree V6, it doesn’t rock like a four.

The BMW 3 Series, the clear benchmark for anyone making this kind of car, now uses a four cylinder as its standard engine, and back when it was still an “E” instead of an “F,” it was about the same size as the 2014 Lexus IS. The 3 Series has put on inches and pounds while the IS 250 has stayed tight. The new Lexus styling language, Spindle Grille and all, is at its most handsome here, with characterful taillights that blend seamlessly into the creased shoulder line that runs across the tops of the doors and the pointed outer edges of the lenses align cleverly with a feature line rising from the rocker panels. The new IS is a handsome car.

Because of its standard V6, the IS 250 has fewer bad vibrations to manage, and maybe that’s why so many good vibes are able to make their way to the palms of your hands and the seat of your pants. The IS used to feel tiny and old. It was tighter than a Corolla, kinda growly and didn’t reward the driver for putting up with any of its shortcomings. The 2014 Lexus IS is still about Corolla-sized. In fact, there’s significantly more rear legroom in the lowly Toyota, and other dimensions, like wheelbase, overall length and trunk size are within spitting distance of each other. Just looking at the numbers might give you the impression what the IS is just a Lexus Corolla, but that’s just not so.

Have you stopped dreaming about what a Lexed-up Corolla would be like? It’s not likely that you’ll confuse the workaday Toyota with the sufficiently premium 2014 IS. Getting into the IS 250 is a reminder of a time when cars didn’t trade visibility for crash test stars. The base of the windshield is nice and low, and from the driver’s seat it’s an easy lean to adjust the furthest passenger side HVAC vent. The IS is a cozy environment, with the A pillar topping out just above your forehead. And of course, there’s that back seat with a scant 32.2 inches of legroom. With just 101 cubic feet of passenger volume, claustrophobes need not apply.

The benefit of this dimensional tidiness is that it makes the tired, two-bit car writer phrases work. Controls really *do* “fall close at hand,” for example. The materials are high quality, from the supportive, comfortable, widely-adjustable seats to the plastics on the dash and door panels, right down to the knobs. The 2014 IS 250 feels good in your hands, even the secondary controls. The acorn-colored, handsomely-stitched seats with heat and ventilation were very agreeable, though the extra bolstering of the available sport seats would have been plenty welcome.

Control stalks feel precise, the steering wheel has nubbins to promote a proper grip for getting the most out of the chassis, and even the touch-sensitive cabin temperature adjustment is responsive and not infuriating like the button-free options in Cadillac or Lincoln models. It may be somewhat devoid of whimsy, but the interior of the 2014 Lexus IS is a den of quality. The Lexus mouse is right there, too, giving you control over the infotainment system that can link up with your phone and an online account and apps. The system can read text messages to you and there are also canned responses that you can send back through your paired phone while driving. You can add to the presets, as well, and that’s pretty slick, if not a whole lot less distracting than fumbling with a handset.

The IS is now highway bomber happy to strafe along in the fast lane at highly extra-legal speeds without being the least bit perturbed by it. It may be powered by a small engine, and the AWD version I drove has extra underbits to sponge up acceleration, but that tiny V6 is a heart of gold. In fact, while the IS 350 has 100 more horsepower that’s surely entertaining in its own right, the IS 250 doesn’t lack for grins. There’s fewer places where you can exercise the bigger stable, anyway, but you can enjoy the polished ride and handling balance that is a just-right blend of control and supple absorption. Someone at Lexus knows how to tune a suspension, and again, this isn’t even an F-Sport. Every corner becomes an opportunity to find the line, you get useful feedback through the steering wheel and it even loads up through corners just like it’s supposed to.

If you’re looking to be astounded in 2014, take a 2014 Lexus IS for a spin. Start with the 250. I promise it’s all I’ve cracked it up to be. To use another tired-ass hack autowriter phrase, the 2014 IS 250 AWD is truly a Goldilocks car. It’s always entertaining, it has AWD for crappy weather (probably only actually useful when paired with winter tires), it’s a high-quality car that’s very comfortable and highly composed, and even with the small V6, it’s confident and assertive on the road, if not outright speedy.

Here’s the highest praise I can give a car: I would buy this. That’s right. If I had $45K to spend on a car, the 2014 Lexus IS 250 AWD would be a purchase I’d happily make. Now you know the secret of what the car pundit would drive if this industry paid as handsomely as we wish it did.

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An Open Letter To The Mopar Community Regarding Our Cherokee Review Fri, 13 Sep 2013 18:51:39 +0000 neontow

Dear fellow Chrysler/Plymouth/Imperial/Dodge/DeSoto fans,

It appears that some of you are not happy with our man Derek’s review of the new Jeep Cherokee. I can understand that; like many of you, I wanted the Cherokee to be a solid if not superior product. Today, however, I saw that’s administrator has called for Chrysler to blacklist TTAC from future press vehicles. I thought I’d take a moment to discuss with you why an attitude like this is bad news for everyone, including the Mopar Nation or whatever the long-suffering group of Chrysler loyalists is being called at the moment.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment before we get to the meat of the discussion, however, I want to respond personally to allegations made on Allpar and elsewhere that we are “out to get” Chrysler, and the occasional allegation that I personally am “out to get” Chrysler. I bought a 1995 Neon new from the showroom floor. I factory-ordered a 2004 SRT-4. I bought and campaigned an original Neon Challenge ACR in NASA until I was put in the wall — and then my team and I built another Neon from a bare shell to logbook racer in twenty days. I’ve competed in Dodge and Plymouth automobiles from California, where we won ChumpCar in a Neon Coupe, to Ohio where my ACR was the only car to finish in the top five of both wet and dry NASA National Championship qualifying races. This f**king morning I bought a 2.4 DOHC engine to use for the 2014 NASA race season. I’ve seen more flags behind the windshield of a Mopar product than all but the most committed racers. I’ve voted for Chrysler with my own money again and again and will continue to do so.

Okay. End of rant. The objections brought up on forums regarding Derek’s review mostly fell into two categories, which I’ll cover separately below.

“These were pre-production automobiles. Why did Derek complain about the fit and finish on them?” On the surface, this sounds completely reasonable. If Derek was informed that the Cherokees he was being given to drive weren’t ready for prime time, so to speak, why not ignore the little stuff and focus on the important aspects of the vehicle? I’d suggest that he did focus on the important aspects of the vehicle. He and I discussed the problems he was seeing with the Cherokees multiple times. It wasn’t just fit and finish; it was a failure to ride, handle, and address NVH as well as the best competitors in the CUV field. Where the Jeep had “wins” — against the RAV4, for instance — he said as much. It wasn’t just a matter of mis-stitched steering wheels.

But what if it had been just a matter of mis-stitched steering wheels? Do you, the Allpar or Edmunds or whatever forum reader, want us to hide that from you? Do you want us to keep secrets from you about the fit and finish of vehicles we drive just because the pretty girl sitting next to us at dinner pats our arm and says “Oh, I know the steering wheels are all terrible, but I promise we’ll have them right in production”? Are you more comfortable if we just take the manufacturer’s word for this stuff? Or do you want us to report on what we saw truthfully and leave the determination about what the manufacturer might or might not do on the production line up to you?

Imagine, for example, that every Cherokee on the drive had a stalling problem. If we kept our mouths shut about that at Chrysler’s request, and then you bought a Cherokee and it had a stalling problem, wouldn’t you have suffered from our willingness to adjust our ethics to please the site administrator at Is that guy going to come to your house and fix the stalling problem for you? “Oh, but,” some of you will say, “a mis-stitched steering wheel isn’t as important as a stalling problem.” Fair enough — but do you want to pay $37,000 and get something that isn’t up to par? I ordered my SRT-4 sight unseen, trusting that what I had read about the car was honest. Shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to you? Should our loyalty be to you, or to the manufacturer?

“All the other early reviews of the Cherokee have been positive.” Undoubtedly. All the early reviews of anything nowadays are positive. There’s a certain amount of Freakonomics at work here. Derek will never meet 99.9% of Allpar readers, but he’ll be at dinner with the same Chrysler people at every press event. There’s a strong temptation to say nice things about the car, particularly if you can wind them back later in a comparison test. Many of the people who are currently lauding the Cherokee will call it a complete piece of junk as soon as the next Cherokee is ready. Some of the writers who are currently slamming the Patriot and Compass in their Cherokee reviews tripped all over themselves to say nice things about those same vehicles at the early launch events.

Let me look into the future for you. The new Mercedes-Benz E250 Bluetec just had its press event last week. It will receive positive reviews all the way around even though I’m already hearing grumblings about the car being underpowered garbage. Want to know why? Click here. Mr. Day had his resignation from MBUSA accepted with extreme prejudice recently, but in the words of the poet, one monkey don’t stop no show.

Two years from now, the E250 might get tossed to the back of a comparison test. Four years from now, it will be revealed to have been a bad car. If you want to know what the auto media really thinks of a car, you can read what they say when the next model comes out. Of course, new-car buyers do not find this to be helpful.

When the administrator of a major Mopar fan site calls for Derek’s voice to be silenced because he doesn’t like the review, what he is in effect saying is this: “I value the sales success of a Chrysler product over the individual experience of Chrysler owners.” He’s siding with the corporation, not the driver. I suppose that’s fine for some people. It doesn’t wash here. The English car magazines used to whitewash the failings of cars like the Rover Metro and Jaguar XJ6. Today the companies that made those products are in non-British hands. Because you cannot lie and whitewash your way to success in the automotive business. In the long run, the customer will find out. Every cheat, every slip, every cut corner, will eventually show. You cannot wallpaper a bad product forever. Eventually, the truth will come out and the manufacturers will fail. If you love Chrysler, then you’d better hope that they make a good car. That’s all that can save them.

TTAC will continue to give positive reviews of Chrysler products — when the product is good. When that is not the case, we will continue to alert our readers to problems. We do not apologize for that, we will not walk that back, we will not change. If that means that we are no longer invited to evaluate Chrysler products, we will rent Chrysler products. If that means that we don’t get to party with the cool kids, we can live with that. Our allegiance is to the reader. It was thus when TTAC was founded. It is thus now. Forever may it be.


Jack Baruth
#187 Plymouth Neon, NASA Performance Touring “E”

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Review: 2013 Land Rover LR4 Fri, 30 Aug 2013 15:41:56 +0000 IMG_0141

My friends and neighbors have gotten used to the sight of a variety of brand new and nicely equipped cars that periodically show up on my driveway. They know that many (most? all?) of them are beyond my own means to own or lease so a frequent question I’m asked is, “who would buy that car?” Who would buy a 2013 Land Rover LR4? A snarky answer would be nobody, since it’s a safe bet that most of the 600 or so new LR4s that get delivered every month in North America are leased, but my guess is that the typical buyers are affluent suburban families with children and maybe a vacation home on an unpaved road. Who else would drive a 7 passenger luxury SUV?


With permanent seating for five adults and two flip up seats in the back, which could be used to transport grown ups if needed but are really more suited to car pooling kids to school, the LR4 will likely be used mostly as a mommymobile. Once mom does flip up those far back seats, she’s probably going to want to leave them up unless she needs the cargo space because they’re a bit of a PITA to put up or down. Speaking of things that are awkward, the clamshell rear end, with both a short lift gate and an actual tail gate may be a bit of a Land Rover styling signature, but the tail gate, with its asymmetrical cutout that lets you get closer to the cargo hold, still makes for a long reach when getting things in and out of the back.


How most LR4s will be used most of the time will be nowhere near their capabilities. The LR4 has got the equipment and features to be a very competent off-road vehicle, but the simple fact is that most LR4s will likely never leave pavement. If they do it will be down a gravel driveway or two-track to a summer home.


The LR4 comes with what Land Rover calls “permanent four wheel drive with traction control”, a two-speed transfer case, a locking center differential, LR’s five position “Terrain Response System” that lets you select an appropriate mode for a variety of unpaved surfaces, hill descent control, and fully independent suspension with electronically controlled air springs that automatically levels the car in response to load conditions and has an off-road setting that increases ground clearance by about 2.5 inches from the normal 7.3″ ride height. Should you take it off-road, the undercarriage is protected by skid plates. My suspicion, though, is that if a typical LR4 driver uses any of those features, it will be about 1% of the time. In addition to the off-road and normal ride heights, there is also an “access level” setting, that drops the truck’s body a couple of inches, to make ingress and egress easier. It can also be locked in that position (low speeds only, if you go too fast with the body raised or lowered, the LR4 will automatically return to normal ride height) for dealing with parking structures that have low clearance. It seems to me that in regular use, the three position switch will rarely, if ever, go into the raised position. It also seems to me that the typical driver will appreciate the fact that the driver’s seat automatically lowers itself and the power adjusted steering wheel is lifted out of the way as you prepare to exit the vehicle.

Click here to view the embedded video.

That capable air suspension may not end up getting a workout in the boonies but it is wonderful for driving around the frost heaved and financially distressed Detroit area roads where I live. I even started looking for low curbs and potholes to run over, to marvel at how the Land Rover just soaks up road irregularities. There’s a road not far from my home where the asphalt has been beaten into an oscillating mess. The road surface discombobulates most cars at any speed. The LR4 handled the bumps with aplomb.


Mom and kids will have a comfortable ride on the way to school. It also handles pretty well on pavement for a truck, and it is a truck. Land Rover calls the architecture “integrated body frame”. What that means is essentially a unibody structure welded to a traditional ladder frame. The LR4 is sturdy, but even with some aluminum body panels, it weighs more than 2 1/2 tons, 5,623 lbs to be exact. That’s about 400 pounds more than a Duesenberg Model J. Even when carpooling with little kids, a fully loaded LR4 will tip the scales at over 3 tons.


Steering is precise and quick, if a bit lacking in feel. The LR4 has a remarkably tight turning radius for a vehicle of its size, 18.8 feet. By comparison, a Chrysler 300 sedan has a 19.4′ turning radius. At the steering wheel it’s just a bit over three turns lock to lock. Also, the LR4 is not as large as it seems. The LR4 is tall, wide and heavy, but it’s not that long, 191 inches, only about 2″ longer than a Toyota Camry, and since it’s designed to be able to climb over things like a Camry there’s not much overhang, particularly at the front of the truck. Add in the four wheel drive and various sophisticated drivetrain components and stability controls and the result is a fairly maneuverable SUV. It’s also not slow.  Zero to sixty times are stated as 7.5 seconds, which would have been considered quick in any other time than our horsepower addled age. The six speed automatic made by ZF worked flawlessly. You can shift it yourself if you want to, but it’s one of those bassakwards automanual gear selectors that have you push forward to go up a gear.


I like the brakes. They are probably the best modulated brakes of cars I’ve driven recently. Considering the mass involved their performance was impressive, though I’d prefer a bit more initial bite. The one time I had to make an unexpected stop there was no drama.


Again, this is a truck, not a crossover. You sit up high, with a commanding seating position. I could look F-150 and Silverado drivers pretty much in the eye. With a very square front end and the front wheels at the corners, you can easily see the front corners. It was very easy to place the LR4 on the road. Though the rear side windows that extend into the roof, a Land Rover styling cue, are a bit of an illusion since the view from the inside is masked, visibility to the rear is very good.


I alluded to the affluence of the target audience of the LR4. The one I had, in Fuji white with a Black Design Package that replaces all chrome brightwork with very sharp looking glossy black trim, stickered out at $64,145, with about $15K worth of options. The 7 Seat LUX package is $9,225 and gets you nice power leather seats, power steering column, special black 19″ wheels, a fridge in the console, and a 17 speaker, 825 watt harman/kardon Logic 7 branded sound system. That package include both the HSE and Classic Comfort packages, which gives you multiple zone automatic climate control. The black on white color scheme looks fabulous, and people remarked about what a nice looking vehicle it is, but that glossy black trim will also set you back $3,500. If you want a rugged looking white vehicle with black trim but you don’t want to spend an additional $3,500, I believe that look is standard on the Ford E-150.


Not only isn’t the LR4 cheap to buy, it’s not going to be cheap to drive. I had originally hoped to take the LR4 to The Mounds, a county owned off-road driving park north of Flint, Michigan. Press cars only come with one tank of gas, the 375 HP, 375 ft lbs, Jaguar V8 under the hood runs on premium gasoline.


The LR4 comes with two glove boxes and a little storage cubby.

Still, it’s only about a 120 mile round trip and I did talk to the park director thinking that it’d be nice to try out the Land Rover in it’s intended habitat and maybe even do a story about The Mounds, which is unique enough that they get off-road enthusiasts from as far away as Texas. However, after the first quarter tank of gas returned 9.5 MPG, a figure I haven’t personally seen since I could buy gas for two-bits a gallon, I changed my plans. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever driven another car that got less than 10 over that kind of distance. My late father’s 1966 Olds 88 with a 425 big block and a 4 barrel carb got 11 MPG.


Suspension pieces are the definition of beefy.

So I scotched that trip and instead used the LR4 the way it is likely to be used, driving around the suburbs, with an occasional highway trip or excursion into the city. I barely got over 200 miles range on the full tank, with an overall average of 12.9 MPG – compared to a combined EPA rating of 14. I’ll have to check my Jaguar reviews, but offhand I think the mileage that I got was even a bit worse than with the two XF Supercharged models I tested, and those have 470 HP.


Skid plates standard

The LR4 is slated for a mid-cycle refreshment and spy pics have already been spotted of the car with revised headlamps. The current car is perfectly comfortable, even somewhat luxurious, certainly in its features, but while the utilitarian, mostly black plastic interior trim fits with the LR4′s off-road capabilities and credentials, and while the fit and finish is appropriate for a vehicle that expensive, it seems a bit spartan for $64,000 and, according to reports, the interior on the next Discovery/LR5 will also be upgraded as well. It’s not surprising that also being replaced is the thirsty Jaguar V8 . Instead the base engine will be the supercharged V6 introduced in the new Jaguar F Type. No word from Jaguar on whether or not a diesel will be available in North America.

Will it Zayde?


Unlike the new fathers in the autoblogosphere, like our own Brendan Macaleer, or Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky, this is my second time around with small children. Once a week I babysit my 14 month old grandson, Aryeh Leib. When Jason does car reviews, he includes a “Will it baby?” assessment of how well that vehicle suits the needs of parents of small children, so with his gracious permission I’d like to introduce “Will it Zayde?” The access level setting on the air suspension (must remember to activate it before shutting everything down) does make it easier to get a baby laden car seat in and out of the back seat. I wouldn’t even try putting one in the way back. Putting a car seat in the car does have one hangup. The seat belt latches for the regular rear seats are mounted on hinged arms that retract into a recess to allow the seats to lie fully flat when folded. That makes buckling a child car seat into those seats a two hand task, one for lifting up the latch and the other to insert the buckle. Since you have to reach over the car seat to do that, it’s rather awkward.

In summary, other than the poor fuel economy, I liked the LR4. It’s comfortable, handles well for a truck and it is likely to get you there no matter the road conditions. It won’t be cheap to buy or own, but then that’s not likely to be a concern for someone willing to spend $64K on a station wagon to get the kids to school and mom to her yoga classes.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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A Pretty Good New Movie About A Great Motorsports Rivalry, No, Not That One Thu, 15 Aug 2013 12:43:24 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

You may have heard that there’s a movie about car racing coming out. For dramatic tension it’s based on the real life story of two drivers, competing when the sport was very dangerous, whose relationship went from rivalry to respect to a deep friendship. Actually, there are two movies like that coming out. You’re probably more familiar with director Ron Howard’s $100 million F1 epic, Rush, which opens on Sept. 20th and centers on the competition between Niki Lauda and the late James Hunt. Made for about one tenth of that, and opening Sept. 9th is Snake and Mongoo$e, about drag racers Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen. Snake and Mongoo$e had its worldwide premiere last weekend in conjunction with Reno’s Hot August Nights cruise festivities that included a Barrett-Jackson car auction. With a million and a half car lovers congregating this weekend on Woodward for the Dream Cruise, the producers decided to have a Detroit premiere as well, and the film will be screened at the Palladium in Birmingham all weekend long.

I knew about the film and had seen the trailer. Yesterday, I saw in one of the Detroit dailies that there was going to be a local premiere and that one of the film’s producers was the wife of the CEO of Event Services International. One of the things that ESI does is press fleet management, they’re the nice folks who drop off press cars, freshly washed, detailed and with a full tank of fuel on my driveway. The people I’ve dealt with at ESI have been great so I called up the local office and they put me in touch with the woman doing publicity for the film, Shari McCullough Arfons, who has a connection to drag racing herself since she’s married to the son of Art Arfons, of Green Monster jet car fame. Shari graciously arranged for me to get passes to the premiere so that you could read this review and if you’re in Detroit for the Dream Cruise maybe stop over at the Palladium and check it out.

McEwen and Prudhomme were competitors in the California drag racing scene going back to the late 1950s. Prudhomme worked in the family body and paint shop while McEwen came from a wealthier background. Prudhomme had been using the nickname “Snake” for a while and after McEwen beat him in an important race, Tom started using the nickname “Mongoose”, apparently at the suggestion of his chief mechanic who read the Jungle Book when he was a child. By the time they reached the top level of NHRA racing, though, both of them were struggling to make racing pay for itself. Sponsorship was minimal and often on the local level for a few hundred dollars. Race winnings barely paid the bills.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The men have very different personalities. Prudhomme is quiet while McEwen is outgoing. Prudhomme preferred to focus on racing, while McEwen had a better sense of public relations. For example, while Prudhomme team wore t-shirts with his snake logo, McEwen sold t-shirts with his rodent on them. It took him a while but eventually McEwen convinced Prudhomme that by working together as business partners they could make a lot more money than they did as competitors in NHRA. They started a barnstorming tour of match races, with guaranteed money up front. By then, the late 1960s, Prudhomme had won NHRA titles and McEwen was a top competitor so they were a big draw and could command the fees they demanded.

Both men were married and McEwen and his wife had three sons. Once, after returning from an out of town race, he noticed his sons playing with some new toy cars called Hot Wheels, billed by Mattel as the fastest cars in the world. I don’t know if the proverbial light bulb went on but McEwen had what has to be one of the great marketing ideas of the last half century, though it’s really a variation on “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”. In this case, the buyers were young boys and their parents and the cars being bought would be Hot Wheels versions of funny cars that McEwen and Prudhomme actually raced. It was a brilliant stroke of cross-promotion, with the racers and race cars selling die-cast models and the die-cast models making new fans to come out to the race track and watch the real cars race.

Considering this all took place over 40 years ago, it was a fairly sophisticated marketing brew with other companies than Mattel, like Chrysler, involved. Prudhomme’s car carried a yellow Plymouth Baracuda body and McEwen’s a red Plymouth Duster. A Hot Wheels designer, a racing fan himself, helped design the cars’ and their transporters’ graphics.

It was a great idea. The two drivers made money from the sponsorship, which also allowed them to build cars that were competitive in NHRA funny car and top fuel categories. They made appearance money from their match races, and trackside merchandise, and of course Mattel made lots of money, selling millions of cars and racing sets.

All good things come to an end and after three years, Mattel ended it’s sponsorship and the two ended their business partnership but the die had been cast both in the business of motorsports and in their intertwined personal lives. The promotional materials for the movie stress how groundbreaking their deal with Mattel was. It wasn’t just that the money was good, it was the fact that it was part of a large marketing scheme, that a major corporation was making racing part of their business. The picayune historian in me says that’s a bit of an exaggeration, since by then Jim Hall had made plenty of deals to license his Chaparral to model companies like Cox and Colin Chapman also had arranged some big money sponsorship from a tobacco company for Lotus, but to be fair to the producers of the movie, none of those deals were as comprehensive or as mutually beneficial as the Snake, Mongoo$e and Mattel.

The names Snake and Mongoo$e and Prudhomme and McEwen are well known to a generation of drag racing fans and a younger generation of Hot Wheels fans. Their competition, which lasted over two decades, is considered by many to be drag racing’s greatest rivalry, the Gatti-Ward of the quarter mile.

Cross-promotion is a fact of life in Hollywood today. I don’t know how much product placement was actually involved in the making of the movie but included in the movie’s press kit is a press release from Cam2. Cam2 oil was one of Prudhomme’s sponsors and their logo would normally appear in the film so that deal does make sense. Thinking about some of the logos in the movies, it occurs to me that the two racers were pioneers in another regard. After the Mattel deal was over and they dissolved their team, Wildlife Racing, they started looking for other big sponsors. McEwen first got the United States Navy to sign up. Prudhomme responded by getting the Army logo on his cars. The U.S. Army still sponsors a NHRA team. It’s possible those sponsorship deals with McEwen and Prudhomme were the first time American armed forces services sponsored motorsports teams.

The movie starts and ends in 1978, at the NHRA nationals in Indianapolis, with the two going head to head for a title. Ron Howard is spending a lot of money with some very pricey vintage racers along with special effects to make Rush realistic. The producers and director of Snake and Mongoo$e went in a different direction, using mostly archival footage when showing on track action. That footage is rather seamlessly integrated into the film, though watching on a modern digital 4K cinema screen, it’s sometimes a little visually jarring to go from the grainy film or raster-lined tv footage to the high definition material. Access to the archival film was no doubt made easy by the fact that the movie is being presented and distributed by Rhino Films in connection with the NHRA. With digital processing, the old racing footage looks better than it ever has, even if it isn’t in high def.

Dramatically, Snake and Mongoo$e actually turned out to be better than I expected. Yes, it’s a bit formulaic, but then all sports movies are. The acting was fine. Nobody’s going to win any Oscars but the characters were believable. Jesse Williams, of Gray’s Anatomy, plays Prudhomme and he has a remarkable resemblance to Prudhomme himself. He seems to catch Prudhommes taciturn manner well. Richard Blake plays McEwen and shows a little range, since the real life McEwen had to deal with the death of his son Jaime. The real life McEwen and Prudhomme do have cameos in the film, as do other racing figures like Wally Parks. Prudhomme and McEwen also participated in the production, and were on set frequently. Blake spent weeks before filming with McEwen, going to locations and explaining what really went down. Linda Vaughn’s and Pam Hardy’s busts also make cameos in some of the archival footage. ER’s Noah Wyle plays the Mattel executive, Art Spear, who saw the wisdom of McEwen’s plan. Spear later would reduce and then end the sponsorship because they thought sales of the Hot Wheels versions of the Snake and Mongoo$e’s cars had peaked. Ashley Hinshaw plays Lynn Prudhomme and Kim Shaw plays Judy McEwen. Tim Blake Nelson plays, mostly to comedic effect, a composite track/tv announcer with a period perfect mustache and sideburns. Fred Dryer has a character role as McEwen’s gruff longtime racing engineer. The film was written by automotive writer Alan Paradise, inspired by a documentary he had worked on for Mattel celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Snake and Mongoo$e Hot Wheels cars. It was directed by Wayne Holloway.

To be honest, I expected something along the lines of a made for tv or straight to dvd movie, but it was much better than I expected. Not great art, but the characters were engaging, the motorsports side was authentic, the business and marketing history portrayed in the film continues to impact the way racing is promoted and sponsored today and the story arc kept my interest. If the film falls down it’s where it fleshes out the characters and their family lives. The way the strain on McEwen’s marriage brought on by his constant travelling (and philandering) was portrayed seemed a bit by the numbers. Juxtaposing the birth of the Prudhommes’ first child with McEwen and his estranged wife’s grief as also a bit heavy handed. Those were true life events. Sometimes life itself is melodramatic. Also, not only were their families part of the story, there have to be characters and events that resonate with women. My guess is that the casting of Williams, Blake and Wyle has something to do with that as well.

In any case, I enjoyed Snake and Mongoo$e and would certainly recommend it to any car enthusiast. If I came across it on cable tv I’d watch it all the way through. Everything looked authentic and at the heart, like screenwriter Paradise says, it’s a great story about two men. It’d make a great double feature with Ron Howard’s Rush, well, if they still did things like double features.

There is one big difference between the two movies. Unless you’re exceedingly sensitive about bad words or smoking, if you have kids you can take the whole family to see Snake and Mongoo$e. It’s rated PG-13 for “smoking throughout and some language”, according to Prudhomme was a heavy smoker. McEwen liked pretty girls, and there are quite a few in the film, but there are no sex scenes or skin. The raciest it gets is when Judy McEwen gives Tom a warm kiss when he gets home from one of the racers’ tours. Howard’s Rush, on the other hand, is rated R. James Hunt drank, did drugs, and had a lot of sex with a lot of women. If you have kids, you might want to leave them with the sitter for the second feature.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Review: 2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel Tue, 25 Jun 2013 14:18:55 +0000 IMG_0079
Heresy can be fun. Certainly it is so for an Irishman, what with Behan’s, “wonderful lack of respect for everything and everyone.”

And so, it has to be said, I’ve developed a certain fondness for Porsche’s big fat trucks and sedans precisely because they get up the nose of the purists – folks who think that Stuttgart’s time would be better spent trying to figure out how to build a durable, engaging sports-car experience rather than some donk-wheeled gin-palace with an expiry date like a lit fuse. I mean, they’re not wrong, it’s just a wee bit amusing to see how mad they get. Look – that one’s just bitten a policeman.

This two-tonne blasphemy is even better than usual, it’s a diesel. A truck-engined Porsche! Well, we’ve been here before: 924 fans eat your heart out.
Of course, you don’t buy a spendy Teutonic crossover just to annoy air-cooled aficionados, so the Cayenne must be judged on its own merits, should it have any. This one does, but almost all of them were optional extras. Nominally speaking, the base diesel-powered version has an MSRP of $56,600, for which you apparently get the equipment level of a front-wheel-drive Nissan Rogue.

Glancing over the hilarious add-ons for my tester vehicle (Canadian MSRP $64,500), highlights such as an adjustable air-suspension ($4550), Bi-Xenon headlights ($2130), satellite radio ($1280) and full leather interior ($4170) are all satisfyingly costly and faintly ridiculous.

However, when it comes to P-car options, I tend to take the view that baseline MSRP is almost irrelevant – almost no other company will let you add as many minor tweaks until you get exactly the machine you want, which they expect you to do. While this nugget of purest umber stickered at a laughable CDN$97,385, expect most mid-level US cars to price out around $65K, and be decently equipped at that level.
The styling – um. Yes. I mean, it’s brown, right? That’s supposed to be in. (Actually, I have to say the new-style Cayenne has a much better schnozz than the old one – overall still a bit bulbous from some angles.)
If the exterior’s a bit iffy, at least the same can’t be said for the gorgeous, leather-lined guts of Porsche’s heretical heffalump. Like the Panamera, this buttony cockpit has the air of a private jet and depending what seats you option, the comfort of same. I particularly enjoyed the ambient lighting and it hardly bothered me at all that the trunk seems not quite big enough for such a large vehicle.
Prodding the Audi-sourced (again, shades of 924) diesel six-cylinder to life, the immediate impression is of how far ye olde oil-burner has come. Were it not for the gauche “diesel” script adorning either flank of the Cayenne, you wouldn’t really know this thing ran on tractor juice. Under throttle, however, there’s a bit of a castanet effect – apparently it’s possible to option added sound-deadening material to assist with the problem. Or, and I know this is a bit of a stretch, turn on the stereo.

There is a bit of understeer. Seems ridiculous to bring it up really – understeer is one of those automotive journalism tropes that’s as well-worn as a Civil War era outhouse seat (i.e. every ass has used it). However, I think I can safely say, with all asterisks clearly marked as to my very average driving skills, that plunking a cast-iron boat anchor in the nose of a sport-crossover-activity-thingumy is going to induce a little front-end push.
Easily cured by a dab of oppo. No wait, don’t do that – you’ll crash. Instead, the slight bit of nose-heaviness is my single dynamic critique of the Cayenne. In all other respects it’s much better than it has any right to be.

Torque! With my home province’s draconian excessive-speed laws – 40km/h (25mph) over and they impound your car – one always has to keep a careful eye on the speedometer in anything with a pulse. Luckily, where the Cayenne is concerned, there’s 406lb/ft of instant-gratification surge that turns into a slightly-weedy 240hp so you’re not tempted into any v-max-related flat-decking. The brown bomber simply blasts out of the corners, heeling over a bit on its air-ride suspension, but thrusting forward with the unstoppable force of a steam-ram.
And yes, you can get the same power out of a Touareg. The Cayenne is much costlier but slightly better. Steering and the suspension provide, as in the Panamera, a sense of fun. Add in the burly nature of the diesel and it’s not just a nerdy way to save fuel but a bit of a freight-train GTi.
There are those who will point out that the fuel-savings over a V6 would take a lifetime to make up, coupled with the annoyance of trying to find a fuel station that actually sells diesel and the added cost of filling the urea tank. It should also be noted that one feels a bit of a dude ranch city slicker in a line behind four jacked-up Ford SuperDuties waiting for the pump to come free. Kid-glove types aren’t going to love how perpetually grubby diesel fillers seem to be – you probably can’t tell from the poor-quality iPhone photo, but this one was coated in a sheen of oil.

But taking the strong resale of diesel luxury SUVs into account, and listing the on-road behaviour of the Cayenne Diesel very much in the Pro column, it’s probably the most compelling offering in the Cayenne range. And, for the record, the fuel economy is excellent – equal or better to its mid-20s EPA rating.
Of course, you do run the risk of looking like a cheapskate: status-seekers will probably run their fingers down the selector and pick something that says “Turbo” or possibly “Hybrid”. Never mind that – spec the diesel and chisel the badges off. The Porsche crest? That’ll depend where you stand on screams of outrage.

Porsche Canada provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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Review: 2013 Audi S6 Thu, 20 Jun 2013 13:00:27 +0000 IMG_0195
Audi first tossed us the keys to its S6 with the SuperBowl mega-ad “Prom”. Premise: dateless kid gets handed Dad’s super-sedan for the evening, kisses the prom queen, gets punched by the prom king, snorts around town with a big grin on his face.

The message was clear: buy this car, put a little excitement in your life. What a load of cobblers.
It’s a beautiful car though. To my mind, Audi does the whole kickboxer-in-a-suit best of ze German manufacturers. You could nearly call it subtle; all classed up in charcoal wool but with cauliflower ears of aluminum.

Of course, the grille looks just plain ridiculous with that mandatory front plate floating out there like the pricetag on a Marshall amp. Somebody in Ingolstadt is a big fan of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15. Or basking sharks. Or venetian blinds. Or all three.

There’s something molluscan about those all-LED headlights as well. I like the lit-up eyeliner effect, but what with light-emitting-diodes glued on everything down to a Nissan Sentra (where they look like permanent Christmas lights in a trailer-park) it’s hardly a talking point anymore.
Anyway, it’s a neat-looking car from the back, which is the view you’ll have of it if you’re driving anything short of a Shelby Mustang (or if Baruth’s giving you a lift in a rental Camry – wink). Mein Gott, this thing hauls keister!

Outfitted with the optional Bang and Olufsen stereo-system, twin NCC-1701 Enterprises deploy from the dashboard on startup, the better with which to bathe your ears in crappy high-compression MP3-quality audio. Choose a CD instead and the octave-spanning mitts of Sergei Rachmaninov might be dancing along the dash, or you could crank up the sat-radio and try to figure out what Nicki Minaj has against gardening implements.
Quilted seats, brushed aluminum trim – why do people buy Bentleys again? Seriously. What a lovely place to slosh your internal organs around in. Sorry about the PR photo.

Previously, Audi’s all-weather M5-equivalent had two more cylinders and two fewer turbos. The V10 will be missed by some, but not by those who remember the less than stellar way it combined Lambo fuel consumption with limp-noodle torque. Think of it as a sort of LM002-equivalent: neither that Frankenstein’s -12 nor the Gallardo-sourced -10 were meant to be harnessed to such a heavy ox-cart.
As luck would have it, I stepped right out of a 2004 RS6 into this modern twin-turbo Teuton and it’s basically the same car: a ridiculously complicated leather-and-steel straight-jacket with which to bind Newton’s laws and bend them to the driver’s will. It’s a Fifty Shades of Grey physics textbook.

With the new machine, you get a more-efficient 4.0L V8 fitted with forced induction – something Audi’s always done well – and despite only moderate peak torque gains over the old S6, the increase in forward shove is huge. 406lb/ft of shove slots in around 1400 rpm, and while your co-VP is still deciding between Sport and Sport+ in their M-car, you’ve simply wound up the snails to their full four hunnerd n’ twenny horses and walked outta there.
The Audi is not without its own pre-flight checks, but simply flicking the selector into Dynamic should do the trick. The steering is artificially sweetened. The air-suspension prepares for attack. The somewhat-laggy dual-clutch transmission steps up the snap-downs. All this stuff will be broken four minutes after the warranty expires, so enjoy it while you can.

Ripping up a curving mountain road reveals a complete indifference for driver-based idiocy. You know the whole steering-wheel and accelerator pedal on a string Speed Secrets thing? The Audi takes the scissors to any thread of careful throttle management or unwinding at the apex – kill ‘em all and let God sort it out seems to be the order of the day. It’s a GT-R with two extra doors and a heritage of coil-pack failures.
For me, that’s a problem. The heads-up-display ticks through the numbers with alarming rapidity, but there’s little to do besides steer left and right, or jam on the brakes when needed – these could stop whatever hyperbolic metaphor you prefer: a freight train, the Earth’s rotation, volcanic eruption, the tides, tectonic drift, space, time.

Here, crawling up into an altitude where wet snow still clings to the mountain like the “before” shot of a Head n’ Shoulders commercial, the big Audi’s poise is that of a show-shoed Siberian Tiger. A muted whuffling issues from quad exhausts like the warning cough of a big cat about to spring, and away it sleds again to hurtle back down the hill like an avalanche with heated seats.
Fast? Oh yeah. But its only the king of the prom, and somewhere out there a guy in a BRZ just planted one on your girl. You can black his eye if you want – this thing can haul off and land a haymaker on pretty much anyone.

Poise, power, comfort, luxury, and the nagging sensation that someone out there is having more fun than you are. For a lot less.

Audi Canada provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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Review: 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport (Video) Mon, 08 Apr 2013 15:30:55 +0000 While BMW has been turning the 7-Series into a luxuriously silent highway cruiser, Lexus has been busy injecting sport into their isolated lineup. In 2006 we got the 417HP IS-F, in 2011 came the insane LF-A super car, and in 2012 we were introduced to Lexus’ styling and suspension tweak brand F-Sport with the GS350 F-Sport. It was only a matter of time until the spindle grille and the looks-fast F package appeared on Lexus’s flagship LS. Can a “looks-fast” and “handles-better” package help the LS regain the sales crown? Or does Lexus need to go back to the drawing board for some go-fast love?

Click here to view the embedded video.


Lexus’s new styling direction has been somewhat controversial, which is probably a first for Lexus having subscribed to the “simple is elegant” mantra since 1989. While I wasn’t sure about the new “spindle” grille on the 2011 GS and I need to see the 2014 IS to figure out if I like it, the spindle on the LS suits me just fine. The problem in my mind is the proportions. The LS’ blunt nose, wide stance and long hood just work while the shorter snout and more pronounced spindle on the IS seem a bit too “try hard” to me at the moment. In addition to the blacked out grill you see above, F-Sport models get a lowered stance, Brembo brakes, revised suspension tuning and unique wheels. The cost for the added kit? $12,080 over the base LS 460′s starting price of $71,990. Out the door at $84,965 the LS 460 F-Sport undercuts a similarly equipped BMW 740i M-Sport by nearly $2,000. Mercedes? The 295HP V6 S400 starts at $92,350. If you thought the LS sells on reliability and value, you’re right.


Most manufacturers spend the cash on the outside of the “sport” model leaving less of the budget for interior tweaks and so it is with the F-Sport. We get some tweaked seats, aluminum pedals, a black Alcantara headliner and Lexus’ hallmark wood trim has been swapped for aluminum. The rest of the standard LS’ split-level dash remains, dominated by a large 12.3-inch LCD. Befitting a vehicle this expensive, the interior in our tester screamed “attention to detail” with perfect seams, high quality materials and perfect color matching.

That price tag is important to keep in mind. While the LS F-Sport ranges from $84,965 to $88,115, even the “lowly” 740i can be optioned up to $111,295 if you’re not careful. As a result you won’t find some of the expensive options on the BMW like a full-leather dashboard, heads-up display, night vision, or fancy ceramic knobs. Of course, few 7-Series shoppers check those option boxes and the more you add the more there is to go wrong. Lexus’ mantra has long been to keep things as simple as possible by offering high levels of standard equipment, bundling options in packages and steering clear of any gadget or gizmo that could go wrong within a warranty period. Few BMW shoppers load their 7-series to the gills anyway, so 90% of shoppers will find all they seek in the F-Sport’s black-only interior.


The F-Sport’s 16-way power driver’s seat and 12-way passenger’s seat have beefed-up bolstering and embossed logos on the headrests.  While I found the seats to be very comfortable for my 6-foot frame, the GS’ 18-way seats offer a wider range of motion and customization. Thanks to the thicker bolstering on the seat back and bottom the F-Sport will hold you in your seat should you decide to drift on your way to the financial district. All F-Sport models come with an F-Sport specific steering wheel based heavily on the standard LS tiller. An electric tilt/telescoping steering column with memory is standard.

Lexus’s flagship sedan is as much about the rear occupants as the front. To that end the F-Sport still has a three-position rear throne with outboard “buckets” and a high-mounted center seat. Thanks to the typical RWD “hump” and the bucket-like design of the outboard seats, the center spot should be left to homunculi. Ditching that 5th person will make the rear more comfortable anyway and four full-sized American adults will have no headroom or legroom issues in even the short wheelbase LS. Befitting the “adult” tastes the LS is designed to appeal to, the rear seat cushions aren’t sitting on the floor providing more thigh support than your average sedan. As you would expect with any vehicle this size, the LS sports a large 18 cubic foot trunk.

Infotainment & Gadgets

Widescreen infotainment systems are all the rage and 2013 the LS up to date with a large 12-inch LCD in the dash. Positioned in its own “pod”, the screen is higher and closer to the normal sight lines of a driver than before. The system ditches the intuitive touchscreen interface Lexus has used for the better part of a decade for the Lexus joystick (it’s officially called Lexus Remote Touch.) I won’t beat around the bush, I hate it. I am however open to suggestion, so please post your thoughts and experiences with Remote Touch in the comment section below.

My issues with LRT are: it occupies a great deal of room on the center console,and it takes far more hand-eye-brain coordination than a touchscreen. Every time I am in a Lexus I find myself glancing at the screen and fiddling with the little control pad far more than when I’m in a competitor’s luxury sedan. This increased distraction hasn’t gone unnoticed by my better half who constantly nags me about keeping my eyes on the road. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion.

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

Perhaps reinforcing that Lexus focuses on the “meat” of the luxury segment and not the one-percent, you won’t find the same level of gee-wizardry in the F-Sport as some of the Euro competitors. You won’t find night vision, a full-leather dashboard, expensive ceramic knobs, massaging front seats, heads-up displays or full-LCD instrument clusters in the Lexus showroom. Instead, Lexus doubles down on perfect seams, quiet cabins, a high level of standard equipment and quantities of wood that would make Jaguar blush. New for 2013 is an optional collision prevention system that augments the collision warning system from last year’s model with the ability to fully stop the car while traveling at low speeds to prevent an accident. Much like the system Volvo has been stuffing in their cars since 2009, the system is active from about 5-24 MPH. Lexus has also tweaked their radar-based dynamic cruise control to now take the LS to a complete stop and take off again in stop-and-go traffic.


The naturally aspirated luxury car V8 is an endangered species now that BMW, Audi and Mercedes are embracing turbo love. Lexus is the lone holdout using the same 4.6L naturally aspirated V8 engine the LS 460 debuted with in 2006.The direct-injection mill produces 386 ponies at 6,400 RPM (dropping to 360 in the AWD model) and 367lb-ft of twist at 4,100. Power delivery is typical of a medium-displacement DOHC V8; there is enough grunt at the low end to chirp the wheels, torque builds in a linear fashion and most of the “go” happens near red-line. The observant will note the F-Sport is down on power when pitted against the latest in German twin-turbo V8s putting the F-sport at a serious disadvantage when stoplight racing. In terms of power, the LS 460 compares most directly to the 740i with BMW’s turbocharged six-cylinder engine. On the bright side, the F-Sport’s engine is incredibly smooth and has one of the best engine sounds on this segment (you can thank the turbos for messing up the German symphony.) Why didn’t Lexus drop the 5.0L V8 from the IS-F into the F-Sport? The world may never now.

For F-Sport duty the LS gets a few software tweaks and performance-themed upgrades. The 8-speed automatic has been reprogrammed to rev-match downshifts, there are some snazzy shift paddles on the steering wheel, and there’s a Torsen limited slip differential out back. F-Sport tuning adds variable gear ratio steering to the electro-mechanical power steering unit and an additional “Sport+”  driving mode for the engine, transmission, steering and suspension systems


The naturally aspirated V8 defines the way the F-Sport at the dragstrip. Because the engine needs to rev to 4,100 RPM for torque to peak, it lacks the immediacy and urgency you feel from the twin-turbo Merc and Bimmer. The 8-speed automatic uses closely spaced low gears to help improve off-the-line performance allowing the F-Sport to hit 60 in 5.47 seconds. That’s a hair slower than the BMW 740i and half a second slower than the 750 or S550. However, if a great soundtrack is more important to you than shove, consider that turbos interfere with classic V8 sounds due to their location in the intake and exhaust plumbing. Further boosting the high-revving V8 howl, Lexus dropped a sound tube into the intake to pipe more “V8″ into the cabin.

The mission of sport packages is primarily to improve looks, and secondarily improve handling. That makes Lexus’ decision to put an air-suspension in the F-Sport a bit unusual. You see, there are three basic types of adaptive suspension systems. The first uses a strut filled with a ferromagnetic fluid whose viscosity changed when electricity is applied (GM and Audi like that one). The second is a more typical gas-filled strut with an electronically controlled valve to alter damping characteristics (Volvo, Ford and Chrysler use this one). Last is the air-suspension. Unlike the other two, air systems don’t just alter the damping, they are also involved in maintaining (or altering) the ride height. This means they both damp and keep your car off the ground. By altering the pressure in the internal air bags, ride firmness and height can be adjusted. While air suspensions have a pedigree (everyone from Rolls Royce to Jaguar uses one) having a vehicle ride on four small “Aero Beds” leads to an unusual feel when the road starts to curve. I’m no stranger to this technology, my own Jaguar Super V8 uses a similar system, and it delivers a similar feel. There’s a reason  Jaguar ditched the system for their new breed of corner-clawing kitties.

Despite the F-Sport having a lowered ride height over the regular LS and the air suspension being tweaked for a firmer ride, the system is firm but floaty. Sort of like over-inflating that air mattress you pull out for overnight guests. (My Jaguar feels exactly the same and so does the Mercedes S-Class.) That doesn’t mean the F-Sport is a land barge, it just means the feeling is unusual. Feelings aside, the F-Sport handles extremely well thanks to grippy low-profile rubber and Lexus’ variable gear ratio steering system.

VGRS (as Lexus calls it) has a more natural and direct feel than BMW’s active steering system, especially on close-quarter mountain switchbacks where you’re sea-sawing the wheel as you alternate mashing the stop and go pedals. The system fools you into thinking the F-Sport is lighter and more balanced than the BMW when in reality they very similar. At 53:47 (front:rear), the F-Sport is a bit heavier in the nose than the near-prefect 50:50 BMW 740i (but not far off the heavier 750i), but the Lexus hides it well, only giving up the secret when you’ve hit the limit and the nose begins to plow. Compared to the heavier 750i or S550, the LS feels lighter on its feet. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, after all, BMW is the new Meercedes. While I would take the more neutral vehicle, I know a majority of real-world owners prefer a car that leans toward understeer. (Fear not, if your foot is mashing the go pedal, the F-Sport will get all kinds of tail-happy  on you.)

Out on the highway or driving through pot-holed downtown streets, the air suspension makes more sense because it soaks up pavement imperfections like a Cadillac Fleetwood, which is after all the raison d’être of the Lexus brand. While I think I would have demanded the engineers swap the airbags for some steel coils, I don’t think that would make the F-Sport sell any better. Without more shove, the F-Sport will never be direct competition for the new breed of German luxury sedan. Instead the F-Sport is quite simply the best looking Lexus to date and the most dynamic large sedan the Japanese have ever built.  Is that enough to regain the sales crown? Only time will tell, but the bold grille, F-Sport model and low sticker price sure can’t hurt.


Hit it

  • Well priced luxury car without a discount brand cachet.
  • Impeccable reliability reputation.
  • The F-Sport isn’t as demure as a modern 7-series but not as flashy as a Maserati, etc.

Quit it

  • The Lexus joystick device is my least favorite infotainment input device.
  • Fewer gadgets and gizmos are available compared to the BMW 7-Series and Audi A8.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.215 Seconds

0-60: 5.47 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.09 Seconds @ 100.4 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: xx MPG over 585 Miles

2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Steering wheel in motion, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Joystick Controller, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, F-Sport Logo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, F-Sport Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, LED Headlamp Module, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Seat Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Engine, 4.6L V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Lexus Enform 12.3-inch LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Lexus Enform 12.3-inch LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Infotainment, Lexus Enform Screen, Picture Courtesy of Lexus 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Lexus Enform, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Infotainment, Lexus Enform Screen, Picture Courtesy of Lexus 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Lexus 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Lexus 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Lexus 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Front Grille Profile, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, F-Sport Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Exterior, Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Memory Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Dashboard Clock, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Button Bank, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Drive Mode Selector, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Heated and Cooled Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Lexus Remote Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, F=Sport Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, 4.6L V8, 386HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, 4.6L V8, 386HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport, 4.6L V8, 386HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 46
Review: 2013 Buick Encore (Video) Mon, 01 Apr 2013 15:00:37 +0000

Buick’s been on a roll this year, their sales are up and their owner demographics are younger than they have been in recent memory. The cynic in my says that’s because half their clientele died of old age, but it has more to do with their product portfolio. Say what? Yep, it’s true, the brand I wrote off for dead last decade is targeting younger buyers with designs imported from Europe and finding sales success. The Verano turbo shattered my preconceptions, but can Buick do it again? A brown Encore arrived one rainy morning to see if it was possible.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The Encore isn’t new, but neither is it an American rehash of a tired Euro model. Instead, it is “badge engineering” 21st century style. When I was a kid you knew a new Buick was coming when Chevy or Oldsmobile announced a new product. You also knew what to expect: the same sheetmetal with a Buick logo on the grille and some padded velour thrones. 30 years later Buick is up to the same old game with an important twist: Buick takes Opel models from Europe. Consequently you won’t find a brother-from-another-mother running around with a Chevy logo.

Like its sister-ship, the Opel Mokka, the Encore is a small crossover/hatchback closely related to GM’s other small car offerings. Euro origins are obvious when you park the Encore in an American parking spot, this Buick is tiny. The Encore’s tall profile further accentuates the Encore’s 168-inch overall length, which is surprisingly 6-inches longer than a MINI Countryman. My usual panel of passengers were mixed in their opinion of the styling, I found it slightly cartoonish, in a bubbly and cute sort of way. I kept resisting the impulse to smile every time I walked out to the car, but then again I’ve been told my style sense is not to be trusted. (Seriously Sajeev, what’s wrong with a sports coat over a Hawaiian shirt?) My only complaint on the outside, and this is a big one for me, are the trademark “Ventiports” which seem to be growing like a disease. In addition to getting larger, they have migrated from the fenders (where you only had to see them on the outside) to the hood where they are now visible behind the wheel as well.


Buick’s reinvention has focused on value pricing and interior quality. The latter is something new for Buick, and something that has impressed me the most about Buick’s latest vehicles. The Encore isn’t a terribly expensive crossover starting at $24,950 and ending at $31,110 for a full-loaded AWD model. Despite the low starting price, the cabin makes extensive use of soft touch plastics lending a more premium feel to the cabin than vehicles like the MINI Countryman, Acura TSX or Lexus CT. Speaking of MINI, the Countryman, (like the rest of the MINI lineup) is a mixture of trickle-down BMW technology, great switchgear, high-style, cheesy plastics and chintzy headliners. Of course MINI’s biggest asset is brand perception while Buick’s brand is more of a liability in some demographics. That’s really a shame because the Encore has not only a quality feel but a very uniform feel as well. While MINI’s cabins are full of highs and lows, everything in the Encore is consistently a notch above the rabble. Equipping the Contryman and Encore as closely as possible reveals the Encore is about $1,500 cheaper once you add to the MINI the features standard on the Encore. Comparing the top-trim of the Encore to the MINI the difference grows to $3,800 in the Encore’s favor. Want AWD? The difference grows by about three-grand.

It seems journalists have a genetic condition that causes us to love brown interiors. The trouble with most manufacturer’s attempts at “thinking outside the black” however is they go half-way. They give you brown seats and some brown trim on the dash, but they leave out the carpets, button banks, etc. Not so with the Encore. GM took the extra step to color-match the Encore’s interior which makes the transformation look well-executed instead of half-assed. I should point out that our Facebook readers didn’t feel the same sort of brown-love as I did, but they are of course wrong. (Sorry guys.)

The Encore may be small, but the interior is spacious thanks to the tall profile, stubby nose and upright seats. Taller folks will have no problems getting into or out of the front or rear seats thanks to large door openings and a low step-in height. I grabbed a few willing tall people for lunch and successfully (and comfortably) took two 6’5″ passengers, one 6’2 gentleman and myself (6′) on a 50 minute trek to the prefect burger joint without a single complaint.

Because the Encore shares seat frames with GM sedans, there are a few compromises. The lack of a power recline mechanism seems odd, especially considering the 2-positon memory seat found in our tester. Using the sale seat frames and rails as a sedan or coupé meant creating some unusual “platforms” in the floor stamping so the seats could be mounted high to get an SUV-like seating position. Consequently the rear footwells might be a problem for big-footed passengers on long trips. A manual front passenger seat is standard, but most models on dealer lots have the optional power seat

Four adults can travel in comfort in the Encore, along with four large carry-on roller bags in the back thanks to a cargo cubby that holds 18.8 cubes with the seats in place. Just don’t push your luck with a 5th passenger unless the trio in the rear are skinny folk, the Encore is a narrow vehicle. If you’re a skier or love box furniture from IKEA, the Encore’s front passenger seat folds flat allowing you to put long, wide items all the way from the dashboard to the rear hatch.

Infotainment and Gadgets

The Encore uses the same standard 7-inch “IntelliLink” infotainment system I praised in the Buick Verano. There’s just one problem, it isn’t exactly the same. Instead of positioning the LCD within arm’s reach, Buick located it in a “pod” on the dash. While the location keeps your eyes closer to the road, it makes the screen look smaller and it means it’s too far away to touch. Logically because of this Buick removed the touchscreen feature and that’s what I find vexing. The same software I found so intuitive and easy to use with a touchscreen made me tear my hair out when entering an address via an on-screen keyboard and the control knob in the dash.

Thankfully I didn’t need to use the keyboard often and the rest of the system is still one of the best infotainment units on the market at any price. The graphics are pleasing to the eye, its responsive and the menus are logical and intuitive. The system also sports one of the best iPhone/USB/Media voice command interfaces available. Compared to the Ford/Lincoln systems, the voice is natural sounding. Compared to the Toyota/Lexus systems, IntelliLink handles large media libraries with ease rather than turning off certain voice commands if you exceed a certain library size. I’d like to compare it to Cadillac’s CUE but I’m trying to forget that experience.

As if Buick’s hushed cabin wasn’t enough, even the base $24,950 Encore models use active noise cancelling technology by Bose. All Encores also get XM satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming/speakerphone and a backup camera. Stepping up to the $25,760 “convenience package” adds dual-zone climate control, remote start and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Leather will set you back $27,460 and brings with it heated seats, a power passenger seat, heated steering wheel and 2 memory positions for the driver’s throne. The $28,940 Encore “Premium” brings rain sense wipers, park assist, collision warning and lane departure warning. The $800 sunroof, $795 navigation system and $595 Bose premium audio system are standalone options on all trims. The collision and lane departure systems are worth skipping in my book since they are warning-only systems and not combination warning and prevention as found in other vehicles. Unless you want the rain sensing wipers and parking assist, spend the money on AWD, navigation or the excellent Bose speakers.

The Encore uses the same 1.4L four-cylinder engine as the Chevy Sonic and Cruze. Producing 138 HP at 4,900 RPM this mill isn’t targeted at speed addicts. On the bright side, thanks to a turbocharger and some direct-injection magic, the engine manages 148 lb-ft of twist from 1,850-4,900RPM.

GM wisely mated the 1.4L engine to their “small” car 6-speed transaxle which features a low 16.17:1 effective first gear (including the 3.53:1 final drive) which helps make the Encore feel more sprightly in the stop-light races. A tall 2.65:1 effective top gear ratio is what allows the Encore to deliver fuel economy numbers of 25/33/28 (City/Highway/Combined) and 23/30/26 when equipped with the $1,500 optional AWD system. During our week with the Encore we averaged an impressive 32.1 MPG over 862 miles of mixed driving, 0-60 tests, photo shoot idling and my mountain commute.

The day the Encore arrived I needed to take a road trip to Sacramento (100 miles away) so I piled a few day’s worth of supplies in the Encore and hit the road. The Encore devoured highway miles, but not in the way I had expected. The small crossover’s cabin is eerily quiet, the driver’s seat is comfortable and upright but the suspension isn’t marshmallowy soft like my father’s Buick. This meant I changed course and decided to take the long way (you can’t get very excited about Sacramento anyway) through some of my favorite California coastal roads.

My opinion of the diminutive engine changed constantly during my week with the Encore. In the city the low-end torque provided by the turbo and the low first gear make easy work of 0-40 MPH traffic and the Encore effortlessly zipped into narrow gaps on busy expressways. Thanks to the way the throttle is mapped the engine doesn’t feel out of breath cruising on the highway, until you need to pass someone as getting from 60 to 80 MPH takes a Prius-like 8 seconds. Load the Encore up with two people and some luggage and forward progress is noticeably stunted in all situations. However, every time I wished for more power I glanced down at my fuel economy and was reminded that more power consumes more gasoline.

On the coastal switchbacks in California’s mountainous redwood forests, the Encore is back in its element thanks to a low 1st gear, moderately low 2nd gear and a well-tuned suspension. Let’s go over that statement again. A Buick that is “in its element on tight mountain roads.” Never thought you’d hear that did you? Neither did I. The Encore’s relatively low center of gravity, 215/55R18 rubber and tight turning radius make [relative] mince meat of tight curves. Let me be clear, the Encore is still down on power, but I have always said I prefer the slower, better handling vehicle to the vehicle that’s only fast in a straight line. The Encore’s suspension handled broken pavement with such composure I was surprised to find it still uses ye olde torsion-beam suspension in the rear. Could the Encore have what it takes to become Buick’s first hot hatch? I hope GM decides to put the Verano’s 2.0L turbo under the hood so we can find out.

It’s right about now that I realized I had the love that dare not speak its name. Could I have fallen for the charms of a Buick? Had I suddenly aged 30 years without knowing it? That is the only real problem I found with the Encore: brand perception. In many minds, people need a new car and their first thought is “I’ll pop over to the Buick dealer” are the same people in the market for a new mobility scooter. If Buick keeps producing products like the Encore however that may change.

Back in the Encore’s native habitat (the Taco Bell drive-thru or the parking garage at the mall), engine power complaints once again disappear. With a ground clearance of 6.2 inches, the Encore is about average for the modern crop of crossovers meaning you won’t catch your bumper cover on parking lot “headstones” and only tall curbs will cause you worry. The well-appointed interior will make you feel special and the value pricing will keep your accountant happy.


Hit it

  • High quality interior for a vehicle in this price range.
  • Buick continues to “think outside the black.”
  • The second Buick in 2 months I would actually buy. Seriously.

Quit it

  • Top level Encore trims still have a manual front seat recline mechanism.
  • Collision warning this late in the game without auto braking seems silly.
  • Buick’s reputation for elderly clientele.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.27 Seconds

0-60: 9.6 Seconds (9.1 with overboost)

1/4 Mile: 17 Seconds at 80 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 32.1MPG over 862 miles.

2013 Buick Encore 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-004 2013 Buick Encore-005 2013 Buick Encore-006 2013 Buick Encore-007 2013 Buick Encore-008 2013 Buick Encore, Infotainmane, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-010 2013 Buick Encore-011 2013 Buick Encore-012 2013 Buick Encore-013 2013 Buick Encore-014 2013 Buick Encore-015 2013 Buick Encore-016 2013 Buick Encore-017 2013 Buick Encore-018 2013 Buick Encore, Engine, 1.4L Direct-Injection Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-020 2013 Buick Encore, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-023 2013 Buick Encore-024 2013 Buick Encore-025 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-027 2013 Buick Encore-028 2013 Buick Encore-029 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-031 2013 Buick Encore-032 2013 Buick Encore-033 2013 Buick Encore-034 2013 Buick Encore-035 2013 Buick Encore-036 2013 Buick Encore-037 2013 Buick Encore-038 2013 Buick Encore-039 2013 Buick Encore Rear Seats Folded, Front Passenger Seat Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 93
Review: 2013 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid (Video) Mon, 25 Mar 2013 11:00:01 +0000

The ES has been Lexus’ best-selling sedan for 15 years yet the front-driver started life as something of a side-show. In 1989 the ES was a thinly veiled Camry, supposedly rushed to market because Lexus dealers couldn’t envision launching a brand with one vehicle (the LS 400) and were unwilling to wait for the SC and GS. This explanation makes sense to me and explains why the ES was the only FWD car in a brand created to compete with the Germans. Of course, this odd fit within a full-range RWD luxury brand is exactly why the ES sells. Wonder why Acura’s wares never had the sales success of the ES? It’s all about the brand baby.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The first ES was a Camry with an LS 400 aping nose job. Since then the ES and the Camry were developed together on a common platform, but with every passing redesign the marriage has become more rocky with the two sharing less and less with one another. Like any couple “trying a separation,” divorce was inevitable. For 2014 the papers are served and the ES is now shacking up with the Camry’s big sister, the 2014 Toyota Avalon. Oh, the tongues will wag.

The platform swap means the ES has grown an inch in length, an inch in height and the wheelbase has stretched nearly two inches over the 2012 ES, making it two inches longer than the new GS. LS owners shouldn’t fear, as the flagship is still the biggest Japanese luxury vehicle on the market. For 2013 Lexus has ditched the former ES’s suppository side profile for a blunter nose, taller greenhouse, longer hood and shorter trunk. The new proportions make the ES look like one of the family, not an accident that happened later. It also makes the new Lexus spindle grill look particularly good in my mind, not something I was able to say about the GS or some of the other mugs wearing the new grin.


Snazzy gizmos aren’t worth anything if they aren’t delivered in style, just ask Apple. The redesign brings the ES’s interior game up a few notches in some ways and down in others. The dashboard now features the latest in automotive interiors crazes: the faux-stitch. Like Buick’s LaCrosse, the ES uses a standard injection-molded dashboard that is then run through a sewing machine (by hand, because this is still a Lexus) to put real stitching on fake seams. While I appreciate the extra effort, I must point out that the ES’ sister-ship Avalon uses real pieces of pleather mechanically quilted together on a sewing machine and fewer hard plastics within easy reach of the driver. As a result I found the Alvaon to have a more premium look and feel with the exception of the fake-wood in the Toyota. Yea, I scratched my head too.

The interior’s design mimics the two-level style introduced in the 2011 GS. Basically we have an inset infotainment/navigation LCD in the dash separated from the system controls by satin nickel and wood trim. I’m still unsure if this is a design theme I’m happy with, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. While fit and finish in our ES tester was excellent, we found more hard plastic in this cabin than in the old model and while it didn’t bug me on the preview junket a year ago, it did raise my eyebrows after having the new Avalon for a week. On the flip side, all ES hybrid models get new light bamboo wood which has to be one of the most appealing wood veneers I have seen in a vehicle cabin.

The ES’ front seats contort in 10-ways with an optional extending thigh cushion on the driver’s side. Thanks to supple padding and improved NuLuxe (pleather) upholstery on the base hybrid and regular or semi-aniline leather on up-level trims, your backside won’t notice you racking up highway miles. The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid may have a slightly snazzier interior, but the ES’ front seats are more comfortable. The steering wheel is borrowed from the GS sedan, complete with soft leather. Should you want a more premium tiller, the same bamboo can be applied to two-thirds of the wheel and heating is optional as well.

Rear passengers are treated to the most rear legroom of any Lexus sedan – including the six-digit LS 600hL. If you look at the picture above, the driver’s seat is positioned for a 6-foot tall driver in a somewhat reclined position. The result is more combined (front/rear) legroom than a Lincoln MKS or a short wheelbase 7-Series. Since the ES has a more mature audience in mind, the rear seat bottom cushions are higher off the floor making them more comfortable for adults than a Camry. Sadly, the cushy rear seat have something of a flaw: they don’t fold. I had hoped the old Avalon’s reclining rear seats would have made it to the ES, but they were lost on the cutting room floor for both vehicles. ES 350 shoppers get a ski pass-through to help ease the pain, but hybrid lovers must not be winter-sports folks; that opening is plugged by the battery. Speaking of batteries, the nickel-hydride battery pack exacts a trunk-toll of 3.1 cubic feet, reducing your cargo hold to 12.1 cubes, a heftier price than hybrid GS buyers pay.

Infotainment & Gadgets

For $39,250, base ES 300h models get an 8-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and iPod integration and XM radio. Opting for the $740 “display audio” option, buys a 7-inch LCD coupled with a Lexus-branded surround-sound system and backup cam. You will be hard pressed to find either of these on dealer lots as an inventory search by my local dealer turned up zero ES 300h base models in California and exactly two of nearly 300 ES hybrids on dealer lots. That’s fine by me since I demand more toys on my ride.

Most ES options are sold bundled in packages ranging from the $5,250 “premium” to the $10,650 “ultra luxury.” All packages bump you up to the 8-inch LCD navigation/infotainment system, include an electric power tilt/telescoping tiller, in-dash DVD player, and a steering wheel with wood inlays. In addition to iPod/USB media voice control, smartphone text messaging and app integration, the system has ditched the intuitive touchscreen interface for my least favorite input method: Lexus Remote Touch, aka the Lexus joystick. The joystick is intuitive to use because it’s just like a mouse on your computer. You wiggle the controller and the cursor on the screen wiggles. Simple enough, right? I have two problems with it. First, it occupies a great deal of room on the center console, an area the Avalon uses for more conveniently located latté-holders. Secondly, the basic software driving the system hasn’t changed since the touchscreen days. See the problem? With the old system you could glance at the screen, look back up at the road and let your right hand stab the option, even my 91-year-old grandmother has the hand-eye co-ordination to do that. With Remote Touch you have to spend far more time watching the screen to see if the cursor is on the option you want, a potentially dangerous situation if you like playing with your gadgets while you drive. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion. The Avalon uses a version of the same software but retains the touchscreen interface and oddly enough the ES’ base audio system (one notch above the LCD-free ES) uses a knob-style controller like Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

The ES wouldn’t be a Lexus without a few gadgets and expensive options. Top on my list are the $3,745 (yes, you read that right) Mark Levinson sound system which sounds fantastic (as it should for the price), $500 parking sensors, $400 power opening/closing trunk, and the $1,500 radar-based active cruise control with pre-collision warning. Of course all these gizmos are included with the ultra-luxury package bringing the top-end ES 300h to a cool $50,795.


The Avalon Hybrid, Camry Hybrid and ES 300h share the same hybrid drivetrain. Driving the system is a new-for-2012 2.5L 2AR-FXE four-cylinder engine. Running on the Atkinson cycle, the four-pot puts out 156 HP and 153 lb-ft of twist. That engine is coupled to a revised Lexus Hybrid Drive transaxle (labelled as Toyota Synergy Drive in Toyota products), in essence a beefier Prius hybrid system. The planetary gearset and two motor/generator combination allow the system to drive electric only for short distances at limited speeds, motivate the vehicle solely on engine power or combine the 156HP with extra juice from the battery pack in the trunk to deliver 200 ponies until the battery has been depleted. Lexus doesn’t specify a combined torque rating for the ES Hybrid, but based on the 7.24 scoot to 60 we clocked, I estimate the combined number is around 200-220 lb-ft. That run to 60 is a hair faster than the MKZ and about 1/2 a second better than the LaCrosse eAssist.

Performance is better than these numbers might indicate thanks to 199 lb-ft from 0-1500RPM courtesy of the hybrid motor. Lexus is sticking to nickel based batteries and not the trendier Lithium batteries found in the Lincoln. Despite this, the ES averaged an impressive 42 MPG over 780 miles of mixed driving. While that may sound worse than the MKZ’s 47/47/47MPG trifecta, nobody seems to be getting more than 39 in the Detroit hybrid. Meanwhile the ES bested it’s 2008 EPA numbers of 40/39/40 (City/Highway/Combined.)


There is no other front-wheel-drive hybrid with a luxury logo on the grille to compare to the ES 300h. Sure we have the eAssist Buick LaCrosse and the Lincoln MKZ, but aside from the MKZ being a size-class down and the LaCrosse not being a “true” hybrid (its not even sold as such), neither brand has the same cachet as Lexus. Remember what I said at the beginning? The ES’s strongest selling point is its brand. If BMW made a large, soft front driver, you can be sure its sales would exceed the ES. What does that have to do with the way the ES hybrid drives? Everything. You see, the way the ES handles, brakes and accelerates isn’t as important to the stereotypical driver as the way the car looks, the logo on the grille, how quiet it is, how reliable it is and hoe well the dealers treat you. When it comes to these qualities the ES 300h is the prefect driving appliance.

The ES’s cabin is still peaceful at highway speeds but Buick’s dedication to sound deadening is extreme and the LaCrosse is quieter under most circumstances especially in terms of engine noise. Since the three FWD luxury hybrids all use four-cylinder engines, sound deadening is important. Despite growing in this generation, the ES’ ride isn’t as thoroughly damped as the outgoing model, that’s thanks to Lexus’ efforts to make the ES handle less like a marshmallow. The suspension engineer’s efforts paid off with the ES feeling neither too floaty nor too harsh. The 215/55R17s our tester wore had more grip than I had expected and the ES hybrid didn’t head for the bushes when driven hard. When the road started winding the ES never felt sloppy or out-of-place maintaining its Lexus trademark poise over broken pavement and uneven turns. When it comes to absolute horizontal grip the ES comes in behind the competition, mostly due to the wide 245/40R17s worn by the LaCrosse and the 225/50R17s on the MKZ Hybrid.

Still, the overall experience is what the ES is about, it’s about dealership satisfaction, a polished purchasing experience and a long warranty. The competition has caught up here as well with the MKZ Hybrid and LaCrosse aAssist delivering the same bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranty terms and Lincoln is now tossing in 4 years and 50,000 miles of scheduled maintenance. The ES 300h’s trump cards remain the same as before: Lexus’s brand image and their reliability reputation. There’s just one further problem: the 2013 Avalon Hybrid. The Avalon Hybrid Limited starts higher than the ES 300h at $41,295 but ends far lower at $44,145 despite having an incredibly similar feature set. Our friends over at tell us the price difference ends up at $4,476 for comparably equipped models. Is the Lexus brand, a longer warranty and a snazzy dealership worth the difference?

Hit it

  • Excellent fuel economy.
  • “Short” four-year payback vs the non-hybrid ES.
  • Lexus warranty, reliability reputation and that all-important brand image.

Quit it

  • Lexus Remote Touch is harder to use than the old touchscreen system.
  • Plenty of hard plastics within easy reach.
  • The Avalon hybrid is a better value.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.95 Seconds

0-60: 7.24 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.67 Seconds @ 91.1 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 41.2 MPG over 785 Miles

2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Steering Wheel Wood Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Infotainment, Lexus Enforn, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Remote Touch Controller, Infotainment, Lexus Enform controller, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Bamboo Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Cargo Room, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Drivetrain, 3.0L Hybrid System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Drivetrain, 3.0L Hybrid System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, HID Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h hybrid, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Front Overhang, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment, Remote Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 43
Review: 2012 Jaguar XF Supercharged Mon, 14 Jan 2013 13:00:49 +0000

I’d say that writing car reviews can be difficult at times but then it’s not really seemly to complain when nice folks drop off free cars to drive. Still, the gig does have its challenges. The last time that I reviewed the Jaguar XF Supercharged, a day after the fleet management company picked it up, their competitor, which works for Kia, dropped off a nicely equipped Sportage. At the time I joked with Ed Niedermeyer about reviewing both cars simultaneously. After all, with the democratization of luxury the cars were similarly equipped, sort of. Ed and I decided that silly or not a comparo wouldn’t be fair to either manufacturer. Still, it’s hard not to ruminate about comparisons when you’re working on a review.

The Sportage comparo was a joke but not long before I was loaned a 2012 Jaguar XF Supercharged, I reviewed the 2012 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series and in this case it was very hard not to compare the XF to the 300. Both cars are fairly large rear wheel drive four door sedans with just about every convenience and luxury option checked off down to the power sunscreen for the back window. As a matter of fact, the Chrysler had a couple of toys that aren’t available on the XF. Of course the Jaguar is significantly more expensive. As equipped with the 470 HP supercharged version of Jaguar’s corporate V8, the XF is $69,845, just about $25,000 more than the Chrysler. I gave the Chrysler a positive review and I was very impressed with it, so I couldn’t help but keep asking myself if the Jaguar was worth $25,000 more than the Chrysler. I recently reviewed a Jaguar XJ, which stickered out at about $80K so I was also mentally comparing the XF Supercharged to the larger, but less powerful, Jaguar.

My conclusion after a week with the XF Supercharged was that I really couldn’t say if the Chrysler was a better bargain or if the XJ was worth spending an extra ten (without the supercharger) or twenty thousand dollars (with the blown motor). I can say that if you’re looking for a fast, comfortable and luxurious 5 passenger car, you could do worse than the XF Supercharged. The ultimate difference that I perceived between the XF Supercharged on one hand and both the Chrysler 300 Luxury Series and the Jaguar XJ Portfolio on the other is summed up in that word “Supercharged”. The Chrysler had the 292 HP Pentastar V6 and the XJ Portfolio had the normally aspirated 385 HP version of the Jaguar V8, and it’s that 470 HP compressed charge engine that’s the XF Supercharged’s raison d’etre.

The Chrysler wasn’t slow. I said that it had adequate power for all situations you’d find on a public road. The XJ Portfolio was also quick. Though less powerful than the blown version in the XF Supercharged, the NA V8 in the XJ was hauling around a bit less weight than the XF since the larger Jaguar is made of aluminum and actually is a bit lighter than the steel XF. Pardon the pun but as quick as the Chrysler and bigger Jag are, the supercharged XF blows them away. With almost 100 more HP than the XJ and almost 200 HP more than the Chrysler, the XF Supercharged effortlessly surpasses “adequate”. Simply put, if you need power to do something in traffic, you’ll have it with this car. Anything requiring more power would probably be something imprudent and unsafe to do with other drivers on the road. You decide to do it, you put the right pedal down, and the car goes.

Getting back to the hypothetical comparison reviews, I had praised how quiet the Chrysler was and how smooth the ride was. In fact the Jaguar was noisier. Some of that noise was deliberate – any time you step on the gas you can hear the exhaust burbling in the way that only a V8 can do. As with the XJ, some underhood engine noise is also ported to the cabin. Though not as hardcore as the 510 HP XF-R, the XF Supercharged has most of the XF-R’s chassis upgrades, and it was undoubtedly tuned for a “sportier” ride than the Chrysler. That doesn’t explain, however, the amount of wind noise around the XF’s front side windows. A couple of times there was so much wind noise I had to check to make sure that the windows and moonroof were fully closed. With the windows down it also seemed to me that there was an unusual amount of wind buffeting the interior. The ride was sports sedan firm, stiffer than the Chrysler but also a bit more controlled, and a bit less harsh over irregular pavement.

That wind noise was a bit out of place considering how luxurious the XF’s interior is. Though a good chunk of the 25K difference in price between the Chrysler and the Jaguar is that exquisitely smooth and powerful supercharged engine, and though the Chrysler indeed is well featured and nicely appointed, if I had to pick a word to describe the difference besides the engines, I’d say refinement. That extra money definitely buys you refinement. The refinement extends to things like the trick articulated trunk hinges and struts that take up no cargo space at all, compared to the Chrysler’s goose necks that lose a lot of trunk space. Yes the Chrysler’s interior is slathered with leather, but the leather in the Jaguar is softer, even that appliqued to the dashboard and other panels. I regularly work with leather in my day job, machine embroidery, and all split grain leather is not created equal. Jaguar uses superior skins. Concerning embroidery, as is au courant with automotive interiors these days, there is contrasting detail stitching on the dashboard leather, which is made up of about a half dozen separate pieces. I’d like to believe it’s old world craftsmanship but it’s more likely a computer controlled sewing machine, but however they do it, the number of stitches and their locations are so precise and uniform that wherever two pieces of leather are seamed together the detail stitching precisely bridges the seam with a single stitch.

Speaking of “split grain” leather – in a recent review, Alex Dykes alluded to Honda’s hyping of their use of split grain leather in a steering wheel cover. That’s a case of hyping something that isn’t particularly special. Any real grained leather you see in a car is split grain. Full grain leather is the entire skin (minus the fur and epidermis), it’s thick and stiff and used for things like boots and saddles. One or more layers of suede are shaved off the back of the full grain skin to make it thinner and soft enough to use for upholstery and apparel, leaving what is called split grain leather. If it has suede on one side and real grain on the other (some “leather” is really suede splits with artificial grain glued on), it’s “split grain leather”. The next time a car salesman or PR flack tells you that their product comes with split grain leather, ask them, “as opposed to what other kind of leather?”

So the Jag’s leather was softer. It also had a much stronger smell. Maybe it was just psychological but I thought that the dark brown leather even had a few flavor notes from cigar tobacco. The nannies won’t let us have cigarette lighters and ashtrays in our cars anymore, but a small humidor would not seem out of place in the XF.  It’s a modern luxury car, but it’s still a proper British sedan with plenty of real wood to go with the cowhide.

To make the comparison unavoidable the Jaguar’s interior, like the Chrysler’s, was a mix of dark brown and beige. Though the dashboard, upper door surfaces and carpeting were a chocolate brown, the upholstery and Alcantera headliner and pillars were in a light beige, giving the cabin an airy feel. I thought that the light upholstery with dark accent inserts looked great. If you can’t adjust the gazillion-way power front seats with memory, you’re in the 99th percentile. With heated, cooled and ventilated seats your bum will be comfortable year round. My friend Al, who is close to 6 feet tall and weighs a bit more than the 280 lbs it says on his drivers license offered the unsolicited opinion that the back seat was even more comfortable than the front seats, but then there aren’t side bolsters in back.

I’m happy to report that for the first time I don’t have to complain about Jaguar’s clunky infotainment touchscreen. The screen was responsive and easy to use. Voice controls worked but I found them a bit infuriating in how the menus were nested and how slow it was. I also am not fond of navigation systems that don’t let you enter an intersection. I do like how Jaguar has the auxiliary controls configured on the leather wrapped steering wheel. For some functions they use thumbwheels, which strike me as easier to use than up/down buttons. The 600W sound system sounded fine regardless of the source. I did notice a glitch with the car’s Bluetooth. While most of the time the car would automatically recognize and pair with my Android based phone, there were times when they wouldn’t hookup, even if I tried to connect from both devices. In those cases, power cycling my phone would effect a pairing. Once paired, the audio system easily accessed music on my phone. Interestingly, connecting the phone to the car’s USB port, as the owner’s manual suggests for iPods and other portable music players, didn’t work with my phone. When scrolling through music sources from the steering wheel you’re still going to have to use the touch screen to select between user supplied media under the My Music control, which is a bit inconvenient if you have both your phone/iPod and a CD connected.

Geez, I’m reviewing a 470 horsepower sports sedan and talking about music and leather??? You want to know how it drives. In short, the way you’d hope a Jaguar would drive. Yes, the steering could have a bit more feel at lower speeds and the turn in could be sharper around town (though out on the highway it was razor sharp), but the way the car goes from the apex to the exit of a turn induces joy. Set up the car and power through the turn. The XF Supercharged has a trick rear end that uses an electric motor to control torque distribution and even with stability control on and Dynamic mode off, it will let you break the rear wheels loose just a tad before stepping in and keeping you from hitting a tree ass end first. I did notice that the rear end sometimes made a small noise when the car was in gear with the brake on while sitting on a slope but for the most part it does its job without any fuss. If I compared it to a discreet English butler, would that be cliched in a Jaguar review? Sticking with the Brit domestic servant theme, the safety nannies are about as unobtrusive as I’ve experienced.

Once you get an idea of how the car handles, its purpose becomes obvious. This is not a boy-racer car, it’s a car for grownups who want to get someplace in a hurry. It’s meant to move four or five adults in comfort and speed. It’s also not an economy car. Over about 350 miles of what I’d characterize as spirited urban and suburban driving (cf. 470 HP) my avg fuel economy ranged between 14 and 16 mpg, though that lower figure involved some idling. Of course you aren’t reading this review because you’re interested in how miserly the XF Supercharged uses petrol.

I noticed that Jaguar did something clever with the brakes in terms of aesthetics. Front and back rotors appear to be close to the same outside diameter, so the 20″ rims look to be about equally filled. Significantly smaller rotors in the back sometimes look a little bit funny with all that empty space. The front wheel hubs on this car, though, have a narrower diameter, allowing a greater swept area for the front’s six piston calipers to the rear’s four pot grippers. The result is superb braking, easily modulated at all speeds, perhaps the best brakes I’ve experienced. That comes at the cost of budgeting for a weekly car wash – as with other Jaguars that I’ve tested the brakes shed copious amounts of pad dust.

The XF’s styling was updated for 2012, in part to harmonize it with the newer XJ. The Supercharged edition shares most body panels with the normally aspirated XF, though there are non-functional hood vents that read Supercharged. I said that this is a car for adults. If you want more boy-racer styling, you’ll have to upgrade to the XFR, or the almost cartoonish XFR-S, on sale later this year, that fastest production Jaguar ever made. In general I’m a fan of Jaguar stylist Ian Collum but I don’t particularly like what his team has done with the highest performance Jaguars. The R and R-S models seem fussy compared to their cleaner forebears.

I do have a styling complain about the engine compartment. While shooting the photos to accompany this review, I noticed that the molded plastic engine cover could be removed rather easily to expose the housing of the supercharger, which like in the GM LS9, is nestled in the V between the cylinder banks. Though the aluminum supercharger housing bears the marks of some rough grinding, it’s basic shape is rather pleasing to the eye. It’s possible that there were some cost savings involved, but the supercharged engine is so much a part of the XF Supercharged’s character that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to show it off. I suppose that cosmetic finish machining can be expensive, but then the cost of machining a multiple cavity injection mold for a piece as large as the polymer engine cover is not insignificant either. I’m not saying they should go to a hood with a window, like on the Corvette ZR1, but I think most Jaguar owners would like to see what their money was buying instead of a piece of plastic.

In general, though, I think the XF looks great. People admire it, and while the previous XF looked a bit generic, the new one is readily recognized (and approvingly so) as a Jaguar.

So, ultimately do I think that the XF Supercharged is worth $25,000 more than the Chrysler I recently reviewed? For the cost of a nicely equipped compact car or even an average D segment midsizer, you get a bit more refinement, a better handling car (though the 300 was perfectly competent in that regard, it was tuned for comfort, not maximum grip), and that wonderful, mailed fist in a velvet glove of an engine. I was impressed with the Chrysler’s 292 HP Pentastar, but the XF Supercharged’s 470 HP really separates the two cars. It should be noted that the XF Supercharged is the cheapest XF with a V8. With new CAFE standards on the horizon, Jaguar has been introducing downsized engines. The engine in the $46,975 base XF is a 240 HP I4 though I don’t see them selling very many, because for just $3K more, you can get the 340 HP V6 which still gets 28 mpg on the highway, compared to four cylinder’s 30. One thing is for sure, you have an abundance of powerplant options and if almost twice as much power as the base model isn’t enough, you can upgrade to 510 HP in the XFR and even 550 with the XFR-S.

Four cylinder Jaguars. God it sounds wrong to even hear that said. Speaking of comparos, it would indeed be interesting to drive the XF Supercharged back to back with the four cylinder model since the blown model is just 10 HP shy of having twice the power.

So I think that yes, the XF Supercharged is worth the difference in price over the Chrysler (though I’d be perfectly happy with the big Mopar as a daily driver). Going in the other direction, comparing the XF-Supercharged to the more expensive normally aspirated XJ I recently reviewed, though I liked the XJ and think that in general it’s a bit better balanced (the XJ is all aluminum, the XF is ferrous so the larger car is actually lighter), the XJ Portfolio that I tested was about $13,000 more than the XF Supercharged, and while you get a larger and nicer car for that 13K, you also have to give up that marvelous supercharger. Then the question becomes, is the $89,600 XJ Supercharged worth 20K more than the XF Supercharged?

That’s not a real world question that I will ever likely have to answer since I can’t afford either one. However, Jaguar is returning to the Detroit auto show this year, after an absence, so there’s a good chance that at the NAIAS media preview I’ll run into the nice lady who manages Jaguar’s press fleet. If there’s a XJ Supercharged available for review, I’ll let you know.

Disclaimer: Jaguar of North America provided the car for a week, insurance and a tank of 91 octane. Thanks to the Inn at St. John’s for the photography location.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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Review: 2013 Ford Escape Titanium Take Two (Video) Mon, 07 Jan 2013 14:00:35 +0000

Like their products or not, Ford has been on a roll. It all started when the blue oval financed their metamorphosis by mortgaging everything that wasn’t nailed down a year before the bankocalypse. Next came a wave of new products like the Astonesque Fusion, Prius fighting C-MAX and the Euro-derived Fiesta and Focus. Ford’s recovery plan hinges on unifying their worldwide lineup rather than making unique vehicles for every market. Ford calls this plan “One Ford,” while I call it “Ford’s Euro love affair.” The latest warrior in the Euro invasion is none other than the Ford Kuga, you’ll know it as the new Escape. It would appear Ford’s timing couldn’t be better since they just lost the small-SUV sales crown to Honda. Can the European soft-roader take back the crown? Or has Ford gone too far by ditching the boxy Escape for world-wide homogeny?

Click here to view the embedded video.


The old Escape attracted as many buyers because of its practical functionality and efficiency as it’s mini-truck appearance. Several Escape owners I know felt they could step down from an Explorer to an Escape without being emasculated by a “cute-ute.” If this describes you, consider a boxy Jeep Patriot while they last. When Michael Karesh took one for a spin last year he found the design pleasing to the eye, but in a modern crossover kind of way. The new exterior is full of crossover curves and overall looks like a jacked up Focus hatch with AWD. This description isn’t that far off base since the Escape rides on a heavily modified Focus platform. Although it looked smaller to my eye, the new Escape is nearly four inches longer, one inch wider and rides on a longer wheelbase than the last generation. Ford’s baby crossover has also been lowered from a Jeepesque 8.4-inches of ground clearance to a decidedly CUV-like 7.9-inches to improve on-road manners. In a segment dominated by fuel economy claims (and with Ford trumpeting the “lightweight” new Explorer) it is surprising that the Escape has gained 350lbs over the last generation now topping the scales at 3,840lbs as tested. Ouch. (The 2013 RAV4 looses 470lbs for 2013.)


The new Escape doesn’t just share the majority of its interior with the Euro market Kuga. Most of the dashboard is used in the new C-MAX Hybrid, and all three share heavily with Ford’s new world Focus. What does this mean to you? It means the Escape shares no styling cues from Ford’s truck line, a sharp departure from the last model. On the plus side, the parts bin Ford raided to create the Escape is full of high quality switch gear and squishy dash bits. While the earlier Escape’s cabin sold on mini-truck charm, the new Escape ties with the 2013 RAV-4 for the nicest interior in this segment.

Despite growing on the outside, passenger room is largely unchanged with a slight reduction in headroom (1/2 inch in front and 2/10ths in back). The drop in headroom isn’t really a problem since the old Escape has such a high roof-line to start with. Taller drivers will notice that Ford decided to reapportion legroom in the Escape by taking 1.2 inches from the front seats and moving it to the rear. Front seat comfort proved excellent on longer trips thanks to an upright seating position and comfortable padding but shoppers should keep in mind that only the SEL and Titanium models get a power driver’s seat. While there is no power passenger seat at any price, the Escape offers something never seen in this segment: optional full leather upholstery for $895.

Escape S, SE and SEL models come with an old-tech manual liftgate standard. Should you need some assistance, SE buyers can opt for an optional $495 power liftgate. Included as part of an $1,895 package with an up-level audio system and keyless ignition, the SEL model can be had with Ford’s new “hands-free” tail opener. The system (standard on Titanium) uses a sensor under the rear bumper that detects your foot. As long as the car’s key is with you, a gentle upwards kicking motion under the rear bumper will cause the liftgate to open or close. While the feature sounded gimmicky, I found it fairly handy when you have your hands full. Once inside, you’ll find three more cubes of space than the old Escape, but the cargo hold isn’t as square as the old CUV, making bulky item schlepping a bit less convenient.


The Escape S targets fleet shoppers and allows Ford to advertise a low $22,470 starting price. To make sure sales of the base models are limited outside of fleet sales, there is only one option: $295 for the SYNC system with Bluetooth phone integration. As you would expect, SYNC is standard on the $24,070 SE model along with XM Satellite radio and Ford’s “keyless” entry keypad on the door sill. If you dislike MyFord Touch, stop here since the system is standard on SEL and Titanium trims.

If you’re a tech lover like me, the optional (on SE, standard on SEL) $775 MyFord Touch system is a must have. The system uses a high-resolution 8-inch screen in the dash divided into four sections for entertainment, climate, phone and navigation. (If you don’t spent $795 for navigation, the system displays a compass in the upper right.) Rather than the dual 4.2-inch LCDs flanking a speedometer found in other Ford products, the Escape uses a single LCD like the Ford Focus. When MFT landed in 2010, the software had more bugs than a 5-year-old bag of flour. Thankfully, the latest version is more responsive and less problem prone, but MFT is still less reliable than the display audio systems from Nissan, Toyota and Honda. Despite the still-present flaws, this is still the sexiest system in this segment. Unlike the Fusion, Ford has decided to offer their excellent 12-speaker Sony branded audio system in the SEL model, although it only comes bundled with keyless ignition, the power tailgate and backup sensors thanks to the trend of packing features into option packages.


Instead of the typical four-cylinder and V6 engine lineup, the new Escape’s engine bay is home to a four-cylinder only lineup. The base 2.5L engine and 6-speed automatic are largely carried over from the previous Escape and good for 168 horses and 170lb-ft of twist. As you would expect, this engine is only found in the FWD Escape S, a model that Ford expects to be sold almost exclusively to fleets.

Next up is the same 1.6L direct-injection turbocharged “Ecoboost” engine used in the Fusion. Proving yet again that turbos are the replacement for displacement, the 1.6L mill produces more power (178HP) and more torque (184lb-ft) at lower RPMs than the 2.5L while delivering 1 more MPG in the city and 2 more on the highway (23/33 FWD, 22/30 AWD). (Ford has opted not to offer the Fusion’s MPG-boosting start/stop system with the 1.6L for some reason.)

Optional on SE and SEL models ($1,195) and standard on Titanium is Ford’s ubiquitous 2.0L Ecoboost engine. The 240HP boosted four-pot replaces the old 240HP 3.0L V6. While the old V6 cranked out 223lb-ft at 4,300RPM, the 2.0 spools up a whopping 270lb-ft of torque from 1,750-4,500 RPM. In addition to the twist bump, fuel economy rises from 19/25 (FWD) and 18/23 (AWD) to 22/30 and 21/28. Trust me, you’ll never miss those two cylinders. What you will hiss however is the hybrid system. Ford has decided that the closely related C-MAX now replaces the Escape Hybrid in the lineup. It’s important to note that if you decide to feed your Ecoboost engine regular unleaded, you’ll experience about a 10HP power drop vs Premium.

If you need to bring that Ski-Doo or pop-up camping trailer with you, the 2.0L Escape has an optional towing package allowing up to 3,500lbs of trailer pulling. Ford’s AWDsystem is a $1,750 option on all models of the Escape (except for the base S model) and uses a JTEKT multi-plate clutch pack between the front and rear differentials. The system is capable of connecting or disconnecting the clutch pack any time it chooses to direct up to 100% of the power to the rear, assuming the front wheels have zero traction. If all wheels have traction the system can only vary power to the rear rubber from 0-50%.


The old Escape didn’t just look like a little truck, it drove like one too with plenty of body roll, brakes that didn’t inspire confidence and plenty of wind and road noise. Despite the weight gain, the new Escape feels far more nimble than the outgoing model thanks as much to the lowered ride height as the new suspension setup. Drivers will also enjoy a much quieter ride as the Explorer has benefited from the same extensive sound deadening treatments applied to the Fusion and C-MAX. Thanks to the longer wheelbase, and perhaps that extra curb weight, the new Escape never lost its composure on broken pavement.

Thanks to the turbo engine’s torque plateau, straight line performance is improved notably in spite of the 350 extra pounds. We hit 60 in 6.42 seconds, which is 1.5 seconds faster than a 2012 Escape V6 4×4 we got our hands on and about the same speed as the 2012 RAV4 V6. Of course all comparisons to a V6 CUV from Toyota are now moot since Toyota dropped the V6 for 2013. Ford’s 1.6L Ecoboost engine will be the base engine for most Escape buyers and this is the engine that should be compared with the competitions four-cylinder offerings. Regardless of engine choices, Ford’s 6-speed automatic is up-shift-happy and reluctant to downshift unless you bury the throttle. This shifting behavior is nothing new as most manufacturers resort to this kind of programming to improve fuel economy. On the bright side, the broad power band provided by both engines masks the transmission’s shift programming by allowing you to hill climb in high gear.

Our Titanium tester came equipped with all the features you need to traverse the urban jungle, from blind spot monitoring with cross traffic detection to a self-parking system. Ford’s “Active Park Assist” system is easily the most intuitive and easy-to-use system on the market. If you want to see it in action, check out our video on our YouTube page.

Ford claimed our 2.0L AWD Titanium model was rated for 21MPG in the city, 28 on the highway and a combined rating of 24MPG which is an improvement of 4MPG over the outgoing V6. During our 710-mile week with the Escape, we did see an improvement over the V6 tester, but it was only about 2MPG. The reason for this is obvious, in real-world mixed driving where you’re climbing hills and sitting in stop-and-go traffic, curb weight has a big impact since there’s more car to motivate. This the same reason the C-MAX performed below expectations in our tests as well. No matter what your Ford sales person might tell you, no, the 1.6L Ecoboost engine won’t give you the same economy as your old Escape Hybrid. Sorry.

Aside from no longer looking like a butch trucklet, the Escape is better in every way than the outgoing model, and isn’t that what progress should be? Of course, progress rarely comes free. The base Escape is $1,000 dearer than year’s model and our fully-loaded Titanium tester busts the budget at $35,630. With a three-engine lineup, more gadgets than many luxury cars and optional full-leather upholstery, the Escape is both a Kia Sportage competitor and gives the Acura RDX a run for its money. Until we can get our hands on the refreshed RAV4, the Escape is at the top of my shopping list and it should be on yours as well. Let’s just hope Ford doesn’t recall that 1.6L Ecooost engine again.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.36 Seconds

0-60: 6.42 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.95 Seconds @ 91.2 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 22 MPG over 710 miles

2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Ecoboost Badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Engine, 2.0L Ecoboost, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Engine, 2.0L Ecoboost, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Engine, 2.0L Ecoboost, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Engine, 2.0L Ecoboost, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, memory controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Front Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 58
Review: 2013 Infiniti JX35 (Video) Fri, 23 Nov 2012 19:11:39 +0000

So you think you need to carry seven people in comfort with decent economy but you don’t want to buy a minivan? Enter the three-row crossover. Thanks to stronger fuel economy regulations there are plenty of three-row CUVs to choose from, but you want something with a better brand name under 55-large, what does that do to the playing field? You’re left with the Lincoln MKT, Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Buick Enclave and the newcomer in this phone booth sized segment: the 2013 Infiniti JX35. The new soft-roader Infiniti is already off to a good start coming in third in sales to the Enclave and MDX despite sales starting in April of this year. What’s it like to live with for a week and how does it stack up? Click through the jump to find out.

Before we dive into the JX, let’s look at the competition. The Volvo XC90 arguably started this segment in 2003 by jacking an S80 up a few inches and adding a third row. In 2006 Acura followed their lead by adding a third row to the Accord-based MDX. Buick got in on the party with their minivan-like Enclave in 2008 and Lincoln with their seemingly hearse-themed MKT in 2010. What do these CUVs have in common? They all have six cylinder engines under the hood and they are all front wheel drive vehicles with optional all wheel locomotion. Before Audi fans start flaming me, I left the Q7 out due to its SUV-like design, RWD biased Quattro system,  larger price tag, and  decidedly SUV-like 5,600lb curb weight.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Infiniti’s bulbous styling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a distinctive island in a sea of me-too crossovers. This new take on Infiniti’s “box fish” style isn’t as striking (or polarizing) as when the M debuted in 2010. On the bright side,  now that the design has aged, general opinion in my informal lunch group was overwhelmingly positive. Something I couldn’t say about the 2010 M. Despite heavy parts sharing with the new Pathfinder, the JX is better distinguished than the former generation QX/Armada was and indeed better differentiated than the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave. The MKT looks just looks downright peculiar front the front with the new Lincoln grille grafted on and the side profile just reminds me of an old station wagon based hearse from the 1970s. The MDX is quite possibly the best looking Acura available at the moment despite the rather prominent Acura beak on the grille. Meanwhile the XC90 is the only vehicle in this bunch that’s not based on a mass market vehicle or platform. While that does mean there isn’t anything on the road that looks related, the design is only modern when parked by itself. I still have a soft spot for the XC90′s upright grille and sexy Swedish hips, but this is one warhorse that should have been sent to the glue factory 5 years ago.


The JX35′s cabin is covered in soft-touch plastics, leather and acres of highly polished wood trim, just as you expect from Infiniti. In this segment, if you want an interior that doesn’t share parts with a mass-market brand, you’re again limited to the XC90 as every other design team had access to a corporate parts bin. Keeping this in mind, Nissan/Infiniti’s parts bin is a nicer place to spend time than GM’s button-bank. The new Enclave has a very competitive interior, but some of the parts choices fail to blend while the JX is a sea of harmony. Indeed one might say the Pathfinder borrows Infiniti parts and not the other way around. This top-down parts sharing is good for Pathfinder shoppers, but only time will tell if there is enough differentiation to make Infiniti shoppers happy. The XC90′s interior is still competitive thanks to continual tweaks over the past ten years, but that can’t forgive the lack of even a modest refresh from the Swedes.

As with the Pathfinder, JX seat comfort declines the further right and rearward you go. The front passenger seat lacks the power lumbar adjustment of the driver’s seat. The second row seats are comfortable, but not as padded as the front seats with cushions designed for children or shorter passengers. If third row comfort is critical, go back to looking at that QX56 or Escalade, as with most three-row crossovers the JX’s last row should be reserved for coworkers you hate or your mother-in-law. If you regularly carry passengers and progeny in child seats, the JX shares the sliding middle seat design with the Pathfinder allowing a child seat to stay strapped in while passengers climb into the third row.

Infotainment & Gadgets

The standard 7-inch infotainment screen does everything but navigation. iDevice/USB integration is of course standard as is Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio system with a single disc CD player and XM radio. Opting for the $4,950 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch touchscreen, a 13-speaker Bose sound system, voice control, and Infiniti’s slick all-around camera system. The system uses four cameras and some trick processing to stitch images together to form an “aerial view” making easy work of tight parking situations.

Should you desire the latest in nannies, Infiniti is happy to oblige with radar cruise control, collision warning and prevention, lane departure warning and prevention and an accelerator pedal that fights back. The accelerator pedal is perhaps the nanny that people find the most fault with, despite crossovers not being “driver’s cars.” The feature can be disabled, but left on it will fight your right foot, forcing the pedal back at you if you’re driving uneconomically, if it thinks you are getting too close to a car, or if it feels like it needs to stop the car NOW. While I dislike the thought of a car that drives for me, honestly at least half the drivers on the road need this pedal stat. Not that I condone distracted driving, but if you feel the need to text and drive, the JX helps you accomplish the feat more safely.

Lincoln’s MKT slots in just behind the Infiniti on the gadget tally thanks to Ford’s bevy of collision avoidance options, inflating seatbelts, and the slow but feature-rich MyLincon Touch system. Meanwhile the Enclave’s new Intellilink touchscreen system is sharp, responsive and has more natural voice commands than SYNC. Better yet, Buick’s system is standard on all Enclave models. The MDX puts on a good fight, but Acura’s tech suffers from old school graphics and a confusing control joystick despite being the only other entry to offer voice commands for your USB/iDevice music player. The XC90 has finally been updated to offer the basic infotainment features you would expect from a luxury vehicle including Bluetooth, USB/iDevice integration and blind spot notification, but that’s where the goodies stop. The XC90 still uses Volvo’s “olde” pop-up navigation system from 1999 and cannot be had with radar cruise control, pedestrian and obstacle detection, and a myriad of other features found in the smaller XC60.


The JX shares its 3.5L VQ-series V6 with the Pathfinder and everything from the Altima to the Quest. In the JX, the engine puts out 265HP at 6,400RPM and 248lb-ft at 4,400RPM, a mild bump over the Pathfinder but notably lower than the Maxima’s 290HP/261lb-ft tune. Like the Pathfinder, the JX sends power either the front wheels or to all four via a Haldex-style AWD system, but this is where the similarities end. While the Pathfinder uses an all-new heavy-duty continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a chain, the JX35 still uses the second-generation Xtronic CVT shared with the Muran0.

When it comes to towing, transmissions choices are important, but so are chassis and suspension design. In the case of the JX, we can logically infer the lack of the Pathfinder’s heavy-duty CVT is the reason for the reduced 3,500lb towing capacity. Meanwhile the Enclave and MKT will haul 4,500lbs while the XC90 and MDX tie at 5,000lbs. Of course, I seem to be the only one who ever tows with a mid-size SUV so this is probably the least important part of this review. That being said, the XC90 despite being down on power would be my towing partner of choice because it has an available load leveling rear suspension.


Out on the road the JX35 is as nimble as a tall 4,500lb vehicle can be. While the handling crown in this segment still goes to the MDX, thanks to Acura’s SH-AWD system, the JX can handle winding roads faster than your third row passengers will tolerate. The JX’s steering is moderately quick, fairly firm and as numb as any of the other luxury crossovers. Should you be on your own after the school run, the JX’s well sorted suspension will soak up the ruts should you decide that gravel road shortcut you like.

Front wheel drive JX models suffer from mild torque steer from a stand still but once underway the pulling stops and the JX settles down. Opting for the AWD system quells the torque steer daemon and is a further differentiator from the Pathfinder cousin. The Pathfinder’s AWD system allows the driver to lock the system in FWD mode for better economy, lock the center coupling for better grip, or allow the system to decide when to send power to the rear. Instead the AWD system in the JX always operates in Auto mode, which is just as well since I suspect no luxury SUV or CUV shopper will ever notice the difference.

The biggest difference between the other luxury CUVs and the JX35 is the transmission. The effective ratio spread on the JX35′s transmission isn’t as broad as the 6-speed units used in the competition and seemed to be skewed to the higher end of the ratio spectrum for fuel economy. This is most obvious when you look at the JX35′s relatively slow 3.7-second 0-30 time, but thanks to the infinite ratios the JX catches up to the rest of the pack crossing 60MPH in 7 seconds even. Despite the 0-30 sloth, my  real-world fuel economy tests seem to be kind to CVT equipped vehicles with the JX besting its 20MPG combined EPA score by 7/10ths of an MPG over a week. Meanwhile the other CUVs averaged 1-2MPG below their combined figures for me. So many publications spout their MPG figures as gospel, but as with 0-60 times, observed fuel economy is only as good as the driver, driving style and commute.

The JX represents an interesting move for the brand I like to think of as “the Japanese BMW.” But putting practicality and economy before performance they have created a most un-Infiniti crossover. The combination of a nearly perfect interior, smooth CVT and 32% better fuel economy than Infiniti’s QX SUV make a compelling argument for the JX35. While the Enclave plays to a slightly different demographic, MDX shoppers would do well to put the JX on their short list as it is quite possibly the best three-row luxury crossover in America.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.7 Seconds

0-60: 7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.4 @ 90 MPH

 Average Fuel Economy: 20.7 MPG over 765 miles

2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Infiniti 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, gauge cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Navigation and Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Cargo Area,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Interior, Cargo Area,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Engine, 3.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Infiniti JX35, Engine, 3.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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Real-World Review: Fleeing Hurricane Sandy Across 8 States In a Rented 2012 Kia Sorento Wed, 14 Nov 2012 13:30:06 +0000 So the Halloween Hooptiefest 24 Hours of LeMons at New Hampshire Motors Speedway went well, with the Rust In The Wind Saab-powered Nissan 300ZX taking a very improbable overall win, and we of the LeMons HQ crew were packing up the gear on Sunday afternoon and getting ready to head home… when we heard that all of our flights out of Logan— in fact, all flights out of the northeastern United States— were canceled due to ZOMG THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING PANIC YALL!!!1! The plan had been to drive our rental Kia Sorento 70 miles or so to an airport hotel, spend the night there, and grab our flights early Monday morning. We got to the hotel in Burlington, Massachusetts, where we convened an emergency meeting of the very exhausted LeMons brain trust.
The four of us— me, Nick Pon, Jeff Glenn, and Jay Lamm— figured we could hunker down in the hotel for what was shaping up to be at least three days of hurricane hell, probably without electricity and most likely fighting with roaming bands of storm-maddened locals for D batteries and maybe rat carcasses to roast over burning tires… or we could leap into the Sorento and drive west or south in order to get to an airport both out of reach of Sandy’s path and featuring flights to San Francisco (for them) and Denver (for me). If we were going to go for the latter choice, we’d have to start quickly; it was already 8:30 PM and the edge of the fast-approaching storm would soon be closing roads and probably gas stations along any route we might take. We’d all been running on a few hours’ sleep per night for the previous few days— running a LeMons race with 100+ entries takes a lot out of you even when you are catching eight hours of Zs each night— but each of us had plenty of wild-eyed road trip experience and we figured we could split the driving four ways, crank the Melt-Banana to stay awake, and arrive alive. After a flurry of calls to airlines and frenzied study of weather maps— all four guys on laptops and phones— we narrowed our choices to Cincinatti and Charlotte. The storm looked likely to head east, but it had already been south, so we opted for Charlotte, North Carolina, close to 900 miles to the southwest. OK, let’s do it!
Jay Lamm samples Pickle Vodka - picture courtesy of Judge PhilLeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm, however, decided that he just wasn’t crazy enough to do the drive; he’d tried to dodge Hurricane Irene when in New York the year before and just ended up dealing with more hassle than if he’d just stayed put. So, he handed us the keys to the Kia and all the cash he could spare and sent us on our way. It was 8:50 on Sunday night and we had reservations for flights out of Charlotte for early Tuesday morning. No sweat, as long as we didn’t get trapped by closed roads and/or panic-stricken crowds clogging the roads in an escape frenzy.
Because we had visions of getting trapped on a dead-stalled highway in Maryland or Pennsylvania (I was getting sweated by visions from Cortázar’s endless-traffic-jam story La Autopista del Sur), we blew into the nearby Trader Joe’s to get provisions to last us a few days. I had several bottles of quality bribe booze from racers in my luggage, so I figured we’d be able to barter that for a few tin cups of mulligan stew from friendly hobos camped next to the miles of abandoned cars. Our shopping expedition was a whirlwind affair, since we showed up four minutes before closing time; three race organizers grabbing random stuff off the shelves as the apocalypse bears down results in a strange menu indeed. Two weeks later, I’m still eating leftover Plutonium Joe’s Isotopes-n-Capers Trail Mix™ and Hukbalahap Joe’s Balut Sticks™.
Assuming that the power was about to go out everywhere, we filled up the Sorento at the first gas station we found. While Jeff pumped, I went in to the station to buy Nitrute-Enhanced™ meat-stick snacks and caffeinated beverages. “Stocking up for the storm?” asked the clerk. “Hell no!” I replied, “We’re driving straight to North Carolina!” Everyone in the place turned and gazed upon me with respect. Or something.
The cargo area of the Sorento was just about completely filled with our luggage; we bring all the transponders and a bunch of other bulky race gear with us as checked baggage when we travel to races, so we had a lot of crap. It was a good thing that Jay had decided to stay behind, because we needed the unoccupied rear passenger seats for our food, phone chargers, and other stuff we’d need to be able to reach while the Sorento was in motion. So, if you’re traveling heavy, the Sorento barely has room for three adults and their equipment.
Even though Jeff had just spent a long day as Race Manager in the NHMS tower— that is, the guy who coordinates all the flaggers, emergency crews, pit-in/out staffers, sends me the penalty information, everything, a job akin to being an air-traffic controller combined with a police dispatcher— he swore he felt alert and ready to go and he insisted on driving the first leg of our journey.
We decided that we’d need to give New York City a wide berth, due to the increasingly scary reports of evacuations from the city, and so we planned a route that took us west to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and then southwest to Charlotte. Since Sandy at this time was just off the Virginia coast and moving due north, our route would be taking us down into the storm— or at least its western edge— but we figured we’d be far enough inland to avoid the worst effects.
The wind was getting wilder, the rain was starting to pelt down pretty hard, and I-84 was crowded with erratic-driving hurricane escapees, but Jeff kept saying “I feel great!” and kept the hammer down. The unibody, car-chassis-based Sorento proved to be surprisingly agile for a tall-looking CUV packed to the rafters with passengers and cargo.
One of my jobs as Chief Justice of the LeMons Supreme Court is to write the post-race summaries for the race sponsor, preferably on race day, so I tethered my laptop to my PDANet-equipped smartphone, fired up Photoshop to prep my shots of the winners, and got to work. The Sorento’s back seats aren’t up to, say, Crown Victoria levels of roominess (starting out, we felt that the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis would have been the ideal rental vehicle for this situation) and the ride got fairly bouncy, but I was able to get the job done before the laptop’s battery died. Meanwhile, the final game of the World Series was going on, and lifelong Giants fan Nick was doing his best to pick up the ballgame broadcast on the Kia’s radio.
We managed to pick up the final pitch of the game while we were somewhere in New York, and Nick wanted this shot to immortalize the moment (I’m an Oakland A’s fan, but— unlike most A’s fans— I don’t wish ill upon the Giants). Outside the car, the weather just kept getting uglier, but Jeff rebuffed all suggestions that someone else might take the wheel: “No, no, I feel good.”
At this point, the wind levels were getting worrisome. 18-wheeler drivers were pulling off at rest areas and hunkering down while many of the car drivers were getting increasingly erratic; some were creeping along at 35 while others pulled off head-clutching thread-the-needle passes on the road shoulder. Our Sorento was the quickest thing on the road, hauling distinctly un-CUV-ish levels of ass under dangerous conditions, and yet Nick and I weren’t the slightest bit nervous. Here is the place in this tale where I need to discuss the differences between good drivers and professional racers, because Jeff Glenn is a member of the latter group.
Jeff came from a racing family and was autocrossing an MGB and a Mini years before he was old enough to get a street license. As he got older, he graduated to faster and faster cars, until eventually he was piloting open-wheelers for a living. A few years older than the competition— because he’d opted to get a college degree and “wasted” four years— he realized that the reality of being a pro racer hadn’t turned out to be as much fun as he’d imagined as a kid, and so he became an automotive journalist and, when his editor started putting on goofy races, a race promoter.
Most of the time, Jeff is just the well-organized LeMons HQ staffer who talks to corner-workers on the radio, answers confused questions from racers who can’t figure out how to choose a car number, and makes sure all the gear gets shipped to the correct tracks. It’s when he gets behind the wheel of a vehicle— any vehicle— and the situation turns weird that you realize that you’re dealing with a heavy-duty, alien-DNA driving mutant here. Running late for your flight and need to do a 60-MPH bootlegger turn in an Aveo on a crowded airport road in order to get to the rental-car dropoff in time? No problem, Jeff makes it happen. Or, say you’re in Jamaica on the LeMons corporate retreat, you’ve got a diesel Toyota HiAce with 13 passengers and right-hand drive, and you need to navigate Jamaican roads teeming with stray dogs, overloaded buses, and “drug dons” in Escalades. Again, this is the guy you want driving.
Jeff gets an unnerving sense of focus when a driving situation becomes serious; his responses to communication go all robotic and he lasers holes in the windshield, looking several turns ahead at all times. In Jamaica, he had a way of knowing that there’d be a Montero with a busted axle blocking the road just around the next blind curve and he’d have the HiAce ready for it. In the Sorento, he got faster as the worsening weather conditions chased the other drivers off the highways and we knew that we had to outrace Sandy before she trapped us for three days at the Northern Maryland Chlamydic Lot Lizard Rest Area.
By the time we reached I-81, the southbound direction was empty save for a few hell-bent-for-leather diesel demons determined to get their 18-wheelers out of Sandy’s reach and barreling their wind-tossed trucks along at 85 MPH. The Smokeys were all tied up dealing with storm-related problems, and so Jeff really got on the Kia’s throttle at that point. I can’t say that the Sorento is quiet at speed in a hurricane, nor can I say that its ride is smooth. In fact, all that marketing talk about SUVs coddling you in a cocoon of isolation from the scary world outside— be it full of Uzi-packin’ carjackers or cataclysmic weather extremes— had nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of our Sorento experience. At one point I thought to fret about storm-addled cervidae hurling themselves into our windshield. “Don’t worry,” said Jeff, passing a careening Freightliner uphill as various tree parts bounced along the tarmac, “I’ll see them.” The storm got worse and worse as we blew through Maryland and the corner of West Virginia where we hold the Capitol Offense LeMons races, and we resorted to blasting Blood Sugar Sex Magick, repeatedly, to drown out the road noise. The sound system in our Sorento— I’m assuming the fleet version gets the El Cheapo stereo— was adequate, with a handy USB jack for our iPods, though the rear speakers deliver tinny sound reminiscent of the Flavoradio and the interface is on the maddening side.
We were in too much of a frenzy to keep track of fuel economy, but we had to make several fuel stops to refill its 18-gallon tank. Our all-wheel-drive, squarish pseudo-truck probably didn’t crack the 20 MPG barrier, given our not-so-efficient pace.
We encountered snow and sleet in the hills of Virgina, but the winds began to calm as Sandy and the Sorento headed in opposite directions. Nick and I gave up asking Jeff if he wanted to take a driving break, even as he began talking up the idea of roaring straight through to Atlanta, where we’d be able to catch Monday-morning flights.
Somewhere near the Virginia-North Carolina line, the skies cleared and the sun began to rise. We woke up the LeMons Travel Boss and official moonshine taster and had her start looking to move our flights out of Charlotte from Tuesday to Monday. Success!
Just before 9:00 AM Monday, exactly 12 hours after beginning our journey (that’s an average speed of just over 74 MPH, including fuel stops and the traffic-slowed leg to Scranton), we arrived at Charlotte Airport. We had a few hours to kill before our flight, so we blew some of Jay’s cash on an airport hotel suite to shower and catch a few hours of sleep. Then we dropped off the Kia at the rental-car lot (it turns out that the rental companies waived the drop-off-at-different-airport fees for customers traveling from Sandy-affected areas) and settled down to wait for our flights.
By 3:00 PM Monday, I was on a Denver-bound plane, just six hours later than I’d have been if my Logan-DIA flight had taken place.

As for Jay’s idea to ride out the storm in Massachusetts… well, he tells his story in the official LeMons wrapup video (all the 2012 season’s wrapup videos may be viewed here).

Here’s my (probably) NSFW personal wrapup video of the drive.
As I contemplated rummaging through my troubled fellow passenger’s carry-on bag— yeah, it was very difficult in my sleepless, giddy state to avoid provoking an entertaining incident with Mr. DO NOT Touch— I thought about the 2012 Kia Sorento as high-performance hurricane-fleeing machine. Was its impressive high-speed performance all driver/no car (as was the case when we stuck Randy Pobst behind the wheel of a worse-than-stock MGB-GT at Charlotte Motor Speedway)? If we had it to do over again with a different vehicle, would we have taken the Crown Victoria or— shudder— the Mitsubishi Galant from the rental-car lot? The choice of the Sorento makes more sense when you consider the “what if” scenarios. Say, the nightmare 48 hours stuck in the vehicle when the highway floods and you need to sleep in the thing, or the highway gets covered in a foot of mud and only four-wheel-drive can get you unstuck; in those cases, the Sorento provides the right mix of decent speed and versatility that your discerning race organizer prefers. The Kia Sorento: It’s Reasonably Competent™!

19 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 01 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 10 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2010 Toyota HiAce  - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2010 Toyota HiAce - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - Jeff Glenn at Laguna Seca - Picture courtesy of Jeff Glenn Jay Lamm samples Pickle Vodka - picture courtesy of Judge Phil 19 - Psycho Kia Sorento Drive - Picture Courtesy of Google 20- Kia Sorento Drive - Picture courtesy of Nick Pon 21 - Psycho Kia Sorento Drive - Picture Courtesy of Google 22 - 2012 Kia Sorento - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 28
Review: 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD Sat, 06 Oct 2012 13:00:14 +0000

When Volvo introduced the S60 in 2011, the Swedes advertised their mid-sized sedan as the naughtiest Volvo ever thanks to a 300HP turbocharged engine. While I’m sure former “R owners” would disagree, the S60 has met with sales success with over 18,000 units sold so far this year, a 14% increase over last year. In 2012 Volvo added a less powerful FWD model to the mix to cut the price of entry. For 2013 Volvo has further expanded the S60 line by adding a torque vectoring AWD system to the lightest S60. Volvo also tells us they have completely refreshed their T5 engine for 2013 and tweaked the transmission for the naughty Volvo’s first retouch ahead of the rumored 2014 refresh. Huh? Yep, Volvo’s gettin’ down with the yearly refresh. Does that make the T5 AWD the naughtiest Volvo ever? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.


From the outside, the S60’s sheet metal is a departure from Volvo’s traditional past, but still retains Volvo’s strong shoulders and something of the iconic Volvo two-box style. If it were not for the over-sized proboscis, the design might rival the original S80’s form for the most elegant Volvo ever penned, but as it is, passengers and observers were mostly undecided whether they liked the schnoz or the short trunk lid. Light pipes in the tail lamp modules, subtle swoops over the wheel arches, and a coupé-like C-pillar conspire to add a touch of modernity to the new S60. Polarizing style has never been a Volvo hallmark however and taken as a whole the new S60 is conservative luxurious rather than daring. As before, Volvo remains the Birkenstock to BMW’s Prada.


Birkenstocks are comfy. Prada? Hit and miss I’m told. And so it is with Volvo and BMW interiors. The S60 is only 3 years old, so aside from massaging color and trim options, the only substantive change is the new transparent shifter. I’m not quite clear what Volvo was trying to accomplish with the new lighted plastic knob. Whatever it was I’m not sure it worked. Still, the rest of the cabin is pure Scandinavian Chic from the soft dashboard to the floating center console and supremely comfortable seats. Despite lacking the range of motion that the competition affords (seriously, have you see the number of buttons on a BMW sport seat?), Volvo’s thrones continue to be the segment’s ergonomic benchmark. Helping keep the interior trendy interior is a new black/baseball glove color scheme. Volvo has also improved sound deadening materials to reduce both road and wind noise in the cabin.

Once upon a time Volvo’s sedans occupied a half-step between the C and D segment cars from the German competition. Fast forward to today and the 3-Series has caught up with the Swedes and the S60 and 328 are essentially the same size. The BMW’s dimension stretch pays dividends with two more inches of rear seat room, an important number because four six-foot-two adults fill the Swede to capacity.

Like many luxury cars in the industry, Volvo has taken to a coupé-like rear profile that reduces the trunk opening to more of a cargo slot. This problem isn’t unique to Volvo, but the opening is a hair smaller than the new 328i’s recently enlarged cargo hold. As with the S60 models we reviewed earlier, the T5 AWD continues to use trunk hinges that cut into the available trunk space as well as the opening.

Infotainment, Gadgets & Safety

Volvo’s Sensus system has been around for three years and continues to deliver a competitive experience in the segment. The 7-inch LCD is essentially the same size as other entries in this segment aside from BMW’s 3-series which brings an 8.8 inch display to the fight. While Volvo has fixed many of the glitches the original system suffered from, the system still does not allow for voice commanding your USB/iDevices like the latest Acura and Lexus systems. Still, the Germans haven’t figured this out yet either. Overall the system is more intuitive than COMAND and MMI, but not as snazzy as iDrive. While I’m complaining, Sensus lacks internet connectivity and App integration that MMI and iDrive sport. Does that matter? Probably not, but I’m sure someone cares.

On the gadget front, Volvo is touting their new full-range cruise control which will now take the S60 to a complete stop in heavy traffic and keep you stopped until traffic moves again. (You just press the resume button.) The system works extremely well and easily ties with Mercedes’ Distronic Plus as the most natural feeling radar system. Bundled with the optional ($2100) radar system is a collision warning system with tailgating alert, lane departure warning, road sign information and automatic high beams.

Volvo’s City Safety system is standard on all S60 models and uses a camera and laser scanner to watch traffic and pedestrians ahead of you. For 2013, the system is active up to 31MPH (up from 19MPH) to keep you from running down Jimmy on his way to school. While the system isn’t perfect, Volvo claims the Volvo models with the system is responsible for the S60 and XC60 being involved in some 25% fewer at-fault accidents than the competition.


Volvo may have committed to an all four-banger future, but that hasn’t prevented them from face-lifting the trusty 2.5L 5 cylinder for 2013. Yes, you read that right, this is not the same 2.5L 5-cylinder engine under last year’s hood. To improve efficiency, Volvo increased the compression to 9.5:1, dropped in new pistons, a new crank, and revised the software. The result of the overhaul is a 1MPG bump in fuel economy, but more importantly, a new over-boost feature is along for the ride. While the performance figures (250HP at 5,500RPM and 266lb-ft of twist from 1,800-4,800RPM) are the same as before, overboost cranks the twist up to 295lb-ft for 10 seconds when you bury the throttle. In addition to the extra twist, Volvo tweaked the Aisin transmission’s software for faster and crisper shifts and now offers a $2,000 optional AWD system. The new engine and tweaks drop the FWD T5′s sprint to 60 by 2/10ths and allows the T5 AWD to hit the mark in 5.93, only 0.26 behind the T6 AWD.

Compared to the competition, the 5 cylinder’s 250HP class leading with Audi still using ye olde 211HP 2.0L TFSI and Mercedes’ new 1.8L turbo spooling up 201HP. It even compares well with BMW’s 240HP 2.0L turbo. (However, the 328i’s lighter weight and 8-speed transmission allow it to hit 60 0.17 seconds faster.) Volvo’s 5-cylinder produces a distinctly “dustbusterish” kind of sound that is less entry-level than a four-cylinder engine but not as refined as BMW’s sixes. BMW’s 2.0L may be the pinnacle of four-cylinder refinement but even it is not as smooth as Volvo’s 5-pot. Audi? The 2.0L engine sounds rough around the edges and the A4 transmits far more engine noise into the cabin than the BMW or Volvo.


We should get one thing straight right up front: no matter how many wheels get the power, little is going to make up for having 3/5ths of your weight on the front axle. While many reviews complain about the fact that the Audi A4′s engine is completely in-front of the front axle, it still has a better (54/46) weight balance than the S60 with the engine completely above the front axle. That being said, the S60′s chassis is well composed on all road surfaces and is perhaps one of the best FWD platforms currently on offer in America. Checking that AWD option box however turns the S60 into a different animal on the road delivering [literally] 96% of the performance of the S60 T6 for $6,700 less. In addition, putting the S60 on an engine diet means the T5 AWD weighs 200lbs less than the T6 AWD.

When the road bends, the S60 T5 surprises with more handling prowess than its front heavy numbers would indicate. The primary reasons are the 235-width tires and Volvo’s ABS system based torque vectoring software. Rather than using a limited slip differential, the Volvo system uses the ABS system to brake the inside wheels in corners to send power to the outside wheel. While the system is not as effective as the more expensive mechanical active diffs, it allows more rear end rotation than you would expect. The result is a car with extremely confident road manners in all driving situations. While the A4 can be more fun as it has a RWD bias, the A4 was less predictable and less composed on the back-country roads I frequent.

With a starting price of $33,750, the S60 T5 AWD is the bargain choice in this segment undercutting the A4 Quattro by $850 and the 328xi by $4,750. Adjusting for feature content, the S60 comes out further ahead at around $1,300 less than the Audi and between $4,200 and $5,800 less than the BMW (depending on content). Despite being the segment’s value choice, I’d call the S60 T5 AWD my second choice in this segment behind the 328i and ahead of the A4 Quattro. The BMW’s larger dimensions, sportier aspirations and impressive list of “techogadgetry” justify the 14% price jump in my mind. Audi’s rough and underpowered engine combined with their complicated MMI infotainment system help push the king of AWD one notch down below the confidant smooth S60. If value factors into your decision-making, then the S60 is about two paddle shifters and a 5% better weight balance away from perfection. Until then the 328i reins supreme in this segment, but the T5 AWD is an excellent option if you’re cheap like me.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.2 Seconds

0-60: 5.93 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.5 Seconds @ 95 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 26.5MPG over 895 miles

2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, rear spoiler, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, gear shift, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, infotainment/HVAC controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, Sensus Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, Sensus Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, Sensus Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Engine, 2.5L 250HP I5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Engine, 2.5L 250HP I5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, T5 badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, tail light, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Interior, trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD, Exterior, 3/4 view, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 51
Capsule Review: 2013 Porsche Boxster Mon, 04 Jun 2012 13:00:22 +0000

And my reviews is unbelivable like flying saucers

/no more iron horses cuz I’m drivin Porsches

With apologies to Lamont “Big L” Coleman, but I’ve been waiting to use the hackneyed version of his famous punchline for some time. The only problem is that TTAC and Porsche are frenemies at best, adversaries at worst, ever since one of our resident Porsche owners said unkind things about the Panamera.

But so much of life is not what you know, but who you know and while Brendan manages to get Porsche press cars due to his ruddy good looks (or being an AJAC member), I managed to weasel an invite to the customer launch of the 2013 Boxster, thanks to my old friend Robert Burgess of Downtown Porsche in Toronto. In 2003, Robert was with an uptown BMW dealership, and sold my Dad one of the last E39 5-Series cars to come to Canada, and moved on to Downtown Porsche not long after that. Both Robert and I have failed to convince the elder Kreindler to make the leap into a P-Car, but we’ve kept in touch throughout the years.

Attending a customer event wasn’t much different from attending one of the journo-circuit shindigs. One could argue that it was better. My drive partner on this event was a gentleman who spends half the year in Toronto and half the year working as an innkeeper in Provence. You won’t find someone so interesting when PR types invite every Twitter user with more than 500 followers. Rather than be put up at a fancy hotel, I got to go home to my Beanie Baby collection and Wiz Khalifa posters. Of course, there was somebody wearing Piloti driving shoes. There always is.

Within two minutes of our introductory briefing, the Porsche pro drivers were giving us a tutorial on proper seating position. Anyone who has read Jack’s Avoidable Contact series will be familiar with these instructions. Since you don’t need to hear “hands at 9 and 3″ again, we can go over the big changes.

Our testers only came one way; Boxster S mit PDK. Weighing in at 2970 pounds, the 981 S is down slightly compared to the 987, but keep in mind, the wheelbase is 2.4 inches longer, while front and rear tracks are up and rigidity is increased by 40 percent. Porsche reps touted the elevated center console, which they claim was inspired by the Carrera GT and 917. Personally, I think it looks more Cayenne or Panamera inspired, and it shares something in common with the Ford Taurus; it leaves the cabin feeling a bit cramped due to a lack of space for the driver’s right leg. Everything inside is beautifully finished, and memories of the barely acceptable cabins of early water-cooled P-cars are a distant memory. Until you try to use any of them.

Before we depart, one of the drivers comes over, and asks us to “turn off Sport Plus, keep stop-start on, don’t hit the suspension button just yet – oh, you don’t have sport plus. Nevermind”. Wait, what? Stop-start? Evidently, I zoned out during the marketing speech about Porsche’s “commitment to efficient performance”. Credit is due to Porsche for designing the cabin in such a way that all the buttons and switches are elegantly laid out in a way that won’t make your head hurt. I kind of wish they weren’t there in the first place.

The 981, like the 991, and the GT-R and a lot of other cars coming out today, are designed to minimize the once inherent compromises that came as an integral part of owning a fast car. Don’t think the throttle is quite responsive enough? Hit the “sport” button. Want to make a claim on our dental plan? Hit the button below “Sport” to stiffen up the shocks. Want to save a minute amount of fuel and C02 emissions over the course of the year? Turn on the auto-start-stop. Automated dual clutch gearboxes and fast-folding soft tops are soo last model-changeover.

When it comes to outright pace, it’s impossible for this hack to mock the 981. This is a seriously fast car. Our upcoming Hyundai Genesis Coupe video review will show that Jack’s 2004 Boxster S is roughly as quick as a brand new Gen Coupe 3.8 Track. The list of cars that a 981 S would leave for dead is longer than Manute Bol. I’d even wager that a Boxster S would hand a CTS-V or an E92 M3 its own ass in a straight line. It might even be a match for a pre-2011 Shelby GT500 – while the Shelby ‘Stang gyrates under hard acceleration, the  981 simply sets course for straight ahead, and lets the flesh around your eyes peel back, Clockwork Orange-style, as the 3.4L boxer emits an utterly belligerent growl.

Before we forget about the armchair auto critics, let’s discuss the much-feared electric steering system in the new P-Cars. Let me put it this way; if nobody told you that the 981 had EPAS, you wouldn’t know it. Maybe it does sacrifice some outright feel, but with a chassis this communicative, you either have to be a real racer or a hopeless pedant (or both) to really notice or care.

Our street drive was good for sussing out just how the Boxster behaves on public roads, but this car is ultimately wasted on anything that doesn’t have Armco barriers. Porsche was kind enough to set up a handling course in a giant parking lot for us, and while I aced the slalom, I totally screwed the pooch on the “emergency braking avoidance” exercise where we accelerate full throttle, and then brake and steer at the last moment in a direction of our passenger/instructor’s choosing. The first time, I did a daring right/left transition when the instruction said “Brake right”. The second time, I knocked clipped two cones. Blame target fixation and my lack of spatial awareness. I am confident that the Boxster has what it takes to avoid killing small animals that run into the road. As long as someone else is behind the wheel.

Downtown Porsche provided a Boxster S and enough fuel to rip around the back roads of Toronto for 90 minutes. Robert Burgess at Downtown Porsche extended the invitation to myself and TTAC. He can be reached at 416-603-9988

]]> 34 Review: 2011 Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring Coupe Thu, 31 May 2012 13:11:23 +0000 Way back in December, I flew out into LAX to meet up with fellow 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court Justice Jonny Lieberman, so that we could jump into a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and drive it to the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 race 450 miles to the north. I’d been hearing all about the magical basement full of crazy Japanese-market cars beneath Mazda USA headquarters in Irvine, so I talked Mazda engineer and superstar LeMons racer Dave Coleman into giving me the tour. But how to get from LAX to my destination many miles behind the Orange Curtain? “Coleman!” I barked, “Get me an RX-8 press car, pronto!” So, he did. Now, six months later, here comes your Better Late Than Never Review of a car that, regrettably, is no longer being built.
Why has it taken me so long to get to this? Partly because my reviews tend to be long-ass tirades that I agonize over for months, but mostly because I haven’t been able to phrase my one-sentence review in a sufficiently clever way. So, let’s get that single sentence out of the way: The 2011 RX-8 is the greatest daily driver ever made, if you can overlook the fact that it sucks gas like a ’73 Buick Electra 225. Right. Now I’ll get into the specifics.
Granted, it’s an odd-looking thing. Every time I saw its reflection in another car, I had to chuckle a bit at the cartoony front fenders. The Mazda Raceway 20th Anniversary stickers and tape stripes made me look like one of those really irritating racing geeks, the kind who drones on about trail-braking and the joys of being “at the limit.” But I would buy the non-LM20 version, and I’d get used to the strange-O styling right away.
But none of that mattered. By the time I’d left the airport, driven a few blocks on city streets, and up the onramp to the 405, I was about ready to start shopping for an RX-8 of my own.
The only Mazda rotaries I’d driven prior to the RX-8 were all mid-80s-and-earlier RX-7s, and those cars just weren’t particularly quick in stock form, nor were they particularly civilized. The ’11 RX-8 accelerates respectably hard all the way up to that ridiculous 9,000 RPM redline, and the Mazda rotary is— after 40 years— every bit as smooth as the old RX-3 ads claimed.
I ran into the usual Southern California stop-and-go traffic as I headed south down the 405, which gave me a chance to contemplate the barbed wire, gang tags, and bullet holes on all the freeway signs.
Back in Southern California, my home for most of the 1980s and the place that inspired me to create my 1965 Impala Hell Project. Mazda HQ was in the same city as the university I attended, and I hadn’t visited my old alma mater for a couple of decades. The campus would be as good a place as any to shoot some photos of the Mazda, I figured.
When I got to the campus, I headed straight to the former location of Irvine Meadows West, the students-only trailer park that was my beloved home for five years. I knew that UCI had bulldozed the place in 2004 and replaced it with a parking lot. Here’s a photo of my trailer and shotgun shack, circa 1987.
And here’s the RX-8 parked on the spot where my ’69 Roadrunner camping trailer once stood. I’ve never been very nostalgic about my college days— I was broke all the time and Irvine is a boring place to be a broke 20-year-old, plus pop music sucked worse than usual during the late 1980s— but the juxtaposition of this sporty rotary Mazda and the location of my old home got me to thinking about how I once felt about the RX-8′s mid-80s predecessor.
UC Irvine was (and is) a school with a majority Asian-American student body, and a huge chunk of that student body in the late 1980s was made up of commuter students from nearby Little Saigon, where tens of thousands of the South Vietnamese who fled Communist rule after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 ended up settling. That meant that most of my classmates had been through some serious war/refugee nightmares during their childhood, and they tended to be very serious students. The cars they drove to the campus tended to be equally serious, boring even: Malaise Datsuns, hand-me-down Detroit barges, and the occasional new Hyundai Excel.
Meanwhile, the tiny minority of my classmates who were wealthy Orange County white dudes went for brand-new Volkswagen GTIs and BMW 325s. I drove a ’68 Mercury Cyclone and a ’73 MGB-GT at the time, and I thought just about everything else I saw in the UCI parking lots was a snore.
But there was one small subset of UCI students with automotive taste I admired: the rich kids from Little Saigon who rolled in shiny new Mazda RX-7s. The RX-7, in those days, stood out as a truly cool-looking car, the kind of cool I envied.
I always assumed those sharp-dressed Vietnamese-American guys with their hot-rodded Mazdas were the sons of ARVN generals, former GVN coup plotters, and others who had left the country on first-class flights with suitcases full of C-notes and gold bars. Former South Vietnamese presidents Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu (pictured above with Lyndon Johnson) lived in Orange County, along with many of their wealthy henchmen of the war years, and being the RX-driving playboy son of one of that crowd seemed quite idyllic to me.
So, here I was with the keys to the RX-7′s successor, a car superior in every way to the RX-7. Finally, I thought, I am the coolest.
All right, enough of that flashback gibberish. What makes this car the ideal daily driver? We’ll start with its performance. This is a 3,065-pound vehicle with 232 horsepower and just 159 foot-pounds of torque, which means it’s what the racy types call a “momentum car.” Lose your momentum, you’ll be a while getting it back.
The Renesis engine is a member of the venerable 13B family, which goes all the way back to 1972. Since that time, Mazda has made it smoother, more reliable, and more powerful (though they’ve been somewhat less successful in the fuel-economy department, a subject we’ll return to in a bit). Get on the throttle and you’ll find the Renesis delivers smooth, predictable power once you get past, say, 4,500 RPM. Below that level it’s sort of a dog, so you need to throw out every piston-engine instinct you may have.
Look, there’s “13B” just visible on the rotor housing! So, momentum car: If you keep the revs up at all times, you’ll get excellent Boeing 737-style acceleration whenever you want it, but you won’t get that vision-goes-out-of-focus violence of a torquey piston-engined car. The RX-8 does the quarter-mile in the high 14s, which is plenty quick in the real world.
As for the handling, I’m not willing to push a car like this very hard any place that’s not a race track (especially not on residential streets in suburban Orange County), and my skills on a race track are nowhere near good enough to see what this thing is really made of. However, I’ve seen RX-8s absolutely hauling ass around a road course sufficient times to know that this is one serious track-day car, if that’s how you roll.
As for me, the ability to out-drag-race most other cars to a lane-merge, or to get a little sporty on twisty mountain roads without ending up flying backwards into a ravine… well, this car does that just fine. If I ever get Mr. Baruth to give me some more of his excellent race instruction, the RX-8 is the car I want to drive for the lesson. Well, that or a NASCAR-spec ’75 AMC Matador.
Getting bored with UCI, which had changed beyond recognition in the 20 years since I’d last seen it anyway, I ventured out to the Irvine/Newport Beach area… which had also changed beyond recognition. Randomly, I found myself in a little park dominated by a large statue of Orange County hero Ronald Reagan.
Now, Richard Nixon was actually born and raised in Orange County, while Reagan was a Midwestern transplant who lived north of the Orange Curtain. You won’t see many Nixon statues in Newport Beach, though. While I contemplated the cold shoulder that Nixon’s memory gets in his home county, I also thought about the things that make the RX-8 such a great everyday car.
First of all, the little suicide doors are straight-up brilliant. Back-seat passengers can get in and out easily, and you can throw your suitcases, groceries, meth-lab components, any random crap into the back seat without feeling like you’re playing a game of Twister.
The gauges and controls were placed in sensible locations, with the tachometer dominant. As it should be.
Some have griped about the dated-looking audio controls in this car, but I’ve always felt that there are only two ways you can go with this sort of thing in a Japanese car: completely berserk Mars Base weirdness (see: Subaru XT6 digital dash), or simple function that doesn’t require you to read a vernier or scroll through endless menus in order to get the Napalm Death tune on your smartphone to play through the damn stereo. Actually, I prefer the former type, but Japanese car makers seem to have fired all the spirally-eyed designers who did the really crazy stuff.
The same goes for the climate controls. No owner’s manual required here, and everything works perfectly.
The seats are as comfortable as anything I can remember, plus they have these silly Wankel symbols in the headrests.
It’s easy to parallel-park and the trunk is big enough to be useful. What else?
So, it’s lots of fun to drive, comfortable, and practical. Why did I fail to rush right out and buy an RX-8?
Here’s why: I got 15.5 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving (admittedly with some lengthy stop-and-go traffic-jam action), and I wasn’t even hammering on the car. 15.5 miles per gallon! Mazda claims this car gets 16 MPG in the city and 22 on the highway, but I don’t see how even those miserably thirsty figures could be attained in the real world unless you do some heavy-duty hypermiling in your daily commute. The RX-8′s gas tank holds 16.9 gallons, which gives a total range of somewhere around 250 to 300 miles. At freeway speed, the fuel gauge moves fast enough for you to notice.
The fuel-consumption problem, of course, comes from the tradeoffs that need to be made to get a Wankel engine to meet emission standards, plus the combustion-chamber inefficiencies of the Wankel cycle.
My two-ton ’97 Ford Crown Victoria got much better fuel economy, in town and on the highway, than does the RX-8. In fact, plenty of cinder-block-shaped SUVs get better fuel economy than the RX-8. Even though I don’t drive a hundred-mile commute every day, I know it would drive me crazy to know that I was driving a small car that swilled such oceans of gasoline. A Lincoln Town Car Congressional Series Brougham d’Landau Edition that knocked back fuel like Janis Joplin going through Southern Comfort… well, that makes sense. Likewise, a lumpy-cammed Olds 442 with a tubbed rear and Megadeth on the Sparkomatic— that car can drink up. But not a brand-new nimble sporty car.

36 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 12 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 15 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 16 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 17 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 18 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 19 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 20 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 21 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 22 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 23 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 24 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 25 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 26 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 27 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 28 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 29 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 30 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 31 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 32 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 33 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 34 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 35 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 - Pictures courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 93-OCHighway_GrandAm_Billboard-1280px Impala_Part_3-PropValues-11 85RX7-LH VW GTI Brochure - Image courtesy of Volkswagen 75_B210_LH_1280 Thieu and Ky, Picture courtesy of Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 75
Review: 2012 Mini Cooper S Coupé Wed, 11 Apr 2012 15:14:24 +0000
We have at least two dandies on staff who make Beau Brummel look like Christian Audiger, what with their Zegna blazers and tailored shirts and handmade shoes and watches that aren’t also calculators. In the ordinary course of things, I leave it in their capable, well-manicured hands to wax eloquent on the concept of style.

As far as I’m concerned, clothes are just something which keep me from
(a) freezing
(b) being arrested.

However, even with such a clear disclaimer to my limited scope where fashion is concerned, I feel it necessary to point out at least one simple rule: if you walk around all day wearing a baseball hat turned around backwards, you’ll look like an idiot. Or Fred Durst.
Wait, that’s redundant.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. Mini’s latest model exists not because it is materially better-handling or faster or even lighter than the Classic Cooper from whence it sprang, but because it is stylier. Like, they put more style in it.

I hesitate to cast too many aspersions, being somewhat fat and definitely ginger, but I’d have to say the results are a bit… mixed. Surely you, dear reader, who are possessed of eyes, can come to your own conclusions on the matter. I think it looks like someone sat on it.

Still, from many angles the MINI coupé is actually not too bad looking. If you put up the deployable spoiler for instance. Or look at your feet.

And if getting attention is your thing, then good news! I once actually returned to my tester to find two ladies having an impromptu photo-session with it. Admittedly, it was a bit more Absolutely Fabulous than America’s Next Top Skeleton: apparently Grandma’s a Limp Bizkit fan.

But enough nattering about the looks, let’s jump in the little tyke and take ‘er for a rip!

First: who designed this interior, Flavor Flav? Or possibly Fisher-Price?

Second: who cares? Everything you’ve heard about one Mini interior, you’ve heard about all the others. They’re cartoonish and fiddly and whatever the exact opposite of ergonomic is. Blergonomic.

Add to that the cut-down cockpit of the Mini coupé and embrace the added impracticality of rear blind-spots like an Imperial Star Destroyer and a pillbox front view. Is the light green yet? Better stick your head out the window to check. I am not an overly tall person, but when first in line at the lights, I learned to follow the lead of the cross-traffic.

Ticking off a few more demerits, cargo space: pretty negligible. Ride quality: nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Mix in a back parcel shelf that rattles like an Army of Darkness can-can line and you might think I’ve little love lost for the two-seater Mini. But you’d be wrong.

Like a dream. Like a go-kart. Like it’s on rails.

When it comes to handling clichés, take your pick and apply it to this latest member of the MINI range: the Cooper S coupé. Just don’t expect to make any sense.

This ain’t no go-kart: it grips over bumpy pavement rather than skittering sideways like a skipped stone. And as for going around a bend on rails, Thomas the Tank Engine would flop over on his flank at half the g’s that a Cooper S coupé pulls while scrabbling through a corner.

Depress the Sport button (why should you even have to?) and thrill to the declarative *pop-pop-pop* of improperly combusted fuel. It’s a cheery flatulence that must surely be artificial in some way, given our draconian emissions laws, but try to keep the grin off your face. I dare ya.

No chance. Inasmuch as the Mini coupé is uneasy on the eyes and of greatly reduced practicality, it absolutely wins you over with puppy dog enthusiasm, rorty exhaust note and hyperactive steering. It’s such a hard car to hate, so why would you?

But here’s the thing. Last time I attended fat camp…er… a manufacturer-sponsored car launch, I sat enthralled as a fellow journo listed off the number of interesting ways in which his personal Mini had broken.

These ranged from the “minor niggle” category – wonky signal lights, to the “just take all my money You Bastards” column – supercharger failure, thousand-dollar seat repair, ECU-fritzing. Mini is fairly ho-hum when it comes to any reliability survey you might care to mention. It’s almost as though BMW, with typical German humourlessness, has engineered a little of that British Leyland crappiness charm into each and every little happy-faced Cooper.

And it’s not like I can pull out the old standbys like, “more fun than cars costing twice as much”: this thing is more expensive than a WRX, and not exactly well-optioned. I didn’t play the same game on the US configurator, but in Canada, you can spend upwards of $45K if you tick all the boxes. There’s stuff more expensive by the pound, but not much that’s legal.

So: costly, unreliable, largely impractical, not particularly attractive and somewhat uncomfortable. Can I really recommend this latest Mini?

Not unreservedly, but – well, I suppose it depends on your constitution. It really ought to say on the brochure, “we can offer you nothing but blood, toil, tears and sweat – but it’ll be worth it.” It’s not going to be a Honda Civic, but then, it’s not going to be a Honda Civic.

We enthusiasts complain incessantly about the lack of soul of the modern motor car. About how we’d all exchange a little of that relentless Japanese reliability and economy for a spark of frivolity, a frisson of joy, a soupçon of liveliness. Well, with a Mini, that’s what you get.

Frankly, the only things that would make the Mini coupé better, to my mind, were if it was slightly larger, perhaps a useful hatchback. Maybe if it had two small seats in the back, just in case. Maybe if it looked a little more like the original Mini, and –


Oh, I see.

MINI provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

]]> 80
Review: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring – Off The Beaten Racetrack Wed, 21 Mar 2012 08:26:39 +0000
LAGUNA SECA – It’s called the Corkscrew, and for good reason. Perhaps the single most famous piece of racetrack topography in North America, this left-right two-punch combo can unsettle an unsorted chassis just as fast as the steep 18% gradient can unsettle a novice driver’s stomach. Jack Baruth was here in the same car. I’ll try not to embarrass, nor soil myself.

As I enter the throwaway left-hander, I’m mentally muttering under my breath, “Aim for the third tree, the third tree.” Bris-ing the apex of Turn 8, it’s blue sky time, and I’m hard on the throttle, fully committed. Perfect. Both right wheels just kiss the curb with a faint rumble, and it’s through the right-hand sweeper fast and- wait. Too fast.

Rookie move: lift.

It happens fast. Off track. Rotating left. Into the dirt. Sliding. The tire wall rushing closer. I have time for just one thought…

Thank God this is only Forza.

No, I didn’t attend the Laguna Seca launch of Mazda’s latest crossover, for two very good reasons: one, clearly I have no business being on a racetrack; two, neither does the CX-5.

Jack’s track-take on Mazda’s latest cute-ute revealed a trucklet that actually earned the obligatory mention of jinba-ittai. What’s more, dynamic praise from our resident Visigoth is worth its weight in Nomex, because race car driver.

On the other hand, what are the odds of anyone actually driving Mazda’s clean-sheet CUV competitively? I put it to you that the CX-5′s sparkling on-track performance – while it tells the tale of a brilliantly-sorted chassis and typically sharp Mazda steering – is largely irrelevant. What matters is how it does in the real world.

Let’s face it, the previous Mazda attempt at carving out a slice of the red-hot crossover market wasn’t the greatest car in the world. It was just a Tribute.

What’s more, like many of Mazda’s less-stellar offerings over the years, it was a car that couldn’t quite Escape its Ford roots. Why buy the Mazda? Different trim levels. Yawn.

Here though we have a ground-up, complete redesign that makes the statement: “We are Mazda, and we build small, practical, efficient cars that are more fun to drive than the competition because they are lighter and driver-focussed and maybe they might rust a little bit quickly.”

As you can see – wait, did you say something about rust?

“Um. No.”

Hmm. All right then. Could’ve sworn.

Anyway, for those of you not already aware, SKYACTIV is not a vodka-based sports drink, nor a brand of sweat-proof sunscreen. You can find more details here, but the quick version is: high compression engines, weight-savings everywhere through use of high-strength materials and clever engineering; a focus on driving pleasure as a brand-identifying goal, and on CAPS-LOCK as a marketing tool.

The CX-5 is the first full SKYACTIV vehicle from Mazda, incorporating all the elements of the design philosophy. It is also the first Mazda to sport the new Kodo design language, and I think we can all agree that it looks much better than the out-going smiley-faced Nagare.

Why does the front end put me in mind of Angry Birds? Overall though, a conservatively handsome effort that should have broad appeal by being both inoffensive, yet not overly bland.

This GT model boasts 19” alloys that fill out the wheel wheels nicely, but look relatively normal-sized. The standard 17”s look just fine too, if a bit rinky-dink on the rear, but that’s the way the world is going: the 2018 redesign will probably only look right with the box checked on the optional Donk Package.

If you’re test-driving this car with your heavily pregnant wife (let’s not be sexist: or when heavily pregnant yourself) while the used car manager “makes a few calls” on your Mazda3, then you should find the interior of the CX-5 comfortingly familiar.

Piano black trim, sporty three-spoke steering wheel, easy-to-use HVAC controls; it’s conservative and user-friendly, with that Japanese-VW feel that the old 2.3GT Mazda3 had.

Look at all the smudges I put on that touch-screen: talk about your greasy gaijin. However, with Bluetooth, backup camera, blind-spot indicating mirrors and a decent stereo, there’s nothing else to find fault with up here. And just take a look around back.

I’m 5’11” and probably sit a trifle closer to the steering-wheel than most. Still, the rear-seat in the CX-5 is surprisingly roomy. While it’s directly comparable to the Honda CR-V, somehow the exterior of the Mazda looks much smaller in pictures. Only when you start crawling around in it or park it next to a 5-door Impreza do you see how big the CX-5 actually is.

Rear-facing child seats are a cinch to fit and both Touring and Grand Touring models have a 40/20/40 folding rear seat that allows for a four-adults-plus-skis load-out (no factory roof racks are installed).

With all seats folded flat, the CX-5 is again slightly behind the CR-V in total volume, mostly due to the former’s more-sloping rear glass. The load height is also higher, the rear seats fold only mostly flat – albeit with a single touch – and the tall rear headrests necessitate putting the front seats forward for folding clearance.

Still, if this is replacing a ’3 Sport, or a Matrix, or an Impreza, the increase in size and flexibility of the cargo area is just fine. And then there’s the reason you’re out test-driving the Mazda in the first place.

Pushing the (standard) starter button from cold at winter temperatures elicits the cacophonous racket of a 5hp Evinrude two-stroke outboard jammed in a cutlery drawer. It’s the first hint that the CX-5′s engine is not your run-of-the-mill… er, mill.

With a 13:1 compression ratio giving you a single bragging right over a 458 Italia owner, the 4-2-1 header under the CX-5′s chunky snout efficiently evacuates hot exhaust pulses, allowing MAXIMUM POWAH to be extracted from regular old no-name brand 87 octane gas. Once warmed up, it’s smooth and unclattery but not particularly tuneful.

Or torqueful, and let’s get my single beef with the whole CX-5 driving experience out of the way first. The Skyactiv-G engine is fine. It skews a little towards the “meh” end on the underpowered/overpowered sliding scale – falling short of the “right-powered” sweet-spot of the GLI or, more closely-related, the Miata.

With 3,426 lbs of AWD automatic, the CX-5 adds a bit of forward-planning to my usual death-defying morning escapades on The On-Ramp of Doom. Unlike the CR-V, it actually wants to be revved up. Like the diminutive Mazda2, it can feel a trifle poky.

What really irks is that Mazda also happens to have the Skyactiv-D 2.2L diesel engine, which I have driven. I know, I know, typical enthusiast driver always belly-aching over the lack of a diesel version that there’s no market segment for: why not ask for a manual wagon while you’re at it? However, please believe me when I tell you that a Skyactiv-D equipped CX-5 would be dinosaur-flying-a-jet-plane awesome.

Diesel-powered Mazdaspeed CX-5. Just let that sink in for a minute, and then go say say a few prayers on your rotary beads that we actually get such a thing. Mazda is promising a Skyactiv-D powered something for the 2014 model year, but it’s still a maybe. If you’re listening, Mazda Claus, I promise to be good. ish.

Let’s talk about what we do get with the Skyactiv-G CX-5, because there are two other items on my Zoom-Zoom wish list. First, a “Ds” or similar sport-mode for the very good Skyactiv auto-box.

I’ve already praised Mazda’s new automatic in its Mazda3 application. It’s still good here, although working with an extra 400-odd pounds of heft and only 2 extra lb-ft of twist to help it along. It’s smooth-shifting, direct-feeling and, being conventional, ought to be durable.

Occasionally, however, a bit of a firm prod on the accelerator is required to provoke a downshift. And the manual-shift mode is BMW-backwards (push away to downshift). [EDIT: Controversy!] Please, Mazda, this transmission’s good enough to warrant paddle-shifters. The chassis and steering? Well, that’s good enough to warrant a sport-mode.

And here’s what you already know, but I’m happy to reinforce: even in non-enthusiast, max weight all-wheel-drive-n’-auto spec, the CX-5 is a hoot, a hustler, a corner-carver. It’s a Mazda.

You might not fall for it as quickly as you would a base manual version, or its smaller, more-chuckable bretheren, but the CX-5 is more than willing to go for a gallop. When I drove the Honda CR-V on some very nicely winding roads, it felt aggrieved and alarmed by any spirited driving, spluttering and clucking, “What-where-why are you doing this to meeeeee?”

In contrast, the CX-5 is not only uncomplaining but also even a bit provoking. It is the difference between taking the dog for a walk (more like a drag) and having the dog take you for a walk. There are at least three major roadtrips that I would take this summer, just to find roads good enough for this trucklet to pound around.

In the rain and the traffic and the stop-and-go drudgery of everyday driving, it’s still reasonably good – although the more cut-and-thrust driving you do, the more noticeable that torque vacuum gets. The high-up seating position of a CUV is comfortable and commanding, it’s relatively quiet, and then there’s the fuel economy.

Over the course of three hundred kilometers, I used twenty-seven litres of fuel. Converting from the Canadian (carry the two, divide by moose) one gets 26.1 mpg. Is that an amazing, stop-the-presses, wait-’til-you-hear-this number?

No, but it’s a solidly decent figure that matches the lighter Skyactiv-3 I had, both of which vehicles were driven, um, enthusiastically. Your mileage may literally vary, but it should theoretically be possible to trade up out of a smaller hatchback into a CX-5, with little-to-no fuel penalty.

Much as the Miata is the halo car for Mazda, the CX-5 isn’t really a MX-5 with a luggage rack, as they’d probably like you to believe. Instead, it feels like the old Protege5: a modestly-powered little practical wagon that could still hustle along, snapping at the heels of a WRX on a curvy road, despite having half the horses.

This is a good vehicle, and it does a great job matching the pragmatism of the competition, while at the same time combining it with some much-needed joie de vivre. Would I buy one? Most assuredly.

With the diesel.

Mazda provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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Review: 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Take Two Wed, 07 Mar 2012 19:32:28 +0000
Glee (noun) [\glē\]:
(a.) exultant high-spirited joy; merriment

(b.) a television series in which smooth-skinned actors in their middle twenties attempt to portray teens navigating the tumultuous rapids of modern adolescence by the application of close-part harmony; immensely popular when it debuted, but trailed off in the second season when it began getting a little preachy and then there was that part where Rachel was all like, “Finn, I need to let you fly free,” and…

(b.) Some TV show which I have never seen.

(c.) The best car in the current Volkswagen Model range.

Whaddya mean it’s pronounced “Gee-El-Eye”?

Now, no review of Volkswagen’s warmed-up compact sedan would be complete without a few Oh! Snap! cracks at how thoroughly Vee-dub has un-pimped the regular Jetta. Fans of the German marque are appalled – appalled I tells ya – at the dumbed-down, embiggened and encheapened Kraut-rolla the once-sprightly Jetta has ballooned into.

‘Twas as though they had wandered into the VW showroom expecting the usual delicious and slightly unreliable bratwurst and been handed an Ikea hot-dog instead. Yes, a bargain at just 99 cents, but made of gym-mat foam and not tasty pork by-products.

Critics were apoplectic, and the buying public responded immediately – by completely ignoring them and snapping up thousands of Jettas. I quite enjoy that, as it must have punctured a few bombastic egos.

Not to worry though, as VW still sells a premium smokie-on-a-bun for all you sausage enthusiasts out there.

And here it is. In profile, the GLI is quite a bit better looking than I remember, a slick blend of sleek aerodynamicism and teutonic crispness set off by the traditionally chunky five-spoke Volkswagen alloys, and-

Oh wait, no, this is a Kia Rio. Oops.

That’s better. No, wait: no it isn’t.

One criticism of the GLI immediately is that it appears to be just fifteen feet of some car. I imagine that if you went down to the Car Store and asked for, “One Car, please. What? Oh I don’t know… German flavour I suppose,” then this is what you’d get.

Yes, it has two-tone, multi-spoke alloy wheels and a colour-matched grille – but what doesn’t these days? I will say that the Glee looks fairly good here in black, but if you take a look at the car Jack drove in his 2.0T Intramural League test, a silver GLI can be about as bland as unsalted porridge.

However, methinks this is a very, very good thing. A Lamborghini Reventon might look like a stealth fighter, but the Glee is actually a stealth car: just another five-seater people-pod; one more unremarkable corpuscle blending in with the flow on an arterial highway. Handy if you’re going to cane it a little, but more on that in a bit.

The interior of the Glee is slightly less stealthy; most notably, that flat-bottomed steering wheel is just the tiniest bit boy-racer. And, as apparently dictated by some international sporty car interior standard first established in the early Eighties, there’s plenty of red stitching everywhere.

Other than that though, it’s a sensible, conservative sort of place to be, with comfortable seats, an immense amount of rear legroom and a cavernous trunk. And there’s another advantage too.

If you were picking up your new fiancee’s parents at the airport, and you didn’t quite get along with them just yet, being in that not-good-enough-for-our-son/daughter zone (that sometimes never goes away), you could be perfectly safe arriving in a GLI.

A GTI? A ‘Speed3? A WRX? Those’d be something different, but this car would elicit a future-father-in-law’s reluctant nod and/or a near-mother-in-law’s mollified sniff. It’s not showy. It’s not racy. It’s sensible and circumspect and even a little bit nice. Maybe this kid’s got a good head on his/her shoulders after all.

Then, on the drive home, you completely. Ruin. Everything.

First, a painful admission. I had championed Subaru’s flat-four turbo as being the best-sounding four-pot on the market today. I was wrong.

It took four different axle-backs on the back of my personal WRX to find the right blend of growly aggression without boorish bellowing. VW got it right straight out of the factory with a thrumpety symphony that’s part panthera tigris purr, and part strafing-run Stuka. The ubiquitous 200hp 2.0T has never sounded better.

As such, you will want to dip into the power reserves early and often, and with a phenomenally low torque peak providing insta-shove around 1700rpm, the Glee provokes… well, just see definition (a.)

Right. Nearly forgot to complain about the lack of a traction control button. Yes, this is either a silly oversight or one of the chintziest cost-cutting measures imaginable, but it didn’t really bother me once.

We live in a world where a Hyundai puts out a turbo-four with a full 25% more power than VW’s version, but there’s more to it than just peak horsepower figures. The Glee isn’t underpowered, and it’s not overpowered. It’s right-powered.

Yes, there are moments where a little more thrust would not have gone amiss, but the whole package is so composed-yet-thrilling that you find yourself willing the car along, wringing it out, diving into the corners and blasting out of them. Meanwhile, your future mother-in-law is clutching her purse with a white-knuckled grip implying that hissed undertones are about to be exchanged with her son/daughter on the subject of That Young Man/Woman.

But what do you care? It’d be easy enough to back off the throttle and find that the GLI is a comfortable cruiser with its softer-than-a-GTI suspension. The Fender-brand stereo is phenomenal and the fuel economy can even be quite good, if you’re gentle.

Yet whenever I climbed into my 6-speed tester, I experienced a kinship of the sort that Tazio Nuvolari must have felt, nursing his somewhat-wheezy Alfa-Romeo to that now-legendary victory over the Auto-Union juggernauts. It seems Mazda isn’t the only company that knows something about Jinba Ittai.

The GLI is a joy to drive, and shockingly, shockingly good in wet weather. Perhaps it’s the relative softness of the suspension, perhaps it’s the soft-compound of the Continental winter tires this tester was equipped with, but the level of grip that the GLI has in a wet corner is extremely surprising and gratifying. But then, so’s the rest of the car.

Business-like exterior, comfortable interior: a sedate-looking sedan that’s capable of thrilling dynamically but prefers not to shout about it. Maybe I’m stretching, but the GLI could just be this generation’s E39 BMW. It’s that good.

But – and here comes a But so big that it should be written in flaming letters three miles high; a Mix-a-lot-sized conjunction that I don’t like (and I cannot lie) – but, it’s still a Volkswagen, and that means Your Mileage May Vary.

After a charming week with the GLI, I found myself sitting at the ferry terminal late at night, waiting to pick up my wife (I’ve been married for coming-on 6 years, the in-laws threw in the towel long ago). Docking was inevitably delayed, and as I waited, the local station began playing Young the Giant’s “My Body.” As the first kicks of the bass drum came through, the back panel of the GLI decided it was time to start buzzing like the trunk of a 90s Civic with a Bazooka tube. At all volumes.

This car, you understand, had all of 1500 miles on the clock, and while press cars generally take more abuse than somebody who expresses a political viewpoint in the comments section of a Youtube video, I generally have to say this failing was unacceptable. Unacceptable, or at least very disappointing.

Volkswagen has always been like this. Some owners have never had a problem, others have had nothing but problems. Still others have had a up-and-down track record that reads like the fortunes of a character on Days of Our Lives. Uh, which I have also never seen.

So can I recommend the GLI? Yes, though not unreservedly. It’s a fantastic car, but I’m not sure how it’s going to be next season.

Volkswagen provided the car reviewed and insurance

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Review: 2012 Lincoln Navigator Tue, 14 Feb 2012 22:10:21 +0000

There was a time when the Lincoln Navigator was the hottest SUV going, an epoch that coincided with the “shiny suit era” of rap music. From a peak of nearly 39,000 sold in 2003, Lincoln sold just 8018 in 2011.

An anecdote related to me by a former Ford PR exec has it that Lincoln and P. Diddy were going to collaborate on a product placement/endorsement deal – Ford gave P. Diddy a Navigator, and P. Diddy then became involved a nightclub shooting that tarnished the reputation of the music mogul himself and his then boo Jennifer Lopez. P. Diddy protegé (and recent convert to Orthodox Judaism) Shyne took the rap for the shooting, and Ford pulled the deal. Why does this bizarre footnote merit a mention? Because Diddy then adopted the Cadillac Escalade as his vehicle of choice, and everyone with any pop culture exposure knows that the Escalade is the car to have for anyone who has suddenly come in to money. The Navigator became an instant also-ran, while Cadillac’s brand was at a high point not seen since the days of tail fins.

Despite cutting a bold figure, the Navigator’s utilitarian pickup truck roots are immediately apparent after climbing aboard, as you step up from the F-Series sourced power running boards and sit in the cushy driver’s seat. There are plenty of parts bin interior pieces here, and the blonde wood, tobacco tan leather upholstery, analog clock and retro typeface gauges are ostensibly designed to evoke a sort of 1960′s Mad Men feel. The Navigator is no 1963 Continental – if anything, its Betty Draper’s Country Squire station wagon with a dose of nouveau riche vulgarity, thanks to the shiny latticework of the grille and the chrome dubs mounted at all 4 corners.

The 5.4L modular V8 isn’t a bad powerplant, with 310 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque on tap. The biggest handicap is Ford’s 6-speed automatic, which felt like an antiquated 4-speed until the spec sheet shed light on the extra two gears. On minor inclines, the transmission hunted for gears repeatedly, and kickdowns were slow and clumsy. With the 2WD setting engaged, I saw a whopping 10 mpg in the city and that’s with conservative throttle applications. $100 was barely enough to fill the Lincoln’s gargantuan gas tank. On brief highway drives, window noise seemed excessive for a luxury vehicle, and it seemed to come through the A-Pillar much like it would on an economy car. The Navigator handles as expected – tracking solidly in a straight line, soaking up bumps efficiently, feeling top-heavy but stable during directional changes.

Ford’s SYNC system with an in-dash touch screen was standard, and the system seems to have a fair number of bugs and glitches worked out. The THX certified stereo sounded crisp at high volumes, and rap music had just the right amount of obnoxious bass to render the music clear and audible to pedestrians who scowled at me while they walked past. A back-up camera and front and rear park assist systems helped maneuver the Navigator into tight spaces, a boon for soccer moms who may take the Navigator to gentrified urban neighborhoods designed before the mass adoption of the automobile.

The best place to be in a Navigator is the back seat. There’s ample room for your person in both the second and third row, though truck space is severely compromised unless the third row is folded. Luckily, there are power folding systems for the last two seats, and a power tailgate option when you’re finished.

When the Navigator first debuted, car magazines still came with mail-away cards for customers to order brochures. What a quaint notion. Even sales of the once-mighty Escalade are in the toilet, as consumers move away from profligate body-on-frame SUVs to the  car-based CUV. As an ironic novelty, the Navigator might be acceptable as a potential purchase, but I just can’t fathom why one would buy this over an Expedition (if they needed to tow a boat) or any number of crossovers out there that are better than the Navigator in every objective area. The Range Rover, an equally ostentatious (and much better engineered) vehicle has stolen the title of the official vehicle of gauche showoffs from both the Navigator and it’s Cadillac counterpart. The Navigator isn’t likely to die any time soon, as it’s a great source of profit for Ford. Ironically, for a vehicle so clearly engineered in the dreadful pre-Mulally era of Ford, the Navigator arguably has the strongest and most unique identity within Lincoln’s otherwise uninspiring lineup. Maybe keeping it around isn’t such a bad thing after all?

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Review: 2012 Porsche Cayman R PDK Thu, 02 Feb 2012 20:43:10 +0000
The Cayman R: lowered, lightened, loudened. A track-day special with carbon-fibre race buckets, featherweight alloy wheels and red seatbelts.

All right you hosers, here’s how we review a car like that in Canada.

Now, some of you may be somewhat alarmed that the increasing whiff o’ maple sizzurp around the TTAC offices these days might lead to changes on the site. The Truth Aboot Cars, in which you can expect to find articles like, “Horns: is there a politer solution?” and “How to keep beavers from eating your Morgan Plus-8.”

Tell those concerns to take off, eh? Besides our enormous reserves of lumber, fresh water, oil, uranium and floppy-haired teen idols, Canada has much to offer. In this particular case, it’s the perfect environment for some proper cold weather testing.

But why go through the sheer lunacy of putting a because-race-car like the Cayman R on ice? What does it matter what Usain Bolt runs in the 100m if he’s shod in snowshoes?

Simple. Porsche wants us to.

There’s spin here, at least up North. Porsche is marketing its sports cars as all-weather sleds; as adroit at arctic conditions as they are at apex-clipping.

What better PR pic than a Peridot green Cayman R surrounded by winter wonderland; a bright-green jewel popping out of a snowy backdrop. Better yet, how better to show that all your models are ultra-capable than by slapping Blizzaks on your latest hardcoreish offering and handing the keys over to some ham-fisted bozo?

Speaking as said ham-fisted bozo, I’m not bothered at all by the why. At some point, we’re sure to see a proper on-track dynamic assessment of the Cayman R, hopefully by our not-by-any-stretch-of-the-imagination-tame racing driver but for now, it’s an opportunity to test an interesting car in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

First, what does this snot-rocket’s R designation do, other than appeal to the highly specific Buccaneer track-day enthusiast niche? Porsche might have you thinking it’s a ‘geers-gone-wild special in the vein of the BMW M-Coupe, but the R is a comparatively moderate collection of tweaks.

The suspension has been lowered 20mm. Aluminum doors and other minor dieting mean the fully stripped out version has been lightened by 120lbs (my tester’s PDK and optional A/C adds back on 55lbs and 33lbs respectively). The 3.4L flat-six gets a moderate 10hp bump, mostly from a freer-flowing exhaust and mild tuning. This is a Cayman turned up to 10.5, not 11.

The pushmi-pullyu styling of the Cayman has always been a bit of a head-scratcher for me. With its swollen haunches, the 911 is a fertility idol; in contrast, a Cayman resembles an ergonomic cordless mouse. But the R….

Fixed wing, big wheels, dropped stance, retro-lettered flanks – the Cayman R is a licence to kill your licence. Might I also suggest that Peridot be changed to Yes Officer Green, as in, “Yes officer? Sideways you say? I’m sure I would have remembered that…”

Further appealing lack of subtlety extends into the interior of the Cayman R. Here we find non-reclining carbon-fibre buckets that make ingress tricky and egress spastic, even if you’re a yoga instructor. Forget about giving a lift to someone in a skirt, or a traditionally-dressed Scottish person.

The aforementioned red seatbelts add a frisson of Sentra SE-R Spec-V to the cabin, and then there’re those indescribably stupid door pulls.

Yes, they’re the same ones you get on a GT2 RS. No, it isn’t going to impress anyone when you point out that they’re for weight savings. Fabric door-pulls on a car that’s got cupholders and a CD-storage area is just plain silly. Also, after 6000 miles of use, these ones were getting a bit ratty-looking.

The Cayman R might be flashily attractive, but it’s not going to woo the ladies (or laddies). Unless, that is, you hand over the keys.

Oh, what a fantastic car! What a machine! What a Porsche!

Go ahead, Stuttgart. Build nine versions of the Panamera, and turn 80% of factory production over to pumping out Cayennes for the Chinese market and cancel the sub-Boxster in favour of yet another damn cute-ute, I don’t care. Just keep building this car right here, and all sins are forgiven by the blessed intercession of Our Lady Of Acceleration.

They called it R, they might have called it CS or GTS, or just plain S+, but the nomenclature and the interior contradictions and the eye-searing paint are instantly forgotten as you guide this Cayman out onto the twisting tarmac. The steering is perfect. The soundtrack is flat-6 by John Williams. Flick it into Sport and everything feels fizzy and alive and electric and wonderful.

I don’t even mind the PDK. Granted, to my stone-age way of thinking, a manual-transmission is still preferable for that last crumb of full involvement, but it’s no longer the difference between, say, vinyl and MP3. The difference in experiencing the Cayman R in manual or PDK is equivalent to seeing the band live, or sitting in on their studio recording session. Charming flaws or exquisite perfection: you choose.

Words fail me. I cannot describe to you how truly excellent the Cayman R is short of ten paragraphs of holding down the “!”-key. It is soooo good….

In the dry.

And here we come to the fly in the ointment. Yes, (finally) Porsche is letting its mid-engined wunderkind off ze chain, unleashing its true tarmac potential. Unfortunately, the R’s personality is Dr. Stig-yll and Mr. Slide.

I had the car for an entire week, and got one dry day. The rest of the time it was the usual torrential Vancouver downpour that crushes the spirit and has you wondering if you oughtn’t start gathering the animals two-by-two. In these conditions, the Cayman R surprised me.

It’s not a handful by any means: the chassis is so composed and predictable that any slippage can easily be caught. There just isn’t any grip at the rear.

Maybe it’s the Blizzaks, maybe its the fact that, as we all know, I’m not our resident race-car driver. But under perfectly neutral throttle, curving on-ramps cause the Cayman R’s back end to step out at surprisingly low speed. Having the sport button engaged makes it nearly impossible to get away from a stop without crabbing sideways and engaging traction control. Same thing for low-speed right-angle turns.

Is all this sideways-action fun? Yes, sort of. But it’s not very fast and, based on personal experience, accidentally dorifto’ing past your elderly neighbours in a bright green sports car with “2 CAYMAN” vanity plates makes you feel like a complete Delta Bravo.

Taking the R up the looping road to a local ski hill to try it in the snow was a good core workout, but only because of all the clenching. If you have never been passed by a flume-throwing full-size Range Rover at seventy-five miles-per-hour, in a corner, inches from a concrete barrier, may I perhaps not recommend it to you?

And then, to compound things, the passenger-side windshield wiper stopped functioning. No biggie, as it turned out, just a loose nut, but not really the sort of thing a newish car does if it’s all-weather capable.

So how did it do in the snow? Irrelevant, excepting I didn’t get stuck. Yes, you can drive a Cayman R in the snow, but as Chris Rock pointed out, you can also fly an airplane with your feet: that don’t make it a good idea. Buy a TT-RS, buy an EVO, buy an STi and take it to COBB.

Or, buy a Cayman R, and treat it like a proper sportscar. Don’t bother with the A/C and sound packages, just option the Sport Chrono and the cornering lights. Forget the snows, buy some proper R-Comps and get yourself some good driver instruction.

On the very last day with the R, I came out to find that the morning’s light showers had stopped, and that there would be dry tarmac for the short drive into downtown to drop it off. The fifteen-minute trip from the North Shore through Vancouver proper isn’t a winding country road or a race-track. The way is clogged with harried rush-hour traffic, and local drivers aren’t going to be nice to a green Porsche with Ontario plates.

But when the flat-six thrummed to life, I knew I would be taking the longest route I could figure out, and that half-hour drive was, without question, the highlight of my day.

In summation: it’s fast, it’s flawed, I loved it, so will you. Just, y’know, move someplace sunny.

Porsche provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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Review: 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 Wed, 23 Nov 2011 16:00:39 +0000 When you’re a 24 Hours of LeMons judge, it’s expected that you’ll roll up to the track in a righteous Judgemobile. Perhaps it’s a fenderless, three-wheeled Amazon, or maybe it’s a woodie Roadmaster… Sometimes, though, you need to call up a car manufacturer’s PR flack and get something new and shiny, then stand by helplessly as it gets T-boned by some LeMons racer’s runaway Winnebago see how the budget-challenged racer crowd responds to its presence. The ’11 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid Judgemobile was sort of terrible (though it did have great presence) so this time I decided I’d spend the race weekend with a manly, tire-smokin’ V8-powered vehicle that ought to make heartland American car freaks— for example, the sort we get at the Showroom-Schlock Shootout LeMons in Illinois— start chanting teary-eyed Pledges of Allegiance to a fiery sky full of imaginary F-111s. That would be the Challenger SRT8, of course, in Vanishing Point white.
So, I called up the Chrysler flack: “Hey, Giuseppe,” I didn’t say, “Remember all the nice stuff I wrote about your cutesy little Euro-eco-socialist commuter car? You owe me, paisan’! Now gimme something worthy of a real American, and make sure there’s a goddamn Hemi under the hood. Capisce?
So, next thing I know there’s a couple of heavies with wafer-thin watches and suspicious suit bulges handing over this baby at Midway Airport. Of course, the whole Italian schtick fell apart for me the moment it occurred to me that the Challenger’s chassis ancestry goes all the way back to the Renault 25 (via an illustrious Eagle Premier/LH platform/LX platform lineage), with a bunch of Mercedes-Benz W210 and W220 suspension bits thrown into the mix. Chrysler, AMC, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, maybe even a bit of hidden Mitsubishi genetic material here and there— I’m liking the Challenger already!
It’s a good-looking machine, though I could rant for endless paragraphs about the psychological-voodoo/no-doubt-focus-grouped-to-death reasoning behind the choice of the E-Body Challenger as the inspiration for this car’s appearance.
Chrysler never really had a true head-to-head competitor with the original Mustang and Camaro, great as the original A-body-based Barracuda was. It doesn’t matter, because Plymouth’s demise meant the Barracuda nameplate was off the table, so the current Mustang/Camaro rival would have to grab its retro-ized look from the fatter, sales-failure E-body. The ace in the hole was the hagiographic Vanishing Point, which managed to cast the Challenger in a role symbolizing the individual’s victory over The Man’s oppression, breaking the downward-spiral sense of Vietnam-War-fueled American diminished expectations that led to the Malaise Era… or something like that. Freedom.
Personally, I think Vanishing Point‘s brush strokes are far too broad to really capture that early-70s proto-Malaise sense (though the chase scenes are pretty damn cool); Two-Lane Blacktop, also released in 1971, does a much better job. OK, meandering historio-cinematic digression over— let’s talk about now.
I suppose I’m a member of the target demographic for this thing; I got my first driver’s license in 1982, which was the Golden Age for cheap Detroit muscle in California, and the car stuff from Dazed and Confused might as well have been a documentary about the street-race-obsessed car culture at my high school. Battered-but-fast 10-to-15-year-old big-block Chevelles and Satellites and Fairlanes could be had for not much more than a grand. Back then, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to buy a new Cutlass 442 or Super Bee… and now Detroit can sell me the much faster, much better-built 21st-century version.
Right. So, what does this car do best? Burnouts! In all of my many years blowing the treads off junkyard bias-plies and rental-car rubber, I never experienced any vehicle that makes perfect, totally controlled burnouts anywhere near as easy as this car does. I’m willing to bet cash money that Chrysler’s engineers made this feature a design priority, and they deserve a healthy bonus for succeeding so admirably. This car had the automatic transmission, which made burnouts easier, but I have a feeling that the manual-trans car has no problem in that department. I also tried some hard drag-style launches and the car hooked up quite well; it wouldn’t be much of a trick to knock out some good dragstrip passes in this machine.
Seriously, you can create elaborate burnout novels with the Challenger SRT8… character development, climax, resolution, the works. The folks at Autobahn Country Club were kind enough to let me use their skidpad for a tire-smokin’ photograph session, and the clouds of tire smoke completely obscured the entire paddock, a quarter-mile downwind. I heard later that the smogged-out LeMons racers were cheering the car’s amazing burnout performance, and several were heard to state that they’d be visiting their nearest Dodge dealership and shopping for Challengers as soon as the race was over.
Unfortunately, the Challenger-as-Judgemobile got upstaged by a far superior Showroom-Schlock Shootout Judgemobile. Let’s face it: when a LeMons judge gets the choice between a 2012 Challenger SRT8 and a Reliant Super Robin for leading the penalty parade, there is no choice but to take the Reliant.
We did put both of them on the track as co-pace cars, which I feel certain is the first time a Robin and a Challenger have served together in that role.
Judge Sam agreed with me that the Challenger SRT8 was far nicer for real-world driving duties (i.e., driving between the hotel and the race track) than the Escalade Platinum had been. So, burnouts aside, how is it to drive?
The front seats are very comfortable and the quality of materials in the interior is quantum leaps ahead of the “unfit for human consumption” interiors that so horrified Sergio Marchionne. The suspension did a fine, Renault/Mercedes-Benz-style job of smoothing out the Stalingradian pothole-O-rama road surfaces in Chicago and Joliet. I’m sure I could take one of these things on an exurban-edge-city commute for hours every day and feel pretty good about the ride and comfort.
Granted, it’s something of an ergonomic disaster. You can’t see diddly-squat behind you, with the vast C pillars creating maddeningly huge blind spots. Your hands obscure the turn-signal indicators when they’re on the steering wheel. The back seat is all but useless; maybe it could hold a couple of small adults, but you won’t be able to get them into the seats in the first place (I gave up even on putting my LeMons Supreme Court bribe booze in the back seat, opting instead for the trunk). The lid for the center-console storage compartment can’t be operated by human hands.
The controls for the navigation/audio features are frustratingly unintuitive, with the lengthy response time for input that seems to be the norm for automotive computer interfaces. Why a $90 cellphone made by Malaysian sweatshop inmates can produce instant results from four memory-hog applications simultaneously while a simple choice of song title brings a $48,000 car’s computer to its knees is beyond me.
But who gives a shit about nickel/dime irritants like that? Not me! More burnouts!
In fact, I should be reviewing this automobile for the pages of Gnarly Burnout Magazine. Wooooooooooo!
Detroit has really lost its way in some areas over the last few decades, but not when it comes to V8 engines. GM and Chrysler are making some miraculously good pushrod V8s these days, and this 392-cubic-inch/470-horsepower powerplant isn’t even a member of the same species as the rough-idling, non-cold-starting, clattery, single-digit-MPG relics of the so-called Muscle Car Golden Age. This engine starts up instantly, idles in most civilized fashion, manages highway fuel mileage well into the 20s… and manages to drag a two-ton-plus car down the quarter-mile in under 13 seconds.
Speaking of tons, the big-block ’70 Challenger scaled in at nearly 3,800 pounds, so we can’t be too hard on the ’12 SRT8 version for weighing more than 4,200 pounds. Still, I can’t help but think of the two ways in which Chrysler might have built The Greatest Mopar Of All Freakin’ Time instead of a flawed-but-lovable burnout-king commuter car. The first way would have been to put this engine in a car weighing 2,900 pounds. We can all think of a dozen reasons why this could never happen, but just imagine it.
The other way would have been to use the 1971 Plymouth Satellite instead of the ’70 Challenger as retro-inspiration, bringing the Plymouth marque out of retirement if necessary. I’d buy one right now.
Image source: Old Car Brochures
As for handling and brakes and all that stuff them decadent Yurpeans seem to care about so much, I didn’t get a chance to take the Challenger out on the Autobahn CC road course, nor did I pound it at 11/10ths on the mean streets of Joliet. It seemed perfectly competent at my usual 3/10ths pace. Anyway, you don’t buy this car for going around corners, commie (though Baruth managed to do pretty well with the ’11 at Infineon).
The LeMons Supreme Court decided that there was one way in which the Challenger made a superior Judgemobile: as the centerpiece of the Hair Of The Dog Air Guitar Penalty. Miscreant drivers were required to air-guitar their way through the entirety of Nazarath’s Challenger-centric Hair of the Dog, while waving a large American flag.

Look upon our works, wannabe superpowers, and despair.
Nazareth, a Hemi, and “AMERICAN MADE” tattooed on your back. Chrysler should hire this guy as their spokesman.
As for the quality of the little bits and pieces in out-of-the-way places, all the connectors and fasteners that I could find looked to be several notches above the quality of the parts I’ve seen in Chrysler products of a few years back. It appears that the days of the sub-low-bidder vendors may be over.
There were a few mildly flaky touches, such as this Neon-style weatherstrip seam, but nothing that felt like it was about to snap off in one’s hand.
The verdict: On the one-dimensional side, well-built, engine absolutely top notch. Would make a good real-world daily driver. King of the Smoky Burnouts.

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Review: 1989 Ford Taurus SHO (LeMons Racer) Sat, 04 Dec 2010 16:34:28 +0000

A top speed of over 140mph. Zero to sixty in less than 7 seconds. A composed suspension and jellybean-sleek sheet metal that still looks handsome after all these decades. That’s the 1989 Ford Taurus SHO, but Sergio Perfetti’s example is more than the sum of its historically relevant parts. And not just because it’s won two consecutive endurance races in the 24 Hours of LeMons on a $500 budget.

This LeMon-y SHO is never trailered and 100% street legal, with current Texas tags to prove it. Adding insult to injury, this SHO passed two LeMons Judges staff on the way to the track, cruise control set at 80+MPH. Why so fast? It has a full complement of creature comforts: heating and ventilation, power windows, a heavily padded race seat and a complete dashboard. Wear a cool suit (LINK:, hit the road and this Taurus not only lives up to it’s billing as the “Car That Saved Ford”, it’s SHOs (sorry) why Alan Mulally’s sees the original Taurus as case study for his turnaround plans.

Once the aged mechanical bits are fully sorted out. Starting off as a project car that sat for years in a backyard with a tree through its windshield, Sergio’s SHO has seen mechanical failures aplenty, but (most of) that is in the past. Perhaps the Taurus gets better with age?

The answer is both obvious, and not. Given the Yamaha V6’s reasonable (220hp) power, somewhat accurate gearbox and no Big Brother nannies, this SHO is fun on Road or Track. But here’s the kicker, it has the “good” stuff missing after 1989: heavy (but vague on-center) steering and an imposing rear anti-roll bar. Like every non-Mustang Ford since Don Peterson’s tenure, those not interested in understeering off the road must buy the Dearborn’s initial public offerings for true hoonability.

Not all was perfect in 1989. The LeMons SHO grabbed the larger front brakes from the 1993 Lincoln Mark VIII. There are race-spec pads, a NACA duct for the intake, larger wheels with (LeMons-spec) street tires, a quartet of used aftermarket shocks along with that heavy roll cage. But these changes don’t detract from the experience of cruising down the highway, windows down, on a summer afternoon in a…Taurus.

Which I did through the first three gears at full-tilt, reaching speeds far superior to most (cheaty) LeMons cars of the non-V8 persuasion. But too bad the SHO’s performance is merely admirable by today’s 250+hp family car standards. While third pedal’s long travel implied there was a paper-thin clutch afoot, the LeMons SHO had no problem passing SUVs on the highway. Blip the throttle, do a quick 5-3 downshift and whiz by. But do try and wave to the SHO’s adoring fans, as a raced prepped Taurus is rare on public roads, turning as many heads as a Ford GT. Just not for the same reasons, so smile extra big to compensate.

Back to the heart of the matter: handling. Unless you need active handling nannies as a CYA measure, the LeMons SHO is easy for anyone to drive. Mid-corner torque steer is minimal (yes, really) and triggering understeer is difficult in urban driving. I took a few clean curves and was impressed with the SHO’s flatness going in, and sheer rev-ability on the way out. I was delighted by its composure in early apex and heavy throttle situations: in plain English, drive like a moron and/or attempt to pass in a corner and the LeMons SHO won’t kill you.

Which equates to a nose that pushes when pushed, but adds the reassurance of trailing-throttle oversteer when needed. In LeMons speak, the SHO has the grunt of V8 muscle cars, but induces oversteer when you lift off the throttle, not the other way around. Which has distinct safety advantages in this zero-barriers-to-entry, positively looney Motorsport series.

I should reiterate: this SHO won two LeMons races in a row, using (mostly) OEM-spec parts and without the benefit of a trailer. Credit Sergio and his sharp-witted yet modest team. They, like any SHO owner, know when the stock 18-gallon fuel tank needs a pit stop, and are one of the sharpest crews around. That explains the multiple top ten finishes on track, and the number of well wishers in the pits.

While LeMons is full of cheaters, my SHO experiences over the years failed me, as I cannot find anything “cheaty” on this Taurus. Considering the amount of money spent to R&D a screamin’ sports sedan for daily commuting demands, it makes sense. The 1989 Taurus SHO is still an attitude adjusting, benchmark beating sweetheart. Adding a bunch of nice guys to this SHOroom (sorry) stock Ford sedan and it makes sense: reliably winning on the track over two decades after the Taurus’ introduction is a multi-generational homerun. When Detroit does something right they really, really nail it.

Sergio Perfetti provided the vehicle reviewed, and more of Tony G’s Taurus photoshoot is here

Readers who follow TTAC on Facebook had the opportunity to ask questions about the LeMons SHO. If you would like to ask questions of reviews in progress, check out our Facebook page. Fans, here are your answers:

Patrick: Racing brake pads aside, LeMons teams insist that regular maintenance is all you need, on a more frequent basis. Tony: Passengers have plenty of legroom, they merely lack a seat. TTAC’s Steven Lang: if you like well-done engine hot dogs, because it’s on track for at least an hour at a time. TTAC’s Megan Benoit: If I can pick up a chick in this Bull, I will marry her on the spot.

977533110_ccmaj-L Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail 979157296_4yUbq-L SHOing up is half the battle.... 977536711_qbB9G-L 1014431320_NXXnZ-L

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