The Truth About Cars » Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 15:28:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Why We May Not See The Next Ford Taurus, But China Will http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/why-we-may-not-see-the-next-for-taurus-but-china-will/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/why-we-may-not-see-the-next-for-taurus-but-china-will/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:22:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776209 2010_Ford_Taurus_Limited_2_--_10-31-2009

According to some outlets, the 2016 Ford Taurus will be both quicker and lighter than the outgoing car. That’s news to us here at TTAC – last we heard, the Taurus wasn’t even slated for North America.

Reeports by Edmunds and other outlets are claiming that the next Taurus will ditch the heavy, antiquated Volvo-based platform in favor of Ford’s more modern CD architecture that underpins the Fusion, the upcoming Ford Edge and other models. This is technically true.

Back in the spring of 2013, our sources told us that a CD-based Taurus was under development, but promptly sent to the garbage dump after its design bombed its consumer clinics. Marketing brass at Ford decided to kill the Taurus, due to dissatisfaction with the way it looked, and the sales volumes the Taurus generated. Given the accuracy of our sources regarding the F-150 and its aluminum construction, as well as the 2015 Mustang, we are inclined to believe them.

Ironically, Taurus sales have grown by nearly 20 percent over the past two years, despite a shrinking full-size car market. But the long-term trend suggests that larger sedans (what’s considered mid-size, as well as full-size) will undergo a contraction in sales, as CUVs take a bigger bite out of the segment.

The full-size sedan market is heavily weighted towards fleet sales, and with the Fusion outselling the Taurus by a roughly 4:1 ratio, it’s understandable that Ford would not want to renew the Taurus for another model cycle. Other considerations, like the Taurus being a drag on Ford’s CAFE ratings (remember, large cars get punished under CAFE, whereas trucks don’t) and the stronger sales of the Explorer Police Interceptor may give the Taurus-killers some more ammo.

One place where the Taurus could survive is in China. Ford is already planning a large Lincoln flagship, codenamed GOBI. Based on the CD architecture and targeted at Chinese business consumers by emphasizing rear seat comfort and amenities, GOBI will replace what we know as the Lincoln MKS in both China and the United States. Our source thinks that a new Taurus, twinned with GOBI, could be a possibility for China – but its future in America is in doubt.

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Review: 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 14:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=698417 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior

In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW as the German alternative to Toyota and Chevrolet. This left a gaping hole in the market for shoppers looking to step into a European near-luxury vehicle that flew under the radar. And then Buick stepped in.Buick’s Opel-based product offensive has transformed the brand from Barcalounger wheels for the octogenarian, to a window into the soul of GM’s German brand. This transformation isn’t an easy one as Buick’s problem wasn’t just blue-haired buyers and slinky-soft springs. Buick is the penultimate middle child. Jammed between Chevrolet and Cadillac, brand B’s mission is to give Chevy buyers something to aspire to and Cadillac buyers something to graduate from.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When you say “Regal GS” my mind immediately leaps to the fourth-generation Regal (2nd generation W-body) with the supercharged 3.8L V6. When I was car shopping in 2000 I dearly wanted a Regal GS but there were two problems: Buick’s grandmotherly image and the price tag. As a result I bought an entirely different old person car: a Chrysler LHS. But I digress. This GS is an entirely different beast. Buick’s latest middle child is none other than Opel’s largest sedan, the Insignia. Refreshed for the 2014 model year, the differences between the Insignia and the Regal are most pronounced on the exterior where a Buick waterfall grille and logo have been inserted into the same opening as the Opel and ventiports have been added to the hood. And… that’s about it.

Two things are obvious when looking at the Buick Regal: it was designed in Europe and it was designed to to be both a Buick and an Opel from the start. Rather than looking out of place (like the Chrysler 300 to Lancia Thema transition) the Regal looks “meant to be.” Although the Regal is related to the Chevy Malibu, there’s essentially no exterior resemblance. The Regal GS I spent a week in gets the tweaked front and rear bumpers from Opel’s Insigia OPC model which ditches the foglamps for extra ventilation and integrates the exhaust tips into the rear bumper cover. Circling back around to those ventiports: I still think they look silly, but thankfully the Regal has the right number (four) and they are smaller and less conspicuously placed than on other Buick models I could mention.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003

Interior

2014 brings a new interior to the Regal based around a standard 8-inch touchscreen and new center console. Although you will still find a few hard plastics in the cabin, overall materials quality has improved and is firmly competitive with the Volkswagen CC, Audi A4 and Acura TL. Most cabin touch points feel more premium than the more expensive Lexus ES but the Volvo S60/S80 still lead the segment. Non-GS shoppers can opt for a handsome two-tone interior that combines a brown steering wheel and upper dash with a light grey/tan seats and carpet which would be my preference. GS models however are stuck with a very Germanic black-on-black theme. Part of the GS package is an 8-inch LCD instrument cluster and a chunkier steering wheel with sport grips, soft leather and a flat bottom. The disco dash is not as configurable as Chrysler’s 7-inch unit but the graphics are more modern and the system allows you full access to your media device, something uConnect still lacks.

For reasons unknown Buick chose not to borrow the Recaro seats found in the Insignia OPC, opting instead for more aggressively bolstered versions of the standard seat design. This may be because Buick owners are less likely to need the 5-point harness design, but it is most likely because we Americans are fatter so fewer of us would fit in the narrow seats. My 6-foot and slightly overweight frame fit snugly and comfortably in the front seats but the ceiling in the rear of the Regal proved too low for me to sit without cocking my head to the side. The lack of rear seat headroom was disappointing because the Regal offers several inches more rear leg room than the RWD Cadillac ATS and CTS and three inches more than the Volvo S60 and S80.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link

Infotainment

Like the LaCrosse, the Regal and the Opel Insignia now uses a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE. For reasons I don’t understand however, Buick doesn’t get Opel’s interesting touchpad with “finger writing” recognition that Opel has been advertising across the pond. I’m guessing this is so that Buick doesn’t step on Cadillac’s toes. Compared to CUE there are a few other changes for Buick-duty. The expensive glass capacitive touchscreen (looks like a modern smartphone) is swapped for a resistive unit that isn’t as crisp or as glare reducing and we have physical buttons for some system features, a marked improvement over Cadillac’s touchscreen only interface. Aside from these charges, the majority of CUE remains.

Like Ford’s MyFord Touch system, IntelliLink is sluggish in general and sometimes totally unresponsive. The software also suffers from unintuitive menu layouts and old-school mapping software that doesn’t jive with the system’s high-resolution screen. Like CUE, some multi-touch gestures are supported, but the different touchscreen is less able to decipher your intent leading to some frustrating moments. On the bright side, CUE’s selling points remain. The system’s voice command system features natural language commands and instead of treating the USB ports as separate inputs, the system aggregates them into one large music library allowing you to voice command songs without specifying the device.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001

Drivetrain

Nestled sideways under the hood is the same 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine that the Cadillac ATS and CTS use. Good for 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of twist, this is the same engine that you find in the “regular Regal.” That’s right, no longer does “GS” stand for “more power.” This means the GS looses 11 ponies vs 2013 but the turbo Regal gains 39 vs 2013. To differentiate things, GM does alter the torque curve to deliver all 295 twists at 2,500 RPM instead of 3,000 in the non-GS model. GM hasn’t completely ruled out the 325 horse 2.8L twin-turbo V6 the Insignia OPC uses for the American market, but I’d call it a long shot.

GS shoppers can choose either a 6-speed manual transaxle or a 6 speed automatic, but if you want the optional Haldex AWD system you’re forced to select the auto.  Although the GS uses the same AWD system as the regular Regal AWD, the engineers tossed in an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential. GS trims also bump the suspension up a notch by combining GM’s HiPer Strut technology with active dampers on all four corners. The suspension offers three modes: normal, sport and GS. The feel ranges from European family sedan to firm.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001

Drive

GM’s HiPer Strut suspension is designed to bring the steering axis more in line with the tire centerline, something you typically find in rear-wheel drive cars. Aligning the axis more closely results in better tracking, less torque steer and a front tire with a more consistent camber across the suspension’s travel. Versus the outgoing model, the front tires contact patch is improved in corners when the front suspension is loaded resulting in higher grip. Coupled with an AWD system that sends 50% of the power to the rear under hard acceleration, we get the first Buick in a long time with virtually zero torque steer.

The downside to the trendy new steering knuckle design is feel. Steering is very precise but suffers from the same Novocaine-laced feedback as everything else out there with electric power steering. Despite a 58/42 F/R weight distribution, the Regal GS has impeccable manners up to 9/10ths, where it starts to lose composure. Trouble is, without steering feedback it’s hard to tell where 9/10ths is located. In contrast, the Volvo S60 T6 AWD and S80 T6 AWD offer less grip but more feel.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007

Driving a FWD Regal back to back with our AWD tester, I kept thinking “there’s just something I dislike about the FWD model”. As it turns out, there is a reason the FWD Regal felt unsettled in the rear over broken pavement, the AWD model gets an entirely different “H-Link” independent rear suspension. Coupled with the active dampers, the Regal felt well composed on a variety of road surfaces despite being tuned firmer than the rest of the American and Swedish competition. Rather than being the softest entry in the segment, the GS is among the firmer.

Put your foot to the floor and the GS will run to 60 in 6.7 seconds, exactly the same as the W-Body Regal GS I remember with fond memories. The difference is, the W-Body’s torque steer made the car feel like it was part car, part carnival ride. The 2014 model tracks straight and true with zero drama all the way to a 15.2 second 1/4 mile. Stacking this up with the competition, the Regal is notably slower than the Cadillac CTS/ATS 2.0T and Volvo’s S60 T5 AWD; and a hair slower than the 3.7L Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES 350 and Acura TL. Despite similar power figures, the Volvo ran to 60 nearly 7/10ths faster which caused me to question my numbers. However, a loaner provided by a local dealer confirmed my findings. The reason seems rooted both in the GS’ gear ratios and the more advantageous torque curve from Volvo’s funky 5-cylinder.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010

At $37,830 starting, $40,195 with AWD and $44,975 full-loaded, the Regal undercuts the Volvo S60 T5 AWD and Acura TL by a couple thousand across the board (comparably equipped) and is more than $5,000 cheaper than the Lexus ES depending on your configuration. The Acura TL is in its final year of production and is, as you would assume, outclassed by the Regal in most ways. The recently refreshed Volvo delivers better road feel and a slightly more premium interior at the expense of more cash and less grip. The Lexus ES suffers from soft springs, an uncompetitive interior and steep price tag.

Over 611 miles I managed a reasonable 22.1 MPG in the GS which bests the real-world numbers from the V6 competition but comes short of the turbo Caddy and Swede. Why do I keep coming back to Cadillac? Because as hard as GM has tried to keep Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac from stepping on each other’s toes, the Regal GS is about the same price as the 2014 Cadillac ATS. It’s hard enough to go up against what is probably the second best vehicle GM has ever produced, but it is made doubly hard when there are so many combined Buick/Cadillac dealers. This means you’ll frequently find the Regal GS next to a sharp handling Caddy is on the same lot. Trickier still is the base Cadillac CTS which is slightly cheaper than a loaded GS, and, you guessed it: is often parked right next to the Buick.  Buick seems to have finally gotten the hang of being the middle child and in the process they have given not only Chevy owners but Volkswagen owners something to aspire to. That said, I’d be hard pressed to choose the Regal over an ATS 2.0T.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.67 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15.2 Seconds @ 93 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG over 611 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68.5 dB @ 50 MPH

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-006 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-008 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-009 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-011 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-012 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-013 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk-001 ]]>
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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683986 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior

For many Americans, the words “Ford Fiesta” dredges up memories of a claustrophobic rattle-trap competing with “Geo Metro” for the title of Worst American Small Car. Personally, the only time I ever wanted a fiesta was during a drunken weekend in Cabo, and it had more to do with tequila than cars. But that was four years ago and 214,000 Fiestas ago. Since then the Fiesta has proved that an American car company is capable of creating a desirable compact car. Is the party over, or is the car’s first refresh a sign that the party has just begun? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

After being on the market for just four years I hadn’t expected much for 2014 which makes me all the more impressed with the Fiesta’s transformation. Ford’s new “Astonesque” grille which debuted on the new Fusion turned the plain-Jane family hauler into one of the sexiest cars Ford has ever made, and Ford indicated the look was going to trickle down the lineup. I was worried. You see, when a new nose is penned for a new cars, and the existing line-up is modified to accept the new schnozz, you end up with something like the questionable looking Lexus GX 460. Fear not , Ford didn’t just paint on a their trapezoidal grille, they poked and prodded the hood and lamps as well until things looked right, and right they do. The launch photos looked impressive but the final product was even better in person.

It’s hard to avoid Aston Martin Cygnet references so I’ll just say it now: add some hood louvres and a leather dash and Ford’s compact would be more Aston than the iQ based Cygnet. Paired with the new nose, is a tweaked rear end featuring new tail lamps. The only downside in my mind is that the minor nip/tuck to the rear fails to bring the Fiesta’s rump up to the same level as the front. Park the Fiesta nose first in your driveway, and nobody will notice. But back it in, and passers-by are likely to be impressed. As before there is a considerable difference in dimensions between the sedan and the hatchback with the sedan being a whopping 13-inches longer. Thanks to that length, the sedan looks less like a caricature than it would otherwise.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006

Interior

Four years ago I praised the Fiesta’s interior as class leading in terms of materials choices and fit/finish. That largely remains true despite the Fiesta undercutting the Kia Rio in price. That’s not to say the Fiesta is a revolution, but compared to the hard plastics in the competition, the Fiesta looks and feels more premium. The injection molded dashboard, refreshed steering wheel and seats would not be out of place in the slightly larger compact car category. I found our tester’s black-on-black interior somewhat cold while the lighter interiors available on my local Ford lot were warmer, more attractive and showed off the optional ambient lighting better. (The upper half of dashboard is black on all models.) Helping the Fiesta’s new “premium compact” theme is ability to add real leather seats as opposed to the “leatherette” you find in all but the Kia Rio. Dominating the dashboard in our tester was Ford’s downsized MyFord Touch infotainment system, lower trim levels get a revised SYNC display nestled in a similar binnacle. As you’d expect with any car starting at $14,100, base “S” trim cars suffer severe de-contenting with manual windows, no dome lights, no ambient lighting, only one 12V outlet and no cruise control. This is an important distinction as the majority of the competition feel like upper trim levels are base models with do-dads added.

The front seats don’t offer much thigh or back support unless you opt for the sporty Fiesta ST with its Recaro thrones. Even the Titanium model lacks the range of motion, or support, you’ll find in most mid-sized sedans and power seats are not an option at any price. Even so, the Fiesta’s seats are among the more comfortable in the class. Finding an ideal driving position is easy thanks to a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Rear seat passengers encounter the same firm padding in the sedan or hatchback, and essentially the same amount of headroom with the sedan form factor taking only a 1/10th of an inch toll and ranking near top of the class. Sadly however, the Euro origins are clear when it comes to rear legroom. The Fiesta trails here, and not by a small amount. The Sonic and Rio offer three 3-inches more while the Versa Note is a whopping 7.1-inches more spacious. Likewise, cargo hauling ability of 12.8 cubes in the sedan and 15.4 in the hatchback are on the smaller end of the spectrum.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004

Infotainment

My major gripe about the 2011 Fiesta was a lack of infotainment love. The SYNC-only 2011-2013 models used a small red display in the center of the dashboard while Kia and Nissan were offering touchscreen navigation units. To address, Ford shrunk their 8-inch MyFord Touch system down to 6.5 inches and dropped the system in a new binnacle on the dash for SE and Titanium Fiestas. Because Ford reduced the system’s dimensions, not the resolution, the system’s graphics have a crisper and high-quality look to them when compared to the 8-inch system in the Focus. There are a few ergonomic downsides however. The screen’s high position on the dash means it’s quite far from the driver requiring a decent reach for most functions and it makes the screen look smaller than it actually is. Also, because the “buttons” have shrunk, it’s easier to stab the wrong one. Thankfully most system operations can be controlled via voice commands negating the need to touch the screen for the most part. Ford’s latest software update (3.6.2 in August 2013) seems to have finally fixed the crashing and random re-boots that plagued earlier versions of the software.

Some buyers won’t care about the 6.5-inch woes as the snazzy system is standard on the Titanium, a $995 option on the SE and not available on the base model. Those shoppers will be happy to know that the Fiesta delivers one of the better audio system values. S and SE models come with six standard speakers, two more than you usually find in a stripper sub-compact, while Titanium models swap in an 8-speaker Sony branded audio system. The base speaker package is notably more crisp and accurate than the four-speaker fare in the competition while the Sony audio system sounded almost too bright at times. Both the S and SE models share the same AM/FM/CD/USB/iDevice head unit with SYNC voice commands and smartphone streaming integration.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002

Drivetrain

The big news under the hood for 2014 is the arrival of a 3-cylinder turbo option. Sadly one was not available for testing, so keep your eyes peeled for that review later in 2014. All trims get a standard 1.6L four-cylinder engine producing the same 120 HP and 112 lb-ft as last year, meaning that three-banger is optional, yes optional, for 2014. Aside from the novelty of paying $995 to have one cylinder removed, the 1.0L Ecoboost engine promises 32 MPG in the city, 45 on the highway and 37 combined which is a 7 MPG bump on the highway and 5 in the combined cycle. If the fuel economy wasn’t enough to pique your interest, the 1.0L engine cranks out 123 HP and 125 lb-ft across a flat torque curve, with a 15 second overboost good for 145 lb-ft. Ford mates the boosted engine exclusively to a 5-speed manual while the 1.6 can be mated to an optional 6-speed dual-clutch box.

Ford’s 6-speed PowerShift gearbox has received plenty of criticism from owners and Consumer Report. After talking with a number of Fiesta owners I have come to the conclusion the problem is mainly a lack of understanding. You see, PowerShift is Ford-speak for DSG. While Volkswagen’s robotic dual-clutch manual is smoother under certain circumstances (thanks to their use of wet clutches) VW seems to do a better job marketing and explaining their fuel-sipping tranny. Inside the Fiesta’s gearbox lies essentially two robotically shifted manual transmissions, one handling the even gears and the other taking the odd ones. The lack of a torque converter increases efficiency, and the twin-clutch system allows shifts to happen faster than in an automatic. By their very nature, dual-clutch transmissions feel more like a hybrid between a manual and an automatic. When you start from a stop, you can feel the clutch slip and engage. If you’re on a hill, the car will roll backwards when the hill-hold system times out. Occasionally you can hear a bit more gear noise and shifting noise than in a traditional slushbox and reverse has that distinctive sound. Because the Ford system uses dry clutches, starts are more pronounced than in VW’s DSG units with wet clutches (not all DSGs are wet clutch anymore).  2014 brings a major software update that noticeably improves shift quality but there is still a difference in feel. My opinion is: I’ll take PowerShift over a standard automatic any day as I prefer fuel economy and rapid shifts to “smoothness.” What say you?

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002

Drive

Little was done to the Euro suspension for American duty, making the Fiesta the firmest ride in the segment, tying with the Mazda 2. The Honda Fit is a close second, but the Japanese compact is starting to show its age, feeling less refined and composed over rough pavement. The Versa Note feels composed but delivers more body roll, while the Rio’s suspension feels softer than I prefer while at the same time transmitting more road imperfections to the driver’s spine. Regardless of trim, the Fiesta handles incredibly well. This is due as much to the suspension as the light curb weight. Ranging from 2537lbs to 2628lbs, the Fiesta is a featherweight in America and it shows when you toss the Ford into corners, being far more willing to change direction than a Focus.

When it comes to straight line performance, the 6-speed PowerShift scooted our tester to 60 MPH in 9.08 seconds, a full second faster than the last manual-equipped Fiesta hatchback we tested. The reason for the variation is down to the gear ratios in the 5-speed manual. Ford combined low first and second gears with a tall fifth gear (taller than the Euro Fiesta) for better hill starts and improved EPA numbers but the decisions take a toll on performance and driveability. By dropping first and second, the delta between second and third grows to an odd gap that hampers acceleration after 50 MPH while the tall top gear means frequent downshifts on moderate inclines. Although I normally prefer a manual to any automatic, the Fiesta is one of my exceptions. The PowerShift box seemed to always have the right gear for the situation and made hill climbing a much less frustrating experience.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008

The Fiesta has always been small, but the Fiestas and Festivas of my youth were mainly known for being cheap. The new Fiesta however is all about value. Ford’s new pricing strategy is a mix of an aggressive $14,100 starting price for the sedan, a $500 premium for the hatchback and an options list that pushes most Fiestas on the lot to between $17,000 and $18,000. Fully loaded, (excluding the ST) the most expensive Fiesta you can get is $21,705. My realistic starting point for the Fiesta is the SE at $15,580 which includes all the essentials the S lacks.

When you compare that to the competition, the Fiesta starts only $110 more than a Versa Note and at the top end is just $855 more than a Rio. Nissan’s Note stacks up best at the bottom of the food chain, delivering more room, better fuel economy and a similar level of equipment for less. Putting things nicely, the Mazda 2 is outclassed by the Fiesta in every way at every level, while the Kia matches the Ford closely in terms of price for content. Although the Rio is the more spacious alternative and it offers a more powerful engine and 6-speed manual, the Fiesta is more attractive and more fun to drive. Chevy’s Sonic suffers from a bargain basement interior and a price tag that doesn’t offer much of a discount vs the Ford, even when you take into account some of the features Chevy offers that aren’t available on the Fiesta.

What the Fiesta does best of all however is wear that $21,705 price tag. No matter how you slice it, the Rio, Sonic and Fit feel like an economy car at the top end of their price range. The Fiesta Titanium however feels like a decent deal for the cash. Those shopping lower in the food chain benefit from a cabin that feels like a cheap version of a more expensive cabin, unlike the Versa Note SL which feels like an expensive version of a cheap car. Plenty of you will baulk at a Fiesta that lists over 21-grand when a base Fusion is just 2000 bucks more, but those looking for mid-size sedan comforts and luxuries in a compact carrying case will do well to drive a Fiesta.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.4 Seconds

0-60:9.08 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 81.6 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPG over 561 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 72.5 db

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-011 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-012 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-013 ]]>
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Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-cadillac-cts-2-0t-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-cadillac-cts-2-0t-with-video/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=686066 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001

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

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006

Interior

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

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

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

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

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

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001

Infotainment

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

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

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

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

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

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

Drivetrain

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014

Drive

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 5.9 Seconds

1/mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 24.8 MPG over 852 Miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 67 dB

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Capsule Review: Lexus LS460 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-lexus-ls460/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-lexus-ls460/#comments Tue, 22 Oct 2013 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=631442 2013-Lexus-LS-460-2
This is the Lexus LS460, the luxury boomer that built the brand. It was the Lexus LS that launched the Automotive Battle of Hastings back in 1990, attacking the European establishment with devastating competence. The 2013 Lexus LS460 is still that great, and yes, the ride is still more Chris Craft than hardtail.

Lexus has seemed distracted. The HS250h and CT200 are not surprise success stories, but predictable failures. At leas the best-selling ES350s and RX crossovers aren’t tone-deaf attempts like the other two. You might even be worried about Lexus. The LS 460 will restore your faith that Lexus is not becoming Toyota’s Mercury.

Here’s the hard-boiled car review stuff on the LS460. The 386 hp V8 is 4.6 liters of unrealized potential. Wind it up and you get the power, plus an overly-muted V8 roar, but the rest of the car doesn’t want to play along. Even selecting SPORT mode with the Drive Mode Select knob doesn’t seem to do a whole lot, though Lexus says it “alters the powertrain for faster gear changes and more dynamic throttle mapping.” In this case, “alters” is more aptly defined as what happens to Fluffy the Domestic Short Hair during a visit to the vet.

Drive Mode Select also includes an ECO mode, which turns out to be handy in stop and go traffic thanks to its heavy filtering of driver inputs. Manually shifting the automatic is only somewhat encouraged by the manual gate. Let’s face it, an LS 460 bouncing off its rev limiter might seem untoward, so instead it upshifts for you. Why bother with the half-hearted measures?

For a car that’s credited with creating such a splash, the LS 460 certainly blends in. It won’t command the attention of the Nimitz-class Mercedes or BMWs, the LS is more like a Littoral Combat Ship that navigates under the radar. The exterior styling is attractively innocuous and the interior is both comfortable and blandly luxurious. Lexus would probably dispute that, but just look at how much Camry there is in the LS. Or is it LS in the Camry? Does it matter, either way?

Well, that’s about the long and short of it on the car end. The Lexus LS 460 is as the LS has always been, now with some added technology to serve as press release talking points. The bigger thing going on with Lexus is that it’s become a part of the establishment it was conceived to slap around.

In 1990, the Mercedes-Benz S Class was the top dog, a resolute car that was also never short on innovation. The LS 460 is every bit the obsessively-fettled accessible high-ender it’s always been. This car is a known quantity, and the impressions of the original LS 400 are pretty much the same thing you can say about the LS 460.

When did the Lexus LS go from gob-smacking revolution to same-as-it-ever-was? Maybe around the time Autoblog said something like “Lexus-quiet,” but probably before that.

The LS 460 is passionless and competent. It’s got all the acronyms, there’s more tech than you’ll want to bother with, let alone learn to master. The haptic controller is both loved and loathed, but the heart of the matter is that the Lexus way of navigating around its app suite and infotainment system can be a more positive experience than stabbing at a screen with your finger. Those that hate it probably want to hate it.

There’s a lot of words in press releases, but the LS 460 doesn’t create a lot of conversation about itself. It’s quiet, comfortable, it ticks all the boxes, but it’s still not likely to get your ticker going.

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First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/#comments Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:17:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=582817 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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

2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda

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

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

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

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

MY2014 Mazda 3

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Drivetrain

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

2014 Mazda3 exhaust manifold

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

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004

Drive

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009

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

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

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

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 73 db

 

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-007 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-010 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-001 MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-002 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-003 2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-006 ]]>
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First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=612689 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007

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

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

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

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

Interior

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

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

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

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

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

2014_Accord_Hybrid_Touring_043, Picture Courtesy of Honda

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

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

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

2014_Accord_Hybrid_EX-L_ Picture Courtesy of Honda

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

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

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

Drivetrain

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

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

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

Front Wheel Drive Biased

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

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

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

Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 45.9 MPG over 129 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Trunk ]]>
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Capsule Review: 2014 Mazda3 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/capsule-review-2014-mazda3/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/capsule-review-2014-mazda3/#comments Tue, 24 Sep 2013 17:42:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=523737 MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

For a car company that seems to have a perpetually precarious existence, things are going well at Mazda. Sales of their new range of products, like the CX-5 and the Mazda6, are relatively strong – I say relatively because the Mazda6’s volumes are about 10 percent of the Toyota Camry, and the whole brand sells fewer cars than Honda does Civics. But Mazda is banking on the new Mazda3 to help them get real traction in the market place. Not only is there a new car, but a new factory in Mexico as well, which will help insulate Mazda from then yen’s penchant for yo-yo’ing, as well as any future Fukushima-like disruptions.

MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

The old Mazda3’s biggest flaw was its looks. Its visage was hideously unattractive, wearing the “Nagare” design language that some executive must have signed off on after a long night in Roppongi. The car you see above has a whole new look, and the result is one of the best “ugly duckling to beautiful swan” transitions in recent memory. The sedan still retains the same basic horizontal teardrop shape that plagues all modern compacts in the name of fuel efficiency, but the details were done right. It reminds me of the Lexus IS, and even the smaller wheels make the car look good, a rarity today. The hatchback looks like a CX-5 crossed with a Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, and while I have traditionally preferred this bodystyle on previous generations, I think I have to give the aesthetic nod to the sedan.

MY2014 Mazda 3

The interior has undergone a major improvement since the last generation, but in typical Mazda fashion, there is still some corner cutting evident here. There was no evidence of Cherokee-esque fit and finish issues, but some of the supplied parts were subpar. Namely, the headliner it the definition of nasty. It feels like it was made out of egg cartons, and crunches when pressed with one’s fingers. Your college drinking buddy may not notice, but it stood out to us as a notably cheap spot on an otherwise nicely finished interior. Higher trim models have a pseudo-heads up display that flips up from the top of the gauge cluster (above), capable of displaying one’s speed, navigation turns and other features. It seems redundant given the voice prompts from the navigation and the basic ability to glance at the speedometer, and to top it off, it looks like it was stolen from a Nerf gun and is prone to breaking off with even the slightest disturbance.

MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

Most functions related to the entertainment system are handled by the new MazdaConnect system, which replaces the Atari-esque system used in the new Mazda6 with a fresh, modern looking interface. Of course, it’s all displayed on a 7 inch screen that looks like an off-brand Made In China Android tablet that’s been glued to the top of the dashboard, which saps some of the premium feel out of the cabin.

MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

MazdaConnect is controlled by an iDrive-like knob and is relatively easy to use, but has some annoying quirks. Looking for a satellite radio station, for example, is highly frustrating, if not distracting. Once you’ve selected a station, you can’t change the station unless you manually go back through the menus and select a new one. Scrolling through is not an option, and the steering wheel controls only allow you to move through presets, rather than the entire band. It is more distracting than texting and drive. The volume knob has also been placed next to the MazdaConnect wheel on the center console – an intuitive location but highly unconventional and one that takes some getting used to, since every other car on earth has it placed  in its traditional spot on the center stack.

In return for these annoyances, the Mazda3 delivers one of the best driving experiences money can buy. Other compacts, like the Dodge Dart, the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra GT are “good” to drive, but the Mazda3 is in another class, closer to the BMWs of a past era than anything else in the segment. The dynamics of the car will be instantly familiar to anyone who has driven a Mazda6 or CX-5, but even sharper. The heaviest Mazda3 is about 170 lbs lighter than the lightest Mazda6 (3172 lbs), with base versions coming in at around 2800 lbs. In today’s car market, this is fairly svelte, and it translates into a rewarding drive. There is very little body roll, while the suspension is composed over rough pavement. The steering is sharp, direct and nicely weighted. Mazda engineer Dave Coleman told us that his target was his LeMons car, which uses a manual Miata steering rack. It’s tough to compare a contemporary electric power steering system with a 25 year old Miata unit, but certain things, like the high degree of caster dialed in to make it self-center quicker, will be familiar to anyone who ever owned a Miata and tinkered with the alignment settings. There is a level of engagement with the Mazda3 that is absent in every other car in this class. It’s not a merely A-B commuting tool, but a car that encourages you to drive as if you really cared about having fun behind the wheel. It’s a difficult quality to find in any car nowadays, let alone a C-segment economy car.

MY2014 Mazda 3

Two powerplants are offered, though only the base 2.0L Skyactiv engine will offer a 6-speed manual alongside a 6-speed automatic. The bigger 2.5L engine offers more horsepower (184 versus 155) and more torque (185 lb-ft versus 150 lb-ft), and feels a lot gutsier on the open road, though in true Mazda fashion, the engines aren’t particularly brimming with character like the better Honda twin-cams. Then again, a naturally aspirated motor is becoming a rarity in new cars, and fuel economy is the chief order of the day. In this aspect, Mazda does not disappoint. Our 2.5L hatchback, with Mazda’s capacitor-based i-Eloop regenerative braking system, is good for 29 mpg in town and 40 mpg highway. Neither motor is particularly stirring, emitting rather muted grunts and groans. Just like the pre-NC Miatas, the chassis is the jewel of the package here, but at least the Skyactiv motors are tuned for economy and efficiency, unlike the thristy boat anchor of a 1.8L engine fitted to most early Miatas.

Where the 2.0L feels just a bit strained (particularly when merging or passing on highways), the 2.5L is always ready with adequate grunt, and the 6-speed Skyactiv automatic is even better than the excellent manual. It feels more like a dual clutch gearbox than a conventional automatic, in part because the torque converter isn’t even used past 5 mph. In spirited driving, the automatic will hold gears until redline and match revs when the paddles are used to manually change gear. Mazda has been coy about whether the 2.5L will actually get a manual, stating that only the automatic will be available “at launch”. Perhaps this leaves the door open to the possibility of a manual in the future. The i-Eloop system is as transparent as its name is silly. The only way we knew it was working was when a display screen showed it re-capturing energy under braking. If only Mazda’s marketing department could come up with such clever monikers.

For all the complaints about the anesthetized nature of modern cars, here we have a vehicle that brings a truly engaging driving experience to the masses at a price-point accessible to most new car buyers. Despite a couple of cut corners here and there, the car’s big flaws, namely its exterior styling, spartan interior and poor fuel economy in the larger engine variants, have all been remedied beyond mere correction. It may not be the choice for your grandmother, or anyone looking for a simple, dead-nuts reliable appliance, but the new car is a significant leap forward, and the only choice in the segment for anyone interested in spirited driving. And finally a candidate for best in segment.

Mazda provided airfare, accommodations and meals for this press drive

 

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Saab 9-3 Back in Production http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/saab-9-3-back-in-production/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/saab-9-3-back-in-production/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2013 11:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=523065 Saab re-starts production

After years of rumors and speculations of the will they/won’t they variety, a brand-new Saab 9-3 has – finally! – managed to roll down the assembly line! Don’t be fooled by the fact that this new Saab looks just like the 2009 models the company was building when it was spun off from GM’s bankruptcy, however. This car features all-new components designed by Saab engineers and manufactured in Trollhättan, Sweden.

Saab, now owned by the National Electric Vehicle Sweden company, promised its new cars would reach production in 18 months. That was in September of 2012, so they’re about 6 month ahead of schedule. That on-track message puts NEVS-owned Saab in a decidedly different league than faux car-makers like Detroit Electric and Elio Motors, who’ve spent more time justifying delays than they have building cars. Don’t take my word for that, though, check out the well-appointed assembly line and experienced Saab assembly workers in the photo gallery, below, and start getting excited.

Saab’s back, baby! All we need now is a new Saab 900 revival and we’ll really be in business!

 

saab saab_3 saab_2 New Saab 9-3

Sources | Photos: Saabs United, via WorldCarFans; Originally posted to Gas 2.

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Review: 2014 Kia Cadenza (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 22:08:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=501244 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Kia has big plans for America. The Korean brand that was written off in the 1990s, and is best known for making inexpensive cars with long warranties, isn’t planning an assault on the mass market. Kia has bigger plans: compete head on with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Say what? Yep. By 2017 Kia promises they will be ready. Rather than leaping right into the market, Kia is dipping their toes into the murky waters of the near-luxury pool. In many ways the near-luxury segment is a harder place to compete. This segment is full of aspiring brands trying to move up (Buick and Cadillac), brands that are floundering (Acura), brands that are treading water (Volvo and Lexus’s FWD models ), brands trying to expand down (Mercedes with the CLA) and brands that have no idea what their mission is (Lincoln). Into this smorgasbord lands a sedan that managed to be the most exciting car I have driven this year and the most awkwardly named. Now that I have that spoiler out of the way, let’s dive into the Credenza. I mean Cadenza.

Exterior

Kia has long been accused of copying styles and jamming discordant cues into one product. The pinnacle of this was the unloved Kia Amanti, mercy killed a number of years ago. That model had Mercedes E-Class headlamps, a Jaguar-meets-Chrysler grille, Lincoln tail lamps and a decidedly Town Car profile. The 2014 Cadenza is so different you’d think it was from a different car company. The overall style is “Optima’s big brother” with the same “tiger nose” grille up front. The large grille strikes me as the best interpretation of this style yet, although the plastic accent strip inside the aggressive headlamps struck me as slightly cheesy. There is still something derivative about the Cadenza, the side profile is exactly what a FWD 7-series would look like. (Shorten the hood, stretch the overhang.) Overall the Cadenza’s “smoothed out Optima” lines strike me as conservative and elegant, something that appeals to me.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Before we go further, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the Hyundai Azera. The Cadenza isn’t simply a badge engineered Azera, but neither is it a unique vehicle. Through a convoluted set of financial arrangements, Hyundai and Kia are 32.8%  joined at the hip, which means Hyundai doesn’t “control” Kia and Kia can’t just grab an Azera and stick a Kia logo on the front. Instead what we see are two cars with common drivetrains, crash systems, hard points and bits grabbed from the same parts bin. Think of the Cadenza as the Azera’s younger cousin and not a corporate twin.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Style is a subjective matter, there’s no way around that. I found the Cadenza to be traditional, almost to a fault, on the inside but still handsome. For me that’s a good thing as I don’t tend to gravitate to “ground breaking designs” like crazy asymmetrical dashboards or shifters that require an instruction manual and 30 minutes to master. I found the Azera’s interior to be more unique, but less to my taste. On the flip side there is little about the Cadenza’s interior that creates a burning desire, unless you like value. Being the cheap bastard that I am, words like “value” “bargain” and “deal” light a primeval fire in my loins. Keep that in mind.

As I have said in the past, value is all about cutting corners. Lately Kia has been displaying a level of perspicacity unseen in the competition. This balance is obvious when you look at the dash and doors which combine hard and soft touch plastics. This isn’t unique by itself, what is rare is the placement of the hard bits away from the driver’s reach and a careful matching of color and texture so that its hard to tell what’s hard and what’s not. This is something Lexus got totally wrong with the new ES. Most Cadenzas on my local lot had the optional Alcantara headliner and cream colored leather seats which have a huge impact on the feel of the interior. Faux-suede used to be something you’d only find on high-end European models, but it can be yours for under 40-large in Kia-land. Unlike Chrysler’s application of the soft-stuff, Kia also coats the A, B and C pillars in fake cow. Speaking of fake, the wood isn’t real. The lack of real tree bugs me a hair, but when you consider that a $60,000 Acura still has imitation burl I guess I shouldn’t complain. In terms of interior feel, the Cadenza ranks slightly above the new LaCrosse and Azera and just below the Toyota Avalon. While I think the Acura RLX’s interior was made of nicer bits, the Cadenza isn’t far off and almost everyone had a nicer interior than the current Lexus ES.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Front seat comfort proved good for the driver in the base model and excellent with the optional soft Nappa leather which adds a power extending thigh bolster. You should keep in mind that the front seats aren’t created equally and the passenger seat doesn’t have the same range of motion making it harder for your spouse to find an ideal sitting position. Trust me, I heard the complaints. Being self-centred, this didn’t bother me, but I should note the American competition offers matching controls on their front passenger throne. The Cadenza’s lumbar support hit me at exactly the right spot on my back which is fortunate because unlike the GM sedans the lumbar isn’t adjustable for height.

The Cadenza’s rear compartment was surprising, not just because the seats seemed designed for adults with cushy cushions suspended high off the floor, but because the plastics quality was consistent with the front cabin. That may sound like an odd thing to comment on, but most mass market entries and even cars like the Lincoln MKS and Lexus ES350 gets cheaper bits in the back. Speaking of the back, the Cadenza’s trunk is acceptable for the class at 15.9 cubic feet, notably below the Impala and Taurus with their cavernous trunks. It’s worth noting that the Cadenza’s rear seat backs don’t fold like some of the competition so keep that in mind if you’re a regular IKEA shopper.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

The dashboard of the Cadenza is dominated by a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment/navigation system dubbed UVO2. The Microsoft-powered system is bright, easily readable and a bit far from the driver. This distance could be a problem if you have short arms or long legs. The Cadenza gets the latest version of Kia’s software featuring full voice commands of your music library, allowing you to select songs and playlists with voice commands ala Ford’s SYNC. Also included is an array of OnStar-like services including vehicle diagnostics, car locator and automatic 911 dialing when your airbags deploy. Unlike OnStar however the system depends on a compatible smartphone being paired with the system and present for these services to work. The lack of a cell modem means you also need a paired smartphone for some of the data services to operate. In an odd ergonomic twist, Kia places the system’s button bank between the screen and the climate controls. The loaded Cadenza we tested gets a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster which houses the speedometer, trip computer, secondary infotainment display and navigation instructions.

Overall the Cadenza’s system is easy to use and intuitive but not as feature rich as some of the other options on the market. Notably uConnect and MyFord Touch offer sexier graphics and better app integration, although the Ford system crashes as often as a 1980s computer. Toyota/Lexus’ systems are getting a little long in the tooth at the high-end with older graphics and a smallish 7-inch screen, and their less expensive systems use small and dim 6.1 inch screens that are easily outclassed. GM’s direct competition is a bit disappointing because the LaCrosse and Impala use the same buggy software as the Cadillac XTS with a different brand attached instead of the excellent systems used in the Buick Verano and Chevy Malibu. If you want to know more, I take a deep dive into UVO2 in the video.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

The Cadenza uses the same 3.3L direct-injection V6 engine as Hyundai’s Azera mated to the same 6-speed automatic transaxle. The six-pot is good for 293 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 255 lb-ft of toque at 5,200 RPM. These numbers place the Cadenza in the middle of the pack, below the GM triplets and the Acura RLX, but above the Avalon and ES350 and a virtual tie with Chrysler’s 300 V6. When it comes to performance, curb weight and transmission design are  just as critical as raw engine numbers. At around 3,750lbs the Cadenza is lighter than everyone but the new Avalon and ES (around 3,550lbs). In theory, this should skew performance in the Cadenza’s favor, but when the numbers are tabulated the Kia is 3/10ths slower than the RLX to  60 and half a second slower than the Impala and LaCrosse V6. Compared to the AWD XTS, the Cadenza is a hair faster. (The XTS AWD was tested in-house which is why I don’t use a FWD XTS estimate.) The 8-speed V6 Chrysler 300 was the slowest to 60 by around half a second. What gives? The 300 isn’t a light-weight. Our last instrumented test of the Taurus V6 and MKS put the Ford at the bottom of the pack with the 300 and the MKS on par with the Kia.

GM’s 3.6L V6 not only delivers more twist, it also has a broader torque curve and the GM/Ford 6-speed transaxle has an extremely low first gear helping the Impala and LaCrosse get off the line rapidly. Chrysler’s 8-speed auto may be a gem but it can’t re-write the laws of physics, the 300 is just too heavy. At this time Kia isn’t saying if there will ever be an AWD version of the Cadenza, so if you need four-wheel-motivation you need to look to elsewhere.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Pricing

$35,100, $38,100 and $41,100. That’s all you need to know about the Cadenza’s pricing since the up-scale sedan only comes in three flavors. Why the lack of variation? It keeps prices low and helps inventory issues as the Cadenza is made in Korea. The Cadenza is extremely well-featured at the base price with standard heated leather seats, navigation, backup camera, keyless go, dual-zone climate control, 10-way driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support and rain-sense wipers. This price point sets the Kia at a slight discount versus the main-stream competition, and about $1,600 cheaper than a Lexus ES350 or Lincoln MKS. If that doesn’t sound like a “deal” yet, hang on. For $38,100 Kia adds a ginormous sunroof, HID headlamps, ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seats, electric tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power extending thigh bolster (driver’s seat only), a seat/wheel memory system, power rear sun shade, a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster and snazzy Nappa leather seats. This level of Cadenza is where the value proposition starts slotting in $2,500 less than the LaCrosse and $4,000 less than an ES350 or MKS before you take into account the features you just can’t get on the competition. Jump to $41,100 and Kia tosses in 19-inch wheels, radar cruise control with full-speed range ability, blind spot warning, lane departure prevention, an automatic electric parking brake, water-phobic glass and (if you select the no-cost white leather) the faux-suede headliner. This is the option level where the Cadenza (like most Kias) starts to shine. The loaded Kia is a $7,000 discount vs the Lexus ES350 which is an apt comparison. The Kia doesn’t offer real wood but it does offer a nicer interior and a few features you won’t find on the Lexus like the LCD disco dash. Compared to the Acura RLX we had the week before, the Cadenza is nearly $20,000 less expensive. The discount is similarly large with you compare the Cadenza to the XTS and smaller vs the MKS.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The one area where the Cadenza didn’t surprise was behind the wheel. Kia’s relative inexperience in the near-luxury market shows, if you know where to look. However the delta between the Kia and the competition, once as wide as the grand canyon,  is now a light shade of grey. Although very well controlled, the Cadenza exhibited slightly more torque steer and wheel hop than you’ll find in GM’s Epsilon II triplets or the Avalon/ES sisters. Of course when it comes to driving dynamics the Chrysler 300′s rear wheel drive layout is the clear winner. When it comes to absolute grip, the Cadenza is likely the equal of the Impala and Avalon, however the steering is not as communicative and the chassis isn’t quite as predictable or refined. Don’t think that makes the Cadenza “feel cheap”, far from it. The Cadenza nails the ” substantial”  feel that this large sedan category is known for.

While drivers will notice the Cadenza is a hair less sophisticated than the competition, passengers are unlikely to notice. The Cadenza’s springs and dampers did an admirable job of soaking up road imperfections around town and are tuned to land somewhere between the Acura RLX’s sportier aspirations and the pillow-soft ride of the LaCrosse. Cabin noise in the Cadenza is extremely well controlled on all road surfaces and thanks all throttle positions. In some ways the Cadenza was too quiet, hushing the engine’s emissions during our 0-60 testing.

In a straight line the Cadenza’s gear ratios and relative lack of low end torque make the Kia feel sluggish compared to the competition, something I hadn’t expected given the engine specs. Part of this is a transmission that feels reluctant to downshift which takes some of the joy out of mountain driving. Fortunately Kia includes paddle shifters so you can command the gears, but in comparison the Ford/GM transaxle and Chrysler’s ZF sourced unit seem psychic in comparison.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to nannies and gadgets Kia took an interesting line. The Cadenza has lane departure warning but no prevention system tied to it unlike Lincoln and Acura’s systems. On the flip side Kia over-delivers with the radar cruise control system. Acura’s systems brake too hard and too early, Infiniti’s systems brake hard and late, most of the other systems on the market are a combination of the two and the majority give up when speeds drop below 20MPH. Much like the systems on current Volvo and Mercedes models however the Kia system drives like a moderately cautious driver, braking progressively but smoothly to a complete stop, and accelerating at a moderate rate when traffic resumes. The system is so fluid that passengers didn’t know the car was “driving itself”  in heavy traffic until I told them to pay attention to my right leg.

After a week with the Cadenza and 611 miles I have to admit I was hooked and that’s not something I say often. The Cadenza’s elegant but restrained looks, comfortable and well-assembled interior, heavy gadget content and value pricing are an incredibly compelling combo. The interior and sticker price more than justify the negatives I encountered during the week. The only major problem with the Cadenza is the Kia logo on the hood. This begs the question: is luxury looking expensive or feeling coddled? At higher price points I would argue you need both, but near luxury is about value and that’s where the Cadenza shines. I’m not sure about Kia’s Mercedes ambitions, but one thing’s for sure, the Cadenza puts Acura on notice and Lexus needs to watch their back.

 

Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • It turns out you can have an Acura at Honda prices.
  • Alcantara headliners rock.
  • Near-luxury without near-pretentiousness

Quit it

  • Can you handle your premium car’s discount badge?
  • I had expected better performance numbers.

 

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.51 Seconds

0-60: 6.08 Seconds

1/4 mile: 14.67 Seconds @ 97 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 24.5 MPG over 611 miles

 

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-001 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-002 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-003 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-004 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-005 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-006 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-007 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-008 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-010 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-011 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-012 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-015 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-002 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-003 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-004 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-006 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-007 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-009 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-010 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-011 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-012 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-013 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-014 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-015 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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Mitsubishi Without A Midsize Sedan For America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/mitsubishi-without-a-midsize-sedan-for-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/mitsubishi-without-a-midsize-sedan-for-america/#comments Thu, 29 Aug 2013 11:09:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=502393 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Calling out one’s prediction for Mitsubishi’s demise is an easy activity that requires one to put little at stake. With a stale product lineup, sagging sales and nothing on the horizon save for a B-Segment hatchback, Mitsubishi’s future looks bleak. But that’s not the main reason why I am pessimistic about the brand’s future in America.

The Mitsubishi Galant was precisely nobody’s favorite mid-size sedan, but it was better than nothing. And according to Automotive News, Mitsubishi’s product plans call for bubkis in the D-Segment, which is essentially a death wish in North America, where mid-size sedans are a crucial product.

Tellingly, Mitsubishi doesn’t have one because it lacks any kind of platform architecture to even build a new D-Segment car that would be competitive, an utterly damning indication of how ill-equipped the company is to be competitive on our shores. Even Suzuki had a passable mid-size car in its dying days, one that was quite good at that. For Mitsubishi to lack even a suitable architecture for a D-Segment car is a rather damning statement regarding their readiness to duke it out in an increasingly cutthroat global vehicle market.

Mitsubishi’s product plans appear to hinge on the new Mirage subcompact, a forthcoming Mirage sedan…and that’s it. A new Montero SUV may come here, and we may  see a new Lancer within the next two years. The only bright spot is the Evo, which will continue to soldier along, praised by everyone and bought by no one.

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Review: 2014 Mazda6 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-mazda6-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-mazda6-video/#comments Thu, 08 Aug 2013 17:20:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=498456 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior

Whenever I talk to car shoppers, the Mazda6 comes up. No, it’s not because people are confused if it’s a “Mazda 6″ or a “Mazda6″ or a “Mazda Mazda6.” Although, it does top the Land Rover Range Rover Sport Autobiography for the strangest name on the market. (I prefer to call it a Mazda6.) The reason Mazda’s mid-sized sedan comes up, is because it seems to be a car often shopped, but rarely purchased. In June, it scored 14th in sales for the segment. Surprised? I was. Even the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger (9th and 12th place) outsold it by a wide margin. The low sales numbers piqued my interest enough that I hit Mazda up for a cherry red model to see why.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

2014 brings Mazda’s new corporate grille to the Mazda6, and I have to say, it’s a beautiful schnoz. I was a little worried the gaping maw would be too large in person, (in pictures it looks enormous) but up-close-and-personal it has to be the second most attractive front end after the Fusion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but during the week I was unable to find anyone who disagreed with me. So my opinion reigns supreme. I’m worried however, the proportions look perfect on the Mazda6, so what will the Mazda3 be like? Why am I worried? Because if you park the Mazda6 next to a CX-9 or CX-5, the crossovers look more cartoonish than if they park alone. Just like your girlfriend seems pretty until you park her next to Megan Fox. Although the 2014 model looks longer than the outgoing Mazda6, overall length has been cut by about two inches. Adding “visual length” as well as much-needed rear seat room, the wheelbase has been stretched by two inches to 111.4.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Mazda’s nose may be a notch below the Ford in my style-guide, but out back it’s a different story. I find the Fusion’s rump to be a little awkward. It’s almost as if Ford ran out of time and “hurried” the back end of their family hauler. Not so with the Mazda6 which has a finished look from the “raised eyebrow” tail lamps to the twin chrome exhausts. Thanks to the best butt in the business, I call the Ford v. Mazda beauty contest a tie. How about the Koreans? I never warmed to the Sonata, but the Optima is aggressive and attractive, just not as emotional as the Mazda6. Thanks to the low sales volume, the Mazda is also a step outside the ordinary, something that attracts me.

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior
The British would have called the old Mazda6′s interior “cheap and cheerful” with shapes that failed to offend, but plastics that were far from premium. For 2014, Mazda increased the plastic budget and coated the interior with soft injection moulded material. Bucking the latest trend, Mazda skipped the stitching treatment on the dash, although you will find sewing machine tracks on the doors. ZoomZoom also nixed the faux-tree in favor of a black-cherry (or just black) plastic trim panel that bisects the tall dashboard. Aside from the infotainment binnacle that seems a bit too large for the screen, this is the most harmonious and simple dashboard in this segment. I hate to beat on the old Mazda6, but “simple and harmonious” is not a phrase I would have used.

Front seat comfort was excellent for my average six-foot frame, regardless of the trim level. In an interesting move, Mazda chose to make the base manual seat adjust in all the same ways as the optional powered seats. The inclusion of manual lumbar support on base seats is a nice touch as well, something the competition often skips in “stripper” models. In keeping with Mazda’s self-proclaimed sporty image, the front seats feature aggressive (for a Camcord segment car) front seat bolsters and are therefore quite different from the Barcaloungers in the Camry, Accord and Altima. The bolsters aren’t as pronounced as a C63 AMG, but the “like a glove” fit was a huge selling point for me. On the down side, seats like these are less comfortable for larger folks as they provide precious little muffin top accommodation.

Rear seat legroom is up thanks to the increased wheelbase and is now competitive with the CamFusCord. Because the way that car companies measure leg room varies it’s hard to go by the published numbers. According to the numbers the Mazda6 delivers the same rear legroom as the meat of the competition but skimps on front legroom. In reality the Mazda6 felt roomier than its old cousin the Ford Fusion while the Camry still feels larger somehow. Some of that is thanks to the Camry’s generous rear headroom, something that sexy sedan profiles take a toll on. Thankfully Mazda didn’t cut the rear doors as low as Ford did making it easier to get in and out of the Mazda. With more room on the inside and a shorter overall car, it’s no surprise that the looser in this battle is the trunk. At 14.8 cubic feet the 2014 model looses two cubes compared to last year shifting it from one of the larger trunks in the segment to among the smallest.

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Infotainment Control Knob, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

Mazda’s limited budget is readily apparent when you look at the Infotainment system. I’m not talking about the base 6-speaker AM/FM/CD system that you will only find in the most basic trim Mazda6 with the manual transmission, that one is lovely, I’m talking about the 5.8-inch touchscreen. Simply adding the automatic transmission bundles the touchscreen infotainment system on the base model and it’s standard on all other models meaning you can’t get away from it. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I love me some touchscreen infotainment, but Mazda’s leaves me scratching my head.

First off, the screen is small. With the Accord boasting two ginormous LCDs in the dash, 5.8-inches is nothing to brag about. The size of the screen’s binnacle makes me hopeful a mid-cycle refresh will being some 8-inch touch-love, but that could be a pipe dream. The software’s graphics are suitably slick and the interface is easy to navigate via the touchscreen or the Audi MMI style knob in the center console. Alas the lord giveth and he taketh away. The software is sluggish at best, some of the control screens are half-baked and the integration of TomTom navigation is clunky. I’m not a huge fan of Chrysler’s uConnect with Garmin software, but at least that system has the screen real estate allowing you to read the awkward menus and stab what you need, not so in the Mazda. When using the control dial it’s difficult to distinguish between the option that’s selected and the cursor position since they are the same color and nearly the same shape.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Plug in any music device and you’ll encounter my other beef, and something Mazda forum posters have been complaining about as well. The media interface is incredibly slow. I n c r e d i b l y  s l o w. So slow that at first I assumed the head unit had frozen so I plugged, unplugged, plugged, unplugged to no avail. Then I gave up and listened to the radio. (Gasp!) A full 4 minutes later, the system switched to the iDevice and started to play my tunes. (Yes, I tested it with USB sticks and it did the same thing). If you think this is a momentary aberration, think again. The system has to fully index your entire USB/Android/iDevice music library before it starts playing. It does this whenever you unplug/plug or when you stop/start the car. Every. Single. Time. The larger your library, the longer it takes. Users on the Mazda forum reported a 10+ minute delay when playing larger devices while I averaged just over three minutes. Want tunes on a short journey? I hope you enjoy AM Gold. Mazda hasn’t confirmed a software update, but I pray one happens soon. This was so aggravating it colors my whole opinion of the interface, if Mazda fixed this one thing I could forgive the small screen and quirky menu system.

On the gadget front, Mazda lags behind Ford but does offers most of the gadgetry you’ll find in the competition and a few things you won’t. Our tester had the optional adaptive radar cruise with collision warning, xenon headlamps, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic detection, rain sensing wipers and keyless entry/go. Also available as part of the $2090 Technology Package on iGrand Touring models is lane departure warning and an auto high beam system bundled with Mazda’s i-ELoop micro hybrid system. Notably absent on the Mazda6 are lane departure prevention and self-parking, features starting to trickle down into this segment.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

SkyActiv is Mazda’s fuel saving “brand,” but it’s more than just a set of engine tweaks. Mazda’s fuel sipping umbrella includes weight savings, aerodynamics, optional energy regeneration and a slick new transmission. Lets start with weight savings. At 3,232lbs (automatic transmission) the 2014 is  about three hundred pounds lighter than the old model, 200lbs lighter than a Fusion, and a hair heavier than a Camry or Optima. Under the hood you’ll find the latest 2.5L Mazda four-cylinder engine with direct injection and variable valve timing. Mazda uses a 13:1 compression ratio in the American bound models to allow it to run safely on regular unleaded, so this isn’t exactly the same engine in other markets. Power output is 185 HP and 184 lb-ft which stacks up well against the competition especially when you look at the torque curve which is lower and broader than most of the competition. While Ford offers no less than four engine options in the Fusion, the 2.5L is the only engine available until the SkyActiv diesel appears.

Something that has confused reporters in the past is Mazda’s new transmission. Some describe it as a hybrid between a dual clutch and a traditional automatic, some have even suggested that it can “disable” the torque converter. In addition to the 6-speed manual transmission you can opt for the SkyActiv branded traditional automatic transaxle. Traditional? What about the fancy clutches? Here’s what Mazda did.

Lock-up torque converters are nothing new, having been introduced in 1949, but in our age of efficiency companies are using them more aggressively. By locking the impeller and turbine (input and output) of the torque converter, you increase efficiency by cutting most of the impelling losses in the torque converter (there are still some because it’s still spinning, but it’s greatly reduced). Old transmissions only did this in their final gear and relatively infrequently. Modern automatics like GM/Ford’s 6-speed transaxle spend about half their time in lock-up and will engage the locking “clutch” in most gears. Mazda’s new slushbox is programmed with an aggressive lockup agenda and will lock in every gear. In addition, it spends more time in lockup (80% or more) than a competitive unit on the same driving cycle. The result is a more connected 1:1 relationship between the engine and wheels than you find in a CamFusCord.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-002

Drive

The aggressive lockup is noticeable out on the road, especially in hill driving where the Mazda6 feels more connected to the drivetrain than the competition. “Connected” is a word that repeatedly came to mind when driving the Mazda6 in the real world and during an event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where Mazda had the guys to let a writer’s group flog a sedan on the track. The Zoom-Zoom brand has long been known for an emphasis on handling, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the Mazda6 is one of the most enjoyable front wheel drive cars on the road, but it also proved amusing on the track. No, not as amusing as the BMW X1 that was on hand, but the Mazda delivered surprising agility, well controlled body motions, little roll and just a hint of brake fade after 6 laps. For a CamFusCord competitor, there is no higher praise. Ultimate grip is easily the equal of the new Ford Fusion, the only other entry in this large segment with any handling prowess at all. Another feather in the Mazda6′s cap is steering with the vaguest hint of feeling, a quality that would have been laughable a decade ago, but in our age of electric power steering even the suggestion of feedback is welcome.

I was a bit less impressed with the Mazda6′s manual transmission, yes it has possibly the best shift feel in the segment, but is that saying much? The clutch pedal feel is superior to the new Accord as well, but with only 184HP on tap and 3,200lbs to motivate the automatic does a better job on the average commute. Boo! Hiss! Another manual hater?!? Not at all, I love the fact that Mazda builds most trim levsls of the Mazda6 with a manual. The problem is the slushbox is moderately engaging and gets 1MPG better mileage (26/38 for the auto). It’s easy to see why the average shopper would let the car row the gears. At the stop-light races, the 2014 model feels stronger than the outgoing model despite the modest bump in power, this is thanks to the improved torque curve, weight reduction and that SkyActiv transmission. Proving that CVTs are the performance king (seriously) the four-cylinder Accord spanks the ZoomZoom to 60 MPH with a 6.83 second score to the Mazda6′s 7.4 but both of those are faster than the Fusion’s base or 1.6L Ecoboost options by over half a tick.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The i-ELoop micro hybrid system is part of a $2,090 option pack on the top trim of the Mazda6. This is similar to BMW’s active alternator, in that the system is only capable of recovering a portion of the kinetic energy and provides no motive assistance. When braking, a variable voltage alternator charges a large capacitor, the system uses this to power vehicle systems. When accelerating, the system disengages the alternator to reduce the load and runs the accessories on the reserved charge. Mazda claims the system is good for an extra 2MPG on the highway bumping the mid-sized sedan to an impressive 40MPG. I was unable to get my hands on one for testing, but I easily beat the 30 MPG combined score despite driving it more aggressively during the week than the competition.

So if the Mazda6 handles well, delivers decent fuel economy and is priced and featured in line with the competition, why are the sales so slow? After a week with the 2014 incarnation I’m no closer to answering this automotive enigma. Many have conjectured the ZoomZoom brand lacks the advertising resources to push their wares, that is certainly true when you compare their marketing budget to Toyota, but then again Kia and Hyundai have raised themselves from obscurity on budgets that started small. Some posit the lack of a stout V6 option is to blame, but 90% of the cars in this segment are four-bangers, so toss that logic out the window. Even with the most aggravating infotainment system sold in America, the Mazda6′s other attributes compensate enough to put it near the top of my list, just under the gadget loaded, 2.0L Ecoboosted Fusion and the four-cylinder Accord. Why doesn’t the Mazda6 sell? Will the diesel engine turn the Mazda6 into an oil-burning Passat killer? These are questions we may never have answered. What do our readers have to say?

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • One of the best looking cars in the segment.
  • Excellent fuel economy.
  • Turbo diesel dreams.

Quit it

  • Aggravating infotainment system.
  • No turbocharged four and no V6 option for “performance” shoppers.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.75 Seconds

0-60: 7.4 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.786 Seconds @ 88.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 30.5 MPG over 534 miles

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-001 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-002 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-003 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-004 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-005 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Infotainment Control Knob, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-007 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-008 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-009 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-011 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Engine 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-001 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-002 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-003 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-004 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-005 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-006 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-007 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-008 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Instrument Cluster 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Trunk 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Trunk-001 ]]>
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Review: 2014 Kia Forte (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-kia-forte-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-kia-forte-video/#comments Fri, 26 Jul 2013 22:16:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=496635 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When Kia started selling the ’94 Sephia in America, nobody was worried. Not the American car companies still adjusting to the market share lost to the Japanese competition, and not the Japanese who used cheap and reliable cars to take the market share in the first place. The laissez-faire attitude to the Korean upstart was understandable, the Sephia was a truly horrible car. In 1997 Kia filed for bankruptcy protection and the big boys patted themselves on their back for not worrying about the Asian upstart. When another unremarkable Korean company purchased 51% of Kia, nobody cared. They should have.

Through a convoluted set of financial arrangements, Hyundai and Kia are 32.8%  joined at the hip and the result is greater than the sum of its parts. The reason seems to be “internal” competition with rumors of Kia/Hyundai in-fighting constantly swirling. Apparently each believes that they should be king of the hill. This means we can’t talk about the 2014 Forte without talking about the Hyundai Elantra. This is not a case of Chevy/Buick/Oldsmobile badge engineering. Kia and Hyundai have access to the same platform, engine and other parts bins but they operate on their own development cycles. What that means to you is: these brothers from a different mother exist in different generations. The 2006-2010 Elantra was the cousin to the 2009-2013 Forte meaning the Kia was a “generation behind”. That’s changed for 2014 with the Forte being the new kid on the block and while the related Elantra won’t land until the 2015 model year at the soonest.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The old Forte was very “grown up” with lines that were clean, straight and unemotional. For the Forte’s first redesign, Kia  injected styling from Kia’s successful mid-sized Optima. Up front we see a larger and better integrated corporate grille. The shape is supposed to be modeled after the nose on a tiger, but I fail to see the resemblance. The larger and more aggressive maw is flanked by stylish headlamps with available LED day-time running lamps and bi-xenon main beams. Yes, this is a Forte we’re talking about.

From the side profile, it’s obvious this Forte is bigger than last year’s compact Kia. The wheelbase has been stretched by 2 inches, the belt-line has been raised and raked, and attractive new wheels have been fitted. Despite the growth, weight is down 280lbs vs the 2013 model and chassis stiffness has increased. Moving around the back you’ll find something unusual: a rump that doesn’t offend. It seems rear ends are difficult to design these days with cars like the Jaguar XJ and Ford Fusion having incredible noses and disappointing butts. Our EX tester came with the optional LED tail lamps further bumping the Kia’s booty.  Taken as a whole, I rank the new Forte and the new Mazda 3 the most attractive in the segment.

2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

While I spent most of my time in the Forte EX (that’s the model two of our readers requested), I snagged a base Forte from a local dealer for comparison. The reason I sampled both the EX and LX is because the top-line trim (and the base with the “popular package” swap hard plastic door panels for soft injection molded bits. I’m also not a fan of black-on-black interiors (as this was equipped) so I needed to check out the lighter options. Most LX models on the lot were equipped with medium grey fabric and two-tone dash and door plastics (black upper, fabric matching lower). Most EX models on the other hand were dressed in black like out tester. I found the darkness not only slightly oppressive, but also cheaper looking than the grey leather alternative. Either way you roll, you’ll find more soft touch plastics than the Honda Civic and more hard polymers than a Ford Focus. Is that a problem?

In the US, compact cars are all about value. Value means compromise and cutting the corners you can get away with. The trick to creating a winner is knowing which corners to cut and where to bling. (The rapid refresh of the 9th generation Civic shows that even the big boys can clip the wrong corners.) For 2014, Kia uses plenty of hard plastic but it is now located away from frequent touch points like airbag covers, front door panels, etc. The faux-carbon-fiber surround on the radio is a bit cheesy and the style is a bit boring, but our fully-loaded $25,400 model had a gadget list that could easily have been an option list on a BMW. Out tester had heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, HID headlamps, a cooled driver’s seat, 2 position seat memory, power folding side mirrors with puddle lamps, sunroof, keyless entry and keyless go, lighted exterior door handles and dual zone climate control. The extensive gadget list forgives the visible body-painted window frames in my book.

Front seat comfort is greatly improved over the outgoing model with thicker foam in the seat bottoms and backs, and a wider range of adjustibility. Kia claims best in segment front legroom and I’m inclined to believe them as passengers with long legs had no troubles finding a comfortable position. The rear seats benefit the most from the platform stretch with 36 inches of legroom and a seating position that didn’t offend my back after an hour. If rear seat room is what you’re after, that new Sentra still trumps with an insanely large back seat and seat cushions positioned higher off the floor than most.

2014 Kia Forte EX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

It’s obvious the Forte is a half generation ahead of the Elantra when you look at infotainment. LX models make do with four or six speakers and an attractive (but basic) AM/FM/XM/CD head unit with USB/iDevice integration and a Bluetooth speakerphone. The base system is competitive with base and mid-range systems from the competition, although Kia doesn’t include smartphone app integration, Pandora or other streaming radio options. Jumping up to the EX model ($19,400) gets you the latest “UVO 2 with eServices” system. The Microsoft powered 8-inch touchscreen system is bright and easily readable, and has improved USB/iDevice integration allowing you to select songs and playlists with voice commands ala Ford’s SYNC. Also included is an array of OnStar-like services including vehicle diagnostics, car locator and automatic 911 dialing when your airbags deploy. Unlike OnStar or Chrysler’s latest uConnectm, your phone must be paired and present for these services to work.

Adding navigation to the 8-inch system is only possible by selecting the $2,300 “Technology package” which also nets HD Radio, a 4.2″ LCD in the instrument cluster, HID headlamps, dual zone climate control, rear HVAC vents and LED tail lamps. The package is a good deal but $2,300 is a big pill to swallow. Making matters more expensive, you can’t check that option box without checking the $2,600 “Premium Package” as well. The premium pack adds a power sunroof, 10-way memory driver’s seat, leather, ventilated driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, auto dimming mirrors, keyless go, car alarm, and puddle lamps.

2014 Kia Forte EX UVO2 Connections, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

While most subcompacts make do with one engine, the Forte has two. LX models get a 1.8L four cylinder engine with variable valve timing cranking out 148 HP and 131 lb-ft. Not very exciting. Jumping to the EX swaps in a 2.0L mill with direct-injection. The larger engine bumps power to 173 ponies and 154 lb-ft. While this isn’t hot hatch territory, it is more oomph than you find in the Civic, Focus, Mazda 3, or Elantra.

Cog counts are higher than some of the competitors (I’m looking at you Civic) with the 1.8L starting off with a standard 6-speed manual and optional 6-speed automatic. That same 6-speed slushbox is the only transmission for the 2.0L EX. (Pay no attention to the EPA’s 2.0L/MT scores, we’re told that combo remains on the cutting room floor.) Raining on the Forte’s parade is mediocre fuel economy. The LX scored 25/37/29 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the manual, 25/36/29 with the automatic and the EX slots in at 24/36/28. Over 657 miles we averaged 32MPG which is slightly lower than the 2013 Honda Accord 4-cylinder.

2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, 17-inch Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The last gen Forte was a great deal but it wasn’t exactly king of the track. As a result my dynamic expectations were fairly low as I got behind the wheel. I was pleasantly surprised. The new Forte’s chassis is noticeably more rigid on the road, a distinct improvement over the Elantra which can feel like a damp noodle on uneven pavement. Kia’s engineers have also worked most of the kinks out of the Forte’s suspension giving the 2014 model a well tuned ride that’s on the stiffer/sportier side of the spectrum. Electric power steering is here to stay, but at least the Forte allows you to adjust the level of assist via s button on the steering wheel. In the firmest steering mode, there *might be* the faintest whisper of steering feedback. Maybe. Either way, the Forte is a surprisingly agile companion on winding roads. The Forte’s new-found abilities made me wonder for the first time what a turbo Forte would be like.

I’m not saying the Forte is as engaging or exciting as a VW GLI, but this chassis finally shows some potential. The 2014 model is certainly the dynamic equal of the Focus and Cruze. I would be one of the first customers in line if Kia went out on a limb and jammed the 274HP 2.0L turbo from the optima under the hood. Such a move wouldn’t just blow the Civic Si and Jetta GLI out of the water, it would give the Focus ST a run for its money.

2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The feel of the Forte EX is down to the suspension, but the road holding is thanks to optional 215/45R17 rubber. Base Forte models get fairly high-profile 195/65R15s while mid-range models get 205/55R16 tires. The flip side of this tire choice is that mediocre fuel economy. 32 MPG is 1.5MPG below the Civic and 4.5 MPG less than the Nissan Sentra. Despite the wide tires the Forte ranks among the quietest in the class easily tying with the Focus and Cruze.

I prefer to think of myself as “financially frugal”  but at home that’s spelled c h e a p. It’s not that I want the cheapest car or the most economical car, I want the best deal. I can’t help it, the word “bargain” ignites a fire in my loins. The new 2014 Forte is that kind of bargain. Sure, it’s not as roomy as the Sentra, not as quiet as a Cruze, not as dynamic as a Focus and lacks the Civic’s reputation, but this new Forte is well priced, packed with features you won’t find on the competition, and I was unable to find a single thing to dislike. Kia’s compact car transformation from the Sephia, a car I wouldn’t make my worst enemy live with, to a car that I would recommend to friends (and have) has taken only 20 years. To copy a line, that makes Kia the fastest social climber since Cinderella. Since I care more about the driving experience and gadget list than fuel economy, this shoe fits.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.24

0-60: 8.24

1/4 Mile: 16.47 @ 85.2

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 32.0 MPG over 657 miles

 

2014 Kia Forte EX Engine 2014 Kia Forte EX Engine-001 2014 Kia Forte EX Engine-002 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-001 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-003 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-004 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-005 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, 17-inch Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-007 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-008 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-010 2014 Kia Forte EX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-013 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-014 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-015 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-016 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-017 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-018 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-019 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-020 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-021 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-022 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-023 2014 Kia Forte EX UVO2 Connections, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-025 2014 Kia Forte EX Exterior-027 2014 Kia Forte EX Gauges 2014 Kia Forte EX Trunk 2014 Kia Forte EX Trunk-001 ]]>
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Vellum Venom Vignette: The Emperor Has No Clothes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-emperor-has-no-clothes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-emperor-has-no-clothes/#comments Tue, 16 Jul 2013 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495166

Like Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks playing trumpet vs. at rest, cars are bigger in every direction compared to their predecessors.  Perhaps you’ve seen a 1980s Honda Accord in front of the latest platform.  Or perhaps an old/new Chevy Silverado. But what about a copiously large Cadillac, like the one made (somewhat) famous in a Moby music video?

What happens when you put that machine, an unrivaled King of The 1970s, against a pair of modern land barges?  You already know, but go ahead and click to see anyway. 

Our good friend with the former LeMons Station Wagon, Brian Pollock, snapped this 1969-1970 Cadillac Sedan DeVille (not a Fleetwood, considering the wheelbase?) sandwiched between a late-model Ford F-150 and Acura MDX.  I assure you that neither Brian nor myself have the photochopping skills to shrink the Caddy: this actually happened.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a modern-day family sedan in the mix, too: that’d show the generational changes far better than a CUV and a truck.  But note how the Caddy’s fenders works proportionally well with its 15″ (14″?) wheels, and how the Acura and Ford do the same with 17″ rolling stock. The Caddy looks even smaller because of a lower ride height, lower belt line and massive overhangs at both axles.  The extra overhang means the Caddy’s nose and butt tapers more elegantly, giving a (dare I say it) sleeker appearance compared to the other two.

Losing overhang isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just kills the ability to shape and taper a form.  Everything must have a flat nose and a (modern-day family sedan) buffalo butt! Can you imagine if this Caddy had the bullet-like face of today’s ATS, but with the same elongated snout?  It would be a seriously wind cheating land barge, slicing the air with less frontal area than modern machines.  I suggest that it’d be a modest aerodynamic victory, even if European regulations have (probably) killed this design language forever. Or at least for a long time.

So what’s the key takeaway here?  We need more cars proportioned after tennis courts. What was big before isn’t so big these days.

Thanks for reading, have a lovely week.

]]> http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/vellum-venom-vignette-the-emperor-has-no-clothes/feed/ 29 Mazda3 Sedan Leaked Via Russia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/mazda3-sedan-leaked-via-russia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/mazda3-sedan-leaked-via-russia/#comments Thu, 04 Jul 2013 06:56:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494181 2014-mazda3-003

 

A fourth of July present from our friends at Top Gear Russia, and it’s not Edward Snowden!

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Capsule Review: Jaguar XJ 3.0 AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/capsule-review-jaguar-xj-3-0-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/capsule-review-jaguar-xj-3-0-awd/#comments Fri, 24 May 2013 13:22:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489321 xjlawd

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which of the Jaguar Land Rover partnership is the breadwinner. People cannot get enough Evoques, LR4s and Range Rovers, even though the competition can do pretty much everything else in a more competent fashion, for less money. But at least Land Rover stands for something.

Never mind the snide remarks about the Kardashians and McMasions in my prior piece. Land Rovers have fought in wars, kept the peace, carted around countless dignitaries and monarchs and been to the kind of places that require vaccinations before you depart. And people remember that.

What about Jaguar? How many people still remember them for the E-Type versus their history of questionable reliability? I’d place my money on the latter being the brand’s defining characteristic that doesn’t have to do with their country of origin. Watching the XJ make an appearance in the latest James Bond movie, I was struck by how appropriate it was for M to be chauffeured in a dark colored XJ (note to Jaguar: get Bond in an F-Type next time around), but I doubt many people shared my sentiments. That’s a shame because there is a fair amount of history linked with the XJ and the various institutions of the United Kingdom as there is with Land Rover. Think of Margaret Thatcher leaving number 10 Downing Street after being ousted by her own party or Tony Blair arriving at Princess Diana’s funeral if you need examples.

The current shape XJ (now employed by David Cameron) was an enormously polarizing design when it debuted in 2009, and a good part of that sentiment had to do with the fact that the XJs had undergone mild, 911-style evolution in the preceding decades, during which they were the ride of choice for all manner of British VIPs. The 2005 redesign that introduced an all-new aluminum construction was barely distinguishable from the generation before that. Meanwhile, BMW had introduced the Bangle-look 7-Series and Audi’s A8 was starting to get some traction among luxury buyers. Sales were unsurprisingly dismal, and the radical change in design was deemed necessary.

Personally, I love the look, even if its more French than British. To me, it recalls the profile of the Citroen C6, with the quirky French styling cues replaced by a masculine, squared-off stance. Unlike the supercharged V8 versions, this one doesn’t have absurdly sized shiny rims, but the design doesn’t suffer for it the way that some cars, like Bangle BMWs and current Audis, look a bit wonky when devoid of big dubs.

The big news for the XJ this year is the addition of all-wheel drive and a new supercharged 3.0 V6 engine. The two drivetrain options come bundled together, as a response to the twin desires of more modest fuel consumption and improved winter-weather traction. Since it was 25 degrees and sunny for most of the week, I didn’t get a chance to try out the all-wheel drive system.

Alex Dykes last clocked a blown V8 Supersport at 4.3 seconds to 60 mph, and based on my own impressions of that car, I’d concur. It is a seriously fast set of wheels. Not having the capability to do instrumented testing, I will have to take Jaguar’s estimate of 6.1 seconds for the V6 car at face value – but I’d never complain that the V6 felt slow. The reluctance of the 8-speed automatic to downshift upon applying the throttle was noticeable, but once the transmission complied, there was no shortage of power available. Fuel economy in mixed driving was roughly 23 miles per gallon – not much better than the 21.5 mpg Alex managed with his Supersport, but I suppose some of the blame – and the appeal of the 3.0 – could be pinned on the AWD system.

Thanks to its aluminum construction, the XJ feels light on its feet. The chassis is a credit to JLR’s engineers, which managed to strike a balance between providing engaging handling while isolating the car’s occupants from the road surfaces, especially poor ones. The lack of big rims and low profile tires also play a part in delivering such good ride quality.

The one blight on this car is the Start-Stop feature, which was far from unobtrusive. I don’t have any philosophical opposition to these systems, but myself and several other passengers noted that the system was rather abrupt in cutting power and re-starting the engine; certainly, it operated in a manner that was inconsistent with the overall supple, isolating nature of the car’s ride and NVH characteristics. Some of TTAC’s Europe-based commenters have been skeptical of the efficacy of these systems with respect to fuel economy, but North Americans have had little exposure to them. I expect many will elect to disable this system.

Although the somewhat clumsy infotainment system is shared with the Range Rover, the rest of the interior is all Jaguar. Gone is the black plastic and the aluminum looking trim, replaced by acres of wood and dead bovine hyde. Your eyes will forget about the rather lackluster digital gauge cluster and instead gravitate to the long, arcing section of wood that spans from A-pillar to A-pillar just above the dashboard. When these cars end up as one of Murilee’s Junkyard Finds, I will be going into the carcass of an XJ and extracting this piece to hang in my future garage.

While I criticized the Range Rover for not offering much above and beyond its rival aside from a great badge, there are plenty of compelling reasons to pick an XJ over its rivals. There is an argument to be made for the Audi A8 being a more precise drive, but I prefer the increased isolation and the wood-and-leather cabin of the XJ compared to the more austere Audi – or any of its rivals. Since I’m not overly concerned with tech features, the Jag’s superior road manners give it the edge over the 7-Series, S-Class or LS460 in my books. At an as-tested price of $86,000, it’s neither the cheapest or the priciest car in its class.

Jaguar hasn’t been associated with the “Grace, Pace and Space” mantra in some time, this car would be the perfect manifestation should they ever decide to use that as the brand’s messaging. There is no shortage of power, comfort or elegance, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the most beautiful 4-door car on sale today. But judging by recent sales figures, more people are choosing the A8 –  at least the addition of all-wheel drive gives them one less excuse for ruling out the XJ.

 

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This Is Not The Lancer You Are Looking For http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/this-is-not-the-lancer-you-are-looking-for/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/this-is-not-the-lancer-you-are-looking-for/#comments Tue, 21 May 2013 14:23:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489116 630x382xmitsubishi-attrage-630x382.jpg.pagespeed.ic_.4vk0qaewan_0

 

Mitsubishi has taken the wraps of the sedan version of the new Mirage, dubbed the Attrage. Just-Auto reports that the Thai-based sedan will launch in July, and will be exported shortly thereafter. Powertrains will carry over from the Mirage, but hopefully the name will change when it comes to our shores.

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Generation Why: Brampton’s Endangered Species http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/generation-why-bramptons-endangered-species/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/generation-why-bramptons-endangered-species/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 14:28:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=488971 photo (42)

Youth is apparently wasted on the young, but there are some days where I do feel old. Flat feet and many attempts at athletic endeavors have left me with the knees of someone twice my age, while genetics has caused my hairline to retreat like Philippe Pétain in the face of the German onslaught. I would be more easily at peace with this if I had some of the context and erudition that came along with age and maturity, but not even erudition can act as a substitute for the kind of knowledge that can only be earned through experience and acquired over time.

For someone like Thomas Kreutzer, the Chrysler 300C will represent the latest iteration in a long line of powerful, opulent ”letter series” cars that were responsible for the muscle car era. For me, the 300C represents the product that made Chrysler relevant again (at least in my eyes). No longer were they the purveyor of cheerio-and-snot splattered Town & Country minivans or the legions of severely geometric 1980′s sedans favored by my grandparents friend who refused to buy a German car.

Prior to this, the last time I was in a 300C was when I went for breakfast with an old neighbor of mine. Mr Lynett was 91 years old when he bought his 300C SRT8, and at that age, his C5 Corvette 50th Anniversary Edition was difficult to get in and out of, and the manual transmission was tiring on his bi-annual cross-country drives to California to visit his grandchildren. Having worked on the Manhattan Project, buying a foreign car was out of the question, but the SRT8 offered similar performance, an extra set of doors and was made in the right country – sort of. I’m not sure if Mr Lynett realized that the last great American sedan is actually made at Chrysler’s Brampton Assembly Plant, about 25 miles outside of Toronto.

I was hoping to get an SRT8 as an homage to Mr Lynett, but a 300C Luxury Series AWD was the sole V8 powered version available. I didn’t mind. As much of a speed freak as I am, I also have a strong pragmatic streak, and I would be hard pressed to justify jumping up to the current generation SRT8 on any grounds beyond feeling insecure about not buying the SRT version. The 363 horsepower and 394 lb-ft on tap was beyond adequate for any situation one might encounter, and let’s face it, these are never ever going to see a racetrack. The 5-speed automatic is starting to show its age; shifts are slow and labored, and it starts to seem like the weak link in the entire powertrain package. It seems a little late for Chrysler to start using the ZF 8-speed gearbox on the 300C, but it would only serve to improve one of the car’s few dull spots.

From an aesthetic standpoint too, I much prefer the 300C over the SRT; the 6.4L car looks like it’s trying hard to be a Made In Canada America version of an M car. The 300C looks like the kind of car I’d drive if I made my living by billing for my time; understated enough that your clients won’t think they’re bring ripped off, but still something that feels special when you get behind the wheel.

The best American full-size cars were designed to eat up the highway miles with minimal fuss, and the 300C keeps that tradition alive. At 75 mph, the ride is smooth and silent, the Hemi V8 hums along below 2000 rpm. Chrysler’s Adaptive Cruise Control system, which can automatically adjust your speed based on the distance between you and the car ahead of you via radar, means even less work for the driver. The automatic slowing of the car was a bit spooky at first, it’s easy to get into a rhythm using the system. Set yourself up for a reasonable speed and keep your hands on the wheel. You can even avoid the automatic braking phenomenon by setting yourself up to pass people before the distance threshold is met.

With crossovers becoming the bodystyle of choice for family cars and long-distance crusiers, the full-size sedan is in danger of extinction. Sales have been in a freefall for the last few years, with fleet sales making up a heavy percentage of the segment’s overall volume. The latest rumors suggest that the Taurus will get the axe after this generation, thanks to slowing sales and a series of disastrous consumer clinics. Meanwhile, cars like the Maxima, Avalon and Azera continue to linger in obscurity, as the Pathfinders, Highlanders and Santa Fes of the world cannibalize their market share.

Ironically, the LX cars, with their iconoclastic rear-drive packaging and high-power engines have a pretty good chance of surviving. The global rear-drive platform being used in the Maserati Ghibli will likely underpin the next-generation of full-size Chrysler sedans and (hopefully) an Alfa Romeo product. Since Chrysler doesn’t have to worry so much about selling their cars in Europe or Asia, they can design the next Charger and 300 with American consumers in mind. Until these cars are CAFE’d out of existence, replaced by CUVs with small, turbocharged engines, Americans will be able to enjoy Canada’s best big rear-drive sedan for a while longer. And we’re richer for it.

 

 

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Mitsubishi Introduces Their New Sedan That’s Not A Lancer http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/mitsubishi-introduces-their-new-sedan-thats-not-a-lancer/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/mitsubishi-introduces-their-new-sedan-thats-not-a-lancer/#comments Wed, 15 May 2013 11:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=488537 628x418xmitsubishi-g4-sedan-628.jpg.pagespeed.ic.asFuFIT1RK

Pop quiz:

  1. What segment sells in strong volumes in America?
  2. What segment is considered poison by American consumers?
  3. Why is Mitsubishi neglecting a popular segment while focusing on an unpopular one?

The answers are, in order: Compact cars, subcompact cars and “we have no idea whatsoever”. Despite letting their Lancer ripen so long its turned into vinegar, Mitsubishi is apparently intent on introducing a subcompact sedan to the American market.

While subcompact hatches have gotten some traction here, nobody likes subcompact sedans. Not only do they scream poverty, but they look like rubber erasers that have been melted in the microwave. And yet Mitsubishi looks set to bring over a product based on the G4 sedan, according to Automotive News.

Why not a replacement for the Lancer? Why not a decent mid-size sedan? If there’s one thing we don’t need, its a competitor for the Nissan Versa S “Credit Criminal special”.

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The Acura ILX Is The Modern Day Infiniti G20 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/the-acura-ilx-is-the-modern-day-infiniti-g20/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/the-acura-ilx-is-the-modern-day-infiniti-g20/#comments Mon, 06 May 2013 16:02:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=487429 ilxg20

A few weeks ago, I posted an article entitled “Cars That Look Good But Aren’t.” I thought this was a particularly brilliant piece of writing, primarily because virtually every word was spelled correctly. After finishing it, I patted myself on the back and said “Good job, Doug.” Then I got in my Nissan Cube and shielded my face from passersby.

But it wasn’t long before the hate mail started coming in.

The first hate mail came from my mother, as per usual, who wrote: “Does this mean you still don’t have a real job? Also, why are you making fun of the Infiniti G20?” Mom wasn’t alone in her criticism. Minutes later, responses started pouring in from the Best and Brightest, who – once known for their love of the Panther platform – have apparently felt the effects of rising gas prices and decided to instead stand behind the similarly outdated Infiniti G20.

g20

The first responses were fairly mild: “I get the point you’re making on the G20, but let’s keep in mind the SR20DE engine from the SE-R … I would perhaps agree if you’re only talking about the second-generation G20,” wrote Sammy B. I defended myself, only to be dismissed by what I assume must be every single G20 owner in history. This is a sampling of some of G20 love from commenters:

- “Count me among those who disagree that the P10 G20 should be on this list. I worked for the local Infiniti dealership from 1991-93 when these were new. I loved everything about them.” -davew833

- “It was the best handling 4-door back then and the engine and shifter are super sweet. Plus has a ton of room inside for its small size.” -walker42

- “I’d have to disagree on the G20. For it’s time the G20 was at the top of its class in handling and performance.” -Scoutdude

And that’s just the commenters. Things soon got worse. Not long after the post went up, I started getting threatening Facebook messages. A user named “Infiniti G20” invited me to connect on LinkedIn with a message that said only: “Soon.” And for six nights in a row, I answered my ringing cell phone around 3am only to hear the revving of an underpowered four-cylinder on the other end.

OK, some of that didn’t happen. But I was surprised at the Infiniti G20’s support network, which was roughly the same size as the coalition that defended Kuwait in the Gulf War. This got me thinking: if you people like the G20 so much, why don’t you buy the current model?

Today’s G20

I am talking, of course, about the Acura ILX, which is the first-generation Infiniti G20, only 20 years later. I know what you’re thinking: How dare DeMuro desecrate the memory of the holy Infiniti G20 by comparing it with some crappy Acura! But I’ve actually prepared some intelligent thoughts on the topic, which is rare, so please bear with me.

Let’s start with platform. The Infiniti G20 was based on the Nissan Sentra of its day, which was generally agreed to be a fairly modest compact car with a reasonably well-respected performance version. Guess what? The ILX is based on the Honda Civic, which is also a fairly modest compact car with a well-respected performance version.

ilx

How about engines? The G20 used a 140-horsepower four-cylinder borrowed from the Sentra SE-R, which is the aforementioned well-respected performance version. That meant it reached 60 in around nine seconds, or – in the minds of TTAC commenters replying to the “Cars That Look Good But Aren’t” post – slightly quicker than an Ariel Atom.

Well, it turns out the ILX also borrows its four-cylinder from the well-respected performance version, which – in this case – is the Honda Civic Si. Yes, there’s a base-level ILX with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter engine from the standard Civic. But there’s also an ILX with the very same 201-horsepower four-cylinder as the Civic Si. You can probably see where I’m going with this.

Of course, it’s also important to compare pricing. Back in 1991, the G20 started at $17,500, which – adjusted for inflation – comes to $29,055, according to a rather dodgy inflation calculator I discovered using Google. And how does the ILX compare? It’s so spot-on that you have to wonder if Acura found the very same inflation calculator: the ILX with the Civic Si engine starts at exactly $29,200.

Clearly, I have conclusively proven that Acura successfully replicated the vaunted G20 in its ILX. But here’s the problem: no one is buying the ILX. Of course, that isn’t strictly true. My neighbor has an MDX, and whenever it goes in for service, she gets an ILX as a service loaner. Technically, that means it’s “sold.”

But actual humans aren’t lining up out the door to buy the ILX, despite its brilliant G20 heritage. So, G20 defenders, explain it: why is this? Really: I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Just as long as they’re in the form of a TTAC comment, and not a 3am wake-up call.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Review: 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-chrysler-300-srt8-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-chrysler-300-srt8-video/#comments Mon, 29 Apr 2013 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485421

There’s a “problem” with the modern performance variant: they are too easy to review. You see, dropping a high-horsepower V8 into anything makes it good. Take the last generation Chrysler 300 SRT8. It’s interior was made from plastics rejected by Lego and Rubbermaid and you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from the $9.99 rent-a-car special. The big difference with the SRT versions was that Chrysler stuffed a 425HP 6.1L V8 under the hood and a set of pipes that made the 300 sound like sex. The uncomfortable seats, crappy dash plastics and 1990s stereo were distant memories. If Chrysler had managed to fit the same V8 into the Sebring, it would have been the best convertible ever. This time is different. Before the 2013 300 SRT8 arrived, I decided I would not be seduced by Chrysler’s larger, meaner, sexier, more powerful 6.4L engine and review it like any other car. Can that be done?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Our refrigerator white tester is impossible to confuse with anything else on the road. While there are still some Bentleyesque features, the 300 is solidly Chrysler metal from the long hood to the slim greenhouse. The 300′s tall and blunt nose is entirely functional and the bold sheetmetal is truly function over form. You see, the 6.4L pushrod V8 is very tall and very long, jamming it under a modern sloping hood to a aerodynamic nose simply wouldn’t have worked. That height dictates the beginning of the greenhouse around the front doors and that line continues rearward.

Out back, things have been brought up market with new tail lamps that don’t have the same bargain basement theme as the first generation 300. Despite the improvements there’s something unfinished about the 300′s looks to my eye. Perhaps the original 300 was so bold my expectations for a redesign were unachievable.

For SRT8 duty Chrysler swaps the stock wheels for wide 20-inch aluminum shod with 245/45R20 all-season rubber and the front grille turns black. Nestled inside the larger wheels are larger rotors with four-piston Brembo brakes (14.2-inch up front and 13.8 in the rear.) The rest of the SRT8 changes are subtle enough that they may go unnoticed unless parked next to a lesser 300. The same finlets that sprouted in 2011 are present on the SRT8 and there’s no ridiculous wing or funky chin spoiler to destroy the 300′s luxury lines.

Those luxury lines are important in another way, they help justify the SRT8 Core’s  $44,250 base price. The Core model is a new twist in Chrysler’s SRT8 plot offering a bit more than just a “decontented” ride. In order to get the $4,000 lower starting price the Core ditches the leather seats, HID headlamps and adaptive suspension. Core models can be distinguished by the 6.4L badge on the front fenders, more aggressive wheels and the blacked out halogen headlamps from the 300S.

Interior

Nevermore has an automotive interior gone from plastastic to fantastic so rapidly as the 300 and it’s all down to stitched cow. The SRT8 Core model and base SRT8 models make do with a slightly rubbery injection molded dashboard, a $2,500 option on the non-Core SRT8 takes you to a place hitherto the exclusive domain of six-figure luxury cars: the full-leather dashboard.  Trust me, the cash is worth it. Without the upgrade, the Camcord quality interior plastics stick out like a sore thumb, with it your passengers will be fawning over your french seams. While the 300 interior feels less expensive than an M5 or E63, it’s a better place to spend your time than a CTS-V.

SRT8 shoppers need to be prepared for a sea of black or some fairly striking red as they are the only two interior colors offered in the 300 SRT8 and carbon fibre is the only trim available. I’m not usually a fan of black-on-black interiors, but Chrysler thankfully breaks things up a bit with Alcantara faux-suede sections in the seats. SRT8 Core shoppers have less choice being offered only in a black-cloth configuration.

All models get reworked front seats that offer more lateral bolstering but still suffer from Chrysler’s latest seat-oddity: seat cushions you sit on rather than in. While not as pronounced as the seats in the Chrysler 200 Convertible we had, I had the constant feeling I was sitting on a large gumdrop. Despite this, the seats proved reasonably comfortable on my long commute despite the lack of thigh support this design causes. Just keep in mind that Alcantara can be a maintenance bear, so avoid spills and trousers made of rough fabric. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Just Google “Alcantara pilling” to educate yourself.

Thanks to the super-sized proportions, the 300 offers the same amount of rear legroom as the Cadillac XTS. To put that in perspective, that’s several inches more than a BMW M5, Jaguar XFR, Cadillac CTS-V or Mercedes E63, all of which could be considered valid SRT8 competition. The 300 is more closely aligned in terms of size to the next-tier up in vehicles, the short wheelbase 7-Series, Cadillac XTS, short wheelbase XJ, etc.

Infotainment

Chrysler’s 8.4-inch uConnect infotainment system is standard although the Core model cuts the nav software to keep the price of entry low. uConnect is proof that being late to the party has advantages. Chrysler had more time to work out bugs, or maybe they just had better engineers working on the system, whatever the reason uConnect runs circles around MyFord Touch and Cadillac’s CUE in terms of response time and reliability. To date I have not had a Ford, Lincoln or Cadillac test car that didn’t have a total melt-down that required me to pull a fuse to reboot.

The system combines radio, multimedia, climate control, navigation, Bluetooth and other functions into a single screen. While some functions have duplicated hardware buttons, others can only be controlled via the touchscreen. This is both good and bad. It eliminates the button array plaguing Buick and Acura models, but some functions take longer and require more “eyes off the road” time than a hardware button. Stabbing the right button with gloves on is also a challenge.

The latest software adds full voice control of your USB/iDevice and worked very well without the library size limitations Toyota products suffer from. MyFord Touch offers a wider variety of “commandable” items and more natural command syntax, but  uConnect has a more natural voice and faster processing. Sadly the Garmin navigation isn’t well integrated into the system looking as if you’d just cut a hole in the screen and put a portable Garmin behind it. The look isn’t surprising since that’s exactly what Chrysler did, except they did it in software, not with a razor blade. While it makes uConnect’s navigation option inexpensive and easy to update, the graphics and menu structure don’t jive with the rest of the system and nav voice commands are very different from other cars on the market. Chevy’s new MyLink’s interface is just as snappy as uConnect but offers more polished navigation commands and a more seamless interface.

SRT8 models get additional apps tailored to the vehicle (shown above). The SRT apps include a race timer, G-Force displays as well as several screens of additional gauges like oil temperature, incoming air temperature, battery voltage, etc. There is also a custom screen that shows exactly how much power and torque the ginormous engine is cranking out at any moment. If you want the latest in uConnect with 911 asist and 3rd party smartphone apps, you’ll need to wait until Chrysler refreshes the 300 with the same system the new Grand Cherokee and RAMs use. If you want to know more about uConnect, check out the video at the beginning of the review.

Drivetrain

OK, this is the section you’ve been waiting for. Chrysler didn’t just tweak the old 6.1L SRT engine from the first generation SRT8 vehicles, and they didn’t just grab the Challenger Drag Pack/Mopar Crate engine either. You heard that right, this is not the “392 Hemi” in the Mopar catalog. Instead, Chrysler went back to the drawing board, cast a new block and built the new 6.4/392 around the design framework of the revised 2009 5.7L Hemi. This means you get variable cam timing to improve power and emissions, and Chrysler’s Multi Displacement System to improve efficiency. The redesigned engine still uses two valves and two spark plugs per cylinder and a heavily modified semi-hemispherical design. With as much engineering time as they undoubtedly spent, I’m somewhat surprised Chrysler didn’t cook up a dual-overhead cam SRT engine. No matter, there’s something primal about owning a car with an enormous push-rod V8.

Chrysler didn’t stop at enlarging the displacement, power is way up as well. The new monster is good for 470 horsepower and a stump-pulling 470 lb-ft of torque. While that may not sound like a huge improvement over the old 425HP 6.1L engine, the new 6.4 produces 90 lb-ft (or one whole Prius) more torque at 2,900 RPM. But that’s not all. Thanks to the trick cam timing, the new engine out powers the old by at least 60lb-ft from idle all the way to 5,600 RPM. The old SRT8 was a stout machine, but back-to-back, it feels like it runs out of breath easily. The improved thrust takes the 300 from 0-60 in a quick 4.5 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 12.87 seconds at a blistering 113 MPH. Those numbers aren’t that far removed from the BMW M5, E63 AMG, or Jaguar XFR-S.

If you were hoping 2013 would bring the new ZF/Chrysler 8-speed transmission to the SRT8, so was I. Sadly, the only cog-swapper offered on the 300 SRT8 is the old Mercedes 5-Speed that the 300 has been using since 2004. I wouldn’t say the Merc tranny is bad, but it’s not exactly a team player either. The shifts are somewhat sluggish, particularly when downshifting, and the ratios are far enough apart that highway passing can be dramatic or anticlimactic depending on how far down the transmission is willing to shift. Driven in a vacuum the WA580 is an acceptable play mate, but drive that Grand Cherokee SRT8 parked next to the 300 on the lot and your eyes will be opened.

If you believe that there is no replacement for displacement, the 300 SRT8 will be your poster boy. Sure, the latest German twin-turbo V8s put down more power, but the American bruiser has something they can’t deliver: a raucous V8 sound track. Proving the point I had the opportunity at a regional media event to drive several Mercedes, BMW and Chrysler models back-to-back on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The M6 blew down the main straight at a blistering pace with a tame, almost muted exhaust note. You can thank the turbos in the exhaust for that. Meanwhile hearing the 300 SRT8, Challenger SRT8 and Grand Cherokee SRT8 blast down the straight at the same time nearly made me pee my pants.

So it sounds good and clears 60 in 4.5. What’s not to love? The tire selection. All 300 SRT8s come standard with 245 width all-season rubber all the way around. Chrysler does offer a summer tire package, but it’s not what you want either. According to the 300 forum fan boys, you can stuff some seriously wide 295 or 305 width rubber in the rear without rubbing and there are a few companies out there making wider replica wheels so you can retain the stock look. Going this route will do a few things for you. The most obvious if the improved grip in the corners which is already good, but a lightly modified 300 proved it has the ability to be excellent and second you’ll get better 0-60 numbers. In our testing the 300 spent so much time spinning the “narrow” all-season rubber, I suspect a 4.3 second sprint to 60 is possible. Of course, that rumored 8-speed auto may provide a similar performance bump, the new cog swapper dropped the Grand Cherokee SRT8′s 0-60 time by a full second.

When the going gets twisty Chrysler’s adaptive suspension (not available in the core model) and regular old hydraulic assist power steering conspire to create a modern Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide. In standard mode the suspension is moderately firm and compliant, soaking up roadway irregularities like a taut German cruiser. In Sport mode the system stiffens the dampers and attempts to counteract tip/dive and sideways motions. In Track Sport the dampers are set to their stiffest mode and the 5-speed auto gets downshift happy. On regular road surfaces the suspension never felt punishing, even on broken pavement, which translates to a slightly soft ride on the track, a worthy trade-off in my book, since few new cars are headed for the track anyway.  The decision to leave electric power steering off the table for the moment makes the enormous and moderately numb Chrysler have perhaps the best steering feel in this coat-closet-sized segment.

As before, the 300 SRT8 represents an incredible value compared to the other high-performance RWD sedans on the market. The difference is, this time around I don’t have any caveats attached to that. Our well-equipped tester rang in at $56,235 with every option except the black roof, up-level paint and tinted chrome bits. That’s about $12,000 less than a comparable CTS-V, and a whopping $40,000 less than a comparable M5 or E63. Of course the SRT8 isn’t going to have the exclusivity or snob value of the Germans and it’s less powerful for sure, but the fact that we can even have this discussion is saying something. While the 6.4L engine is undeniably intoxicating, the 300 SRT8 finally gets better under the harsh light of reality. Chrysler’s new-found ability to craft a desirable interior and competitive infotainment system mean you won’t have to “live with” much other than the 5-speed automatic. Give Chrysler a year or two and even that caveat may be lifted.

Hit it

  • Sexy optional leather dash is a must.
  • Endless torque.
  • Bragging rights: My engine is bigger than yours.

Quit it

  • Ye olde 5-speed should have been swapped for the sweet 8-speed this year. For shame.
  • Rubbery dashboard in the Core model.
  • AWD would make the SRT8 sell easier in the north.

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.08 Seconds

0-40: 2.8 Seconds

0-50: 3.66 Seconds

0-60: 4.5 Seconds

0-70: 5.73 Seconds

0-80: 7.0 Seconds

0-90: 8.83 Seconds

0-100: 10.54 Seconds

0-110: 12.5 Secodns

1/4 Mile:  12.87 Seconds @ 113 MPH

Average fuel economy: 17.8 over 566 miles

2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Stitched Dashboard, Premium Leather Group, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Shift Paddles, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Shift Paddles, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, 20-inch Wheels, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Tail Lamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Rear Profile, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, uConnect 8.4 and HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, SRT Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Tachometer, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, HVAC knobs, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Center Console Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Door Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Back Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Front Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Back Seats Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Back Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Engine, 470HP 6.4L 392 HEMI, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Engine, 6.4L HEMI, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8, Infotainment, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Review: 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-toyota-avalon-limited-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-toyota-avalon-limited-video/#comments Mon, 22 Apr 2013 18:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=484895 The Avalon has been something of a caricature since it wafted on stage in 1994. The stretched Camry was low on soul, devoid of style and soft of spring. In short, it was the Buick that wouldn’t leave you stranded. Since then Toyota has struggled to divine a mission for their full size sedan, a problem complicated by the re-invigoration of the large sedan market by the American brands. In hopes of resurrecting sales numbers, which have slid to 25% of their 2000 year shipments, Toyota has injected something hitherto unseen in an Avalon: style. Is it enough?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Before we dive into the Avalon, let’s talk competition. Back when the LHS and Park Avenue roamed the land, the Avalon’s competition was easy to identify and easy to overcome. Nearly 20 years later those shoppers are in a nursing home and Toyota is hunting for younger flesh in a more competitive market. We now have the larger-than-ever Taurus, a new Impala that doesn’t make me want to put my eyes out, the Azera/Cadenza twins, Nissan’s Maxima and the less-Bentley aping 300.

But wait, I’m forgetting one. The “elephant in the room” that is the Lexus ES. You see, the kind of shopper that needs a new car and immediately thinks “Toyota Avalon” is far more likely to cross shop the Lexus ES than the gangsta 300 or the Impala. (You know I’m right.) After spending a a week with the twins back-to-back, this comparison is even more valid.

Exterior

While the “I’m a bigger Camry” look is still going on, Toyota has injected enough creases and curves that my 33 year old eyes gave the Avalon a second look (of course, I did buy a 2000 LHS new in 2000, so…) It’s not as exciting as the new Cadenza, but Toyota’s efforts look better thought out than the 11/10ths Cruze grille Chevy put on the Impala.

The new rump features more chrome, dual exhaust tips and tail lamps that wrap well around the side and thankfully share no styling cues with the Camry’s funky “apostrophe” shaped lights. The engineers stretched the greenhouse over the trunk to increase the visual length of the car, a trick that worked on me until I looked at the spec sheet. At 195 inches, the Avalon is 6-inches longer than the Camry, but it’s several inches shorter than the Chrysler, Chevy and Ford. Since the ES and Avalon are now twins separated at birth, most of the dimensions are common except that the Avalon gets a bigger booty (and more trunk space in the process) and has a lower ride height giving it a more aggressive stance.

Interior

The exterior looks like a Toyota product. No news there. Inside is a different ball of wax. The interior is why you may have heard people saying they prefer the Avalon to its Lexus sister. If you recall from our review of the Lexus ES 300h, there were plenty of hard plastics within reach of the driver, and instead of a leather dash (like the 300 wears) or stitched pleather goodness like the competition is wearing, the ES stuck with an injection molded dashboard “faux-stitched” with real thread. In an unexpected contrast, the Avalon’s interior has a more premium feel, thanks largely to heavy use of (you guessed it) stitched pleather. The faux-cow in the Avalon may not be hand-sewn (Toyota is mum on the subject) but its liberal use on the doors, dashboard and center console beat every competitor (except for that Chrysler with the leather dashboard option.)

My lunch group was divided about the styling, some feeling that Toyota had gone too far and the rest thinking it was a bold choice for Toyota. I fell into the latter camp. Yes, there’s an enormous driver’s window defogger vent (in the picture above), but I appreciate the fact that a styling direction was chosen rather than just repeating the same “beige” the Avalon has been known for. That a group of adults in their 30s were arguing the merits of an Avalon interior is nothing short of revolutionary.

Compared to the Avalon’s Lexus sister, the interior has a more expansive and harmonious feel despite the heavily styled parts. I think I chalk some of this up to the tan-on-black color scheme our tester sported, but plenty of it has to do with dashboard shapes. Lexus’ two-tier dashboard and the “high and centered” position of the infotainment screen make the dashboard feel more imposing than the Avalon’s sweeping forms and less “bulky” dashboard on the passenger’s side.

The front seats are functionally identical to those in the ES with the exception that the number of power-motions varies by the trim level. The thrones are thickly padded and comfortable for long journeys but larger shoppers should know that they are more “bucket” shaped than previous models. Taller drivers and passengers will appreciate the largest cabin Toyota has ever built, including the LS 600hL. With 42.1 inches of legroom up front, 39.2 in the rear, and class leading headroom, the Avalon swallows those tall kids of yours more easily than any front driver this side of the Cadillac XTS. How does Toyota do this with a shorter sedan? They “skimp” on trunk space. Our tester’s 16 cubic foot trunk is nearly 25% smaller than the Taurus and 18% smaller than the Impala.

Infotainment & Gadgets

The Avalon comes in four trim levels, three of which have no available options for the picking. Things start with the $30,990 XLE which comes well equipped with 8 speakers, a touchscreen audio system, Bluetooth integration, dual-zone climate control, keyless go, and a heated 8-way power seat for the driver. The $33,195 XLE Premium tosses in a moonroof, backup cam, an extra speaker, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. For $35,500 the XLE Touring adds navigation, shift paddles, driver’s seat memory, fog lights, 18-inch wheels with 225-width rubber, and Toyota’s Entune data services. Our tester was the top-of-the-line Limited which starts at $39,650 and gets auto-dimming side mirrors with puddle lamps, HID headlamps, 11 JBL speakers, rain sense wipers, three-zone climate control, heated rear seats, ambient lighting, a color HVAC control panel, and a passenger seat with eight powered directions instead of four. Limited buyers can further option their car with two technology packages, for $1,750 you get radar cruise control with pre-collision warning and automatic high beams and for an extra $200 Toyota will integrate a wireless charging mat into the console.

On the infotainment side it is important to remember that Toyota makes two different systems that share nothing with one another. The picture above is the 7-inch system in our Limited tester and the picture below is the 6.1 inch “display audio” system in lesser Avalons. The 6.1 system has more basic graphics but is more responsive and is designed around an “app” model where things like navigation (available only on the Touring trim) are just another “app” available via the “apps” button on the dash. The 7-inch system uses XM Satellite data services while the 6.1 uses your paired smartphone for dynamic content. The 6.1 provides a fairly basic navigation experience, but it is easy to use and very responsive. The 7-inch system (only on Limited) is the familiar Toyota/Lexus system that’s been around for several years that has been updated with Entune data services, smartphone app integration and voice commands for controlling your media device ala Ford’s SYNC. This is the same software used in the Lexus, except without the atrocious “Remote Touch” joystick.

Going back to the ES comparison, since the Limited model uses essentially the same system, driving the ES and Avalon back to back served to solidify my dislike of the Lexus pain stick. The exact same interface is considerably easier to use, less distracting and more intuitive when you can glance at the screen and stab the option with your finger.

Drivetrain

The 3.5L V6 is buttery-smooth, but churns out a less-than-thrilling 268 HP and 248 lb-ft of twist. For reasons I don’t understand, Toyota has yet to fit their D4-S direct-injection system which would make it more competitive on paper (the competition are all around 290 HP). (Ford of course still offers the insane 365HP twin-turbo V6.) Proving that horsepower isn’t everything, the Avalon’s light 3,461lbs curb weight allows it to scoot to 60 in 6.25 seconds, among the fastest in the group behind the 365 HP Taurus SHO and the 290 HP Maxima (thank the Nissan CVT). While we haven’t been able to get our hands on the new Impala, expect it to be fairly quick thanks to its low curb weight as well. Meanwhile the 300 V6, LaCrosse, Azera, MKS and plenty of others will be seen in the Avalon’s rear view mirror.

The only major change for 2013 is the fitting of paddle shifters to the 6-speed automatic transaxle in Touring and Limited trims. With the paddles comes revised software that blips the throttle on downshifts. Don’t get too excited, since this cog swapper is just as up-shift-happy and down-shift-resistant as it was before.

For $2,360 on XLE Premium and $1,750 on Touring and Limited you can opt for Toyota’s 200 HP hybrid system. This is the same setup under the hood of the Camry and ES 300h and increases the Avalon’s MPGs from 21/31/25 (City/Highway/Combined) to 40/39/40 resulting an a savings of $900 per year at $4 a gallon. The trade off is the loss of one full second on the run to 60, well worth the cost in my book.

Drive

For 2013 the Avalon has ditched the wallowy ride synonymous with the model in favor of stiffer springs and a more buttoned down demeanor. Thanks to the new found corner carving skills and a curb weight that is 600lbs lighter than the Taurus, the Avalon is more engaging, composed and nimble than the heavy Ford. Notice I didn’t say “handles better.” The reason the Taurus clings onto first place in our road holding test is down to rubber, seriously wide 255/45R19 rubber (Taurus Limited.)

The Hyundai Azera and its Kia cousin are well-priced alternatives. While the Avalon beats them handily in terms of interior refinement, the Koreans have plenty of power (293 HP) and coupled with a curb weight that’s only 150-200 lbs more than the Avalon they are quicker off the line. Thanks to more aggressive rubber and excellent suspension dynamics the pair is also faster around a track. Of course, shoppers in this segment don’t really care about handling limits and that’s a problem for the dynamic duo because their refinement quotient is still a notch below the new Avalon.

Nissan’s Maxima is fairly light at 3,565lbs and has one of the more powerful engines at 290 HP and 261 lb-ft of twist. Thanks to the low starting ratio and step-less nature of the Nissan CVT, the Maxima burns rubber on its way to the best 0-60 time in this bunch of 5.6 seconds. Of course I can’t talk Nissan without admitting that the CVT isn’t the “sporting” choice because of the “rubber-band” like feel they impart but I don’t think its much of a problem in this segment. On the down side, the Maxima is starting to show its age in a stable of products shifting to a new design language.

The Chrysler 300 is the odd man out. I’m including it because some of our readers would have complained if it had been left out. The problem is the 300 appeals to an entirely different sort of person, both because of its aggressive looks and its RWD drivetrain. Still, the 300 V6 would be my personal choice in this shootout, but I have to acknowledge that a bold RWD American sedan isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Chrysler’s smooth 292 HP V6 and the slick ZF 8-speed automatic are no match for the 300′s higher curb weight making the 300 slower to 60 by nearly a full second. Although I prefer the RWD dynamics of the 300, the heavier curb weight means the Avalon is the nimbler choice. On the flip side, the 300 Luxury Series (the most appropriate cross shop) has a gorgeous full-leather dash and the ride of a full-sized luxury sedan.

That brings us full circle to the elephant in the room: the 2013 Lexus ES. Our Avalon Limited tester has so far knocked the ES to its knees by delivering a better interior, nearly identical feature content, and an easier to use infotainment system. Of course, siblings fight dirty and the Avalon kicks her sister while she’s down by handling better thanks to stiffer springs and wider rubber. When you factor in the Avalon’s lower sticker price and the reality that the Avalon and ES are likely to be as reliable as one another and cost essentially the same to maintain, you have to ask yourself how much that Lexus logo is worth to you. Even outside the direct Toyota vs Lexus comparison the Avalon is highly competitive with an excellent interior, plenty of power, huge back seat and a price tag that isn’t as frightening as the “luxury” alternatives. I never thought I would say this about the Avalon: it’s the aggressive sister that knocks down her stuck-up twin and steals the boyfriend by promising to be a cheaper date. Since I like my women cheap and feisty, I’d take the Avalon up on her offer and only think about the ES once a year at family reunions.

 

Hit it

  • The best interior with a Toyota badge.
  • Never thought I would call an Avalon “nimble.”
  • “Better” than the Lexus for less.

Quit it

  • No ability to add navigation to the base display audio system.
  • 268 HP is nothing to brag about in 2013.
  • Smaller trunk than the competition.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.55 Seconds

0-60: 6.25 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.51 Seconds @ 98.8 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 23.2 MPG over 534 Miles

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Rear 3/4 View, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Daytime Running Lamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Headlamps, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Front Overhang, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Avalon badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Gauges, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Rear Climate Control, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Rear HVAC, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Door Stitching, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Passenger Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Front Door, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Steering Wheel Buttons, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Heated and Cooled Seat Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Memory Buttons, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Premium Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Premium Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Premium Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Premium Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Premium Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Premium Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Premium Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Infotainment and navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Infotainment Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Infotainment Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Interior, Driver's Window Defigger Vent, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Engine, 3.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Engine, 3.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Toyota Avalon Display Audio System with Entune and Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Toyota 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Small Luxury Crossover Growth Far Outpacing Small Luxury Sedans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/small-luxury-crossover-growth-far-outpacing-small-luxury-sedans/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/small-luxury-crossover-growth-far-outpacing-small-luxury-sedans/#comments Tue, 16 Apr 2013 15:06:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485072

The upcoming Shanghai auto show is expected to be similar to the Geneva Auto Salon in that crossovers, particularly those from premium brands, will be some of the most anticipated reveals at the show. Buyers in global markets can get enough of them, and that situation is no different at home, where the small premium SUV segment is growing much faster than the equivalent sedan segment.

The latest sales data from independent analyst Tim Cain shows just how quickly the entry-level luxury crossover segment is growing. In March 2013, sales of that segment were up by 46.5 percent year-to-date, while the small luxury sedan segment was up by just 0.5%. Overall volume was greater for sedans, with 38,859 units sold versus 32,209.

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Dear Automaker, Please Build Me A… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/dear-automaker-please-build-me-a/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/dear-automaker-please-build-me-a/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 16:58:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483663

In 1995, Subaru rolled out the Outback, which was tremendously successful at fooling New Englanders into believing that they were driving an SUV. Seriously: Subaru took a Legacy wagon, raised it an inch, painted the bottom part gold, and – for the first time in its history – became incredibly popular, even among people who don’t consider “granola” acceptable for a restaurant menu. (Let the record reflect I have now completed an entire paragraph about Subaru without making a lesbian joke.)

In 1998, the Subaru Outback range added a sedan model, called the “SUS” for “Sport Utility Sedan.” Unfortunately, the presence of a trunk meant New Englanders were no longer fooled, though some people from Colorado apparently were. Nonetheless, sales were dismal no matter how many times Subaru tried to remind shoppers that driving on a dirt road doesn’t mean you need to carry a lot of stuff. Eventually, they gave up and cancelled the Outback sedan, then redesigned the wagon to compete with a milk truck. (Seriously, why is it so big?)

 

But today’s article isn’t about the Subaru Outback sedan. Instead, it’s about the process that created the Subaru Outback sedan.

You see, just as the Outback was just starting to gain sales momentum, a Subaru dealer wrote to the brand and suggested they make a sedan version. After all, it would only take a new part here and there, and maybe a few dozen buckets of gold paint. Genius! And did Subaru laugh in the dealer’s face? Did they say: “Shouldn’t you be advertising at the local softball games?” (You knew it wouldn’t last the whole article.)

No. They actually built it. How cool is that?

Whenever I think about this story (which is whenever I see an Outback SUS, so every two years), I always consider how exciting things would be if we could simply write a letter to our favorite automaker and ask them to build the car of our dreams. Of course, some people actually have this ability. In fact, I think this may have been Bob Lutz’s job during his last six years at General Motors.

If I had the power to write a letter and make any car so, I promise I would use it judiciously (unlike Lutz). To minimize costs, I would only ask automakers to build cars on existing platforms. I would only suggest vehicles that have an appeal beyond the limited scope of my brain. And I wouldn’t ask Ford to bring back the Crown Victoria.

I can think of two letters I’d write immediately:

First, I would petition Mercedes to create an AMG version of its GLK compact SUV, which would be the very first performance SUV that makes sense. Imagine it: take the CLA’s dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive and 355-horsepower turbo four. Stuff it in the GLK, which is more practical than a sedan and nimbler than an M-Class. How can Mercedes create the R63 AMG and not give us this?

The next letter would go to Porsche, requesting a turbocharged Cayman with four-wheel drive, a stick shift, and a targa roof. This would be the perfect sports car: mid-mounted turbo power, three pedals, and Cayman styling with an open roof. Of course, people would stop buying the 911. But it would look damn good parked next to my GLK AMG.

While we’re writing letters, I guess I should write one to my bank.

The problem with all of this dreaming about variations of existing platforms is that it doesn’t always work out. Of course, the Lutz-era GM lineup is the best example of this. During the early 2000s, people at GM actually said each of the following things: “Yes! An Envoy with a retractable roof over the cargo area is a good idea!” or: “Who wouldn’t buy a retro-themed convertible pickup with a bed cover?” or even: “Our research indicates the market for a Solstice coupe is huge.”

But GM isn’t the only guilty party here. For example, the Jaguar X-Type station wagon didn’t create itself. Neither did the Dodge Rampage, which was – truly – a front-wheel drive pickup based on the Omni. And we can’t forget the Lexus IS 300 SportCross, or the Honda Crosstour, or the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. (The general rule seems to be: avoid the word “Cross.”)

Indeed, each of those failures must’ve been devised by product planning, approved by a board of directors, penned by designers, created by engineers, tested over millions of miles, and, finally, built by line workers. Maybe they should’ve just asked a dealer. Or me.

So, TTAC: what letters would you write?

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Audi A3 And S3 Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/audi-a3-and-s3-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/audi-a3-and-s3-revealed/#comments Tue, 26 Mar 2013 23:59:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=482413

You won’t see them at the 2013 New York Auto Show, but Audi took the wraps off the MQB-based A3 and S3 for North America at a private event today.

The standard A3 was revealed with its world engine lineup; a 1.4T making 140 horsepower and 184 lb-ft, a 1.8T making 180 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque and a 2.0 TDI engine making 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Audi hasn’t announced on which engines will come to America. The S3 will get a 296 horsepower 2.0T engine mated to a DSG gearbox and all-wheel drive. There will be no manual for the American market across the board, unfortunately.

Audi has also announced that we will get the A3 Sportback, though the S3 Sportback hasn’t been confirmed. The Hungarian-built A3 will go on sale in 2014.

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