The Truth About Cars » Test http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 31 Aug 2015 20:30:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 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 » Test http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-ford-mustang-ecoboost-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-ford-mustang-ecoboost-review/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 15:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1084361 I’m giddy like a school girl when the Mustang shows up. This is my ride to southern New Jersey for the 24 Hours of Lemons race, and it’s a perfect tool for the job. I think the new Mustang looks much better in person than pictures. This color combination is love at first sight. Upon closer inspection, it has the coveted […]

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2015 ford mustang ecoboost front side

I’m giddy like a school girl when the Mustang shows up. This is my ride to southern New Jersey for the 24 Hours of Lemons race, and it’s a perfect tool for the job.

I think the new Mustang looks much better in person than pictures. This color combination is love at first sight. Upon closer inspection, it has the coveted Performance Package, and a peek inside reveals its optional Recaro seats and, most importantly, a proper six-speed manual transmission! Yes, the car Gods have smiled upon me.

Yet, the biggest surprise is when I start the engine…

2015 ford mustang ecoboost engine

…which sounds like the Ford Escape.

Yup – it’s the new four-cylinder Mustang EcoBoost. That deep V8 tone, pronounced by a sweet rumble at start-up that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, is gone. Instead, I get the sound and fury of a CUV.

I keep an open mind because surely no one at Ford would put this four-banger into a Mustang if it’s anything but great. To be honest, to me, this is the most interesting engine of the three available, if for no other reason than I simply don’t not know what to expect.

Right away, this engine feels different than most sporty turbocharged fours. For one, it feels heavy. It does not rev very freely, as if there is a heavy flywheel attached. Interestingly, I said the exact same thing of the 1.0-liter three-cylinder in the Fiesta. Secondly, the torque curve is very flat and without much lag, both good. Ford says the engine’s peak 320 lb.-ft. is available between 2500 and 4500 rpm. There are 310 horsepower at 5500 rpm and it seems to drop off when approaching the redline.

2015 ford mustang ecoboost rear side

Accompanying that power from 2500 rpm up is the sweet sound of turbo whistle – quite addictive. During street acceleration or highway passing, this engine whistles blissfully while pulling hard, and it almost makes up for the lack of the V8 sound. Almost. But I question the noise: is it organic or is Ford fooling me?

So it’s got torque, but is it fast? That’s depends on your definition of fast. Buff books say the EcoBoost ‘Stang will achieve 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds and complete the quarter in 13.9 seconds. That was fast some years ago, but today that’s hardly quick; a V6 Accord is just two tenths slower through the traps. The EcoBoost Mustang requires persuasion to really move fast, whereas a V8 engine would seemingly have all the power, all the time.

Even when driven in anger, I wouldn’t go racing any V8 Mustangs and, trust me, every Mustang driver on the road will want to race you. Just look away. If you’re into modifying, you’ll be happy to know there are EcoBoost Mustangs running around with 400 horsepower at the rear wheels.

2015 ford mustang ecoboost dash

Despite being the smallest of the three American muscle cars, the Mustang isn’t a small sports car, being six inches longer and two and a half inches wider than the BMW 428i coupe. It weighs 3,532 pounds, which is about 100 pounds more than the Bimmer and 170 less than an equivalent Mustang GT.

While it feels heavy, Ford has somehow managed to make this weight work, and it’s damn fun to drive on any road. Despite being at a race track, I did not have permission to do any laps in the ‘Stang, but I am certain it would do quite well with the Pirelli P-Zeros as part of the Performance Package.

What I’m disappointed with is the fact Ford went through all this effort to make the F-150 body out of aluminum but only the hood and fenders on the ‘Stang. Less weight, which one would expect in the change to a four-cylinder engine, would drive the fun factor way up. It would improve the fuel economy, too, which the EPA rates at 22 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined. On my somewhat casual New Jersey Turnpike drive I got about 27 mpg. With the overall trip average, which included the fun Merritt Parkway and crowded Bergen County, I averaged 23 mpg. For comparison, the manual V6 gets 17 mpg city and 28 highway, while the V8 manual is rated for 15 mpg city and 25 highway. Not that fuel economy is a selling point of the Mustang.

2015 ford mustang ecoboost interior details 2

The rest of the car, to be brief, is great. The Recaro seats, despite lacking side bolster adjustments or bottom cushion extension, are very comfortable for the six-foot-two me and drew cheers from the dozen guys who asked me if they could check out the car. While supportive, the seats are not difficult to get in and out of and not at all tiring over my six hour drive. Unlike the conventional seats, the Recaros are not heated or ventilated, and they don’t return to their original position after accessing the rear seat. If I had one wish, it would be for slightly more headroom for the times one is wearing a helmet. The rear seats are best suited for shorter folks.

The shifter is damn near perfect for enthusiastic driving – not too short, with only the sixth gear not always where expected; little to the right. It was as if the car wanted to shift naturally from fifth to fourth, but going into sixth requires more decisiveness, which makes sense. The clutch pedal feels a bit stiff, reminding you this is no econobox, but it is not difficult when stuck in gridlocked traffic on the George Washington Bridge approach.

2015 ford mustang ecoboost exterior details

Once seated, forward visibility is very good and much improved over the previous generation, but the side mirrors are a bit small. The dash is nicely laid out, with all controls within easy access. Some things, such as the toggle switches chrome-like trim or the “ground speed” speedometer, may not be to everyone’s taste, but everything worked very well. It has taken me many years, but I have finally warmed up to the love-it-or-hate-it, soon to be replaced MyFord Touch system, which in this car was complimented by the Shaker audio system. The HID headlights are excellent, too.

What irks me are the selectable drive and steering modes. There are four driving modes (normal, snow-wet, sport, and track) and three steering modes (comfort, normal and sport). With each restart they default to normal. I understand all automakers do this now for various reasons, but I shouldn’t need to tell my Mustang to be sporty each time I get into it. It should have two modes: Go! and LMHBSMA!, let-me-hoon-but-save-my-ass track mode.

2015 ford mustang ecoboost other details

The 2015 Mustang EcoBoost starts at $25,300. This Premium model punches it up to $29,300. The Shaker audio system is $1,795, adaptive cruise control is $1,195, Performance Package (19” wheels with Pirellis, 3.55 LSD, thicker rear sway bar, bracing, larger rotors and 4-piston front calipers, larger radiator, gauge pack) is well worth $1,995, $1,595 for Recaro seats, few other minor options and destination charge bring the price of the reviewed vehicle to $38,585. For comparison, an equally equipped GT model would cost over $5,000 more.

Minor annoyances aside, I really like this ‘Stang. I love how it looks (especially in this color combination, which seemed especially tricky to photograph). I like all the features, the fun-to-drive factor, comfort, refinement, and its surprisingly large trunk – but it does leave me somewhat puzzled. It’s not significantly lighter, cheaper, or economical than a Mustang with the proper V8 engine. It’s also not much faster than the V6. It exists so Ford can sell the Mustang around the world, but anyone who buys one anywhere will be reminded they should have gotten the V8 every time they start the engine.

2015 ford mustang ecoboost

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. He and his team were doing really great in the race right until they blew the engine

Ford Motor Company provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. 

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Long-Term Tester Update: Fiesta ST Plus Track Night in America Equals Hella Fun http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/long-term-tester-update-fiesta-st-plus-track-night-america-equals-hella-fun/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/long-term-tester-update-fiesta-st-plus-track-night-america-equals-hella-fun/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 14:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1084017 I was once told that it’s good to start any piece of writing with a curious introduction – you know, something that makes the reader want to click through and find out more about the story. The more controversial the statement, the better. Well, here goes nothing. You no longer have any excuse to not […]

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NCMCHARLEY 694

I was once told that it’s good to start any piece of writing with a curious introduction – you know, something that makes the reader want to click through and find out more about the story. The more controversial the statement, the better. Well, here goes nothing.

You no longer have any excuse to not track your car. Want to find out more? Of course you do!

The Sports Car Club of America and I have had a rather sordid history as of late. I declined to renew my membership two years ago, citing a vast proliferation of autocross classes and unnecessary rules. I felt that the club was headed entirely in the wrong direction, so I did what any customer would do in that situation: I voted with my dollars. I stopped autocrossing with the club and started spending my motorsports dollars with 24 Hours of Lemons and American Endurance Racing. As a whole, I have felt like this was a good and correct decision, one that I have yet to regret one bit.

But then somebody at the SCCA had a brilliant idea. Why not rent out some great tracks across America, send out some very qualified organizers and instructors to run some open lapping days, and let anybody and everybody show up in whatever they’ve got in the driveway? The best part of the idea: it’s only a hundred and fifty bucks for sixty minutes of track time. That’s a dollar and a half per minute to drive as fast as you possibly can on great circuits like New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt, Willow Springs Raceway, Grattan Raceway, NOLA Motorsports Park, and the brand-new NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the new Corvette C7. Appropriately enough, they decided to call it Track Night in America.

Well, shoot. Looked like the SCCA and I were about to become reacquainted.

I headed out to the Track Night event at NCM Motorsports Park on May 19th, excited to drive my Fiesta ST on track for the first time. You see, I leased the ST because I wanted to track that mofo – I truly don’t understand anybody who buys the performance variant of a vehicle only to watch it collect dust in the garage. Also, I had heard nothing but great things about the track from everybody who had experienced it, including a text from Matt Farah, who had been there the day before driving the new C7 Zo6, that read: “This track is fucking amazing.” I had no doubt NCM would be amazing in a gazillion-horsepower supercar, but how would it be in the Little Sports Car That Could?

I had also encouraged some of the local autocross crowd to show up and test their personal mettle. I love my autocross friends, and I wanted to remove any and all mental barriers they might have had about tracking their autocross cars. Luckily, the SCCA had already pretty much thought of everything.

Tracking your car is too expensive? Nope. It’s $150, about what you already pay for six minutes of seat time at Nationals, and you get three twenty-minute sessions on a world-class circuit.

Never done this before and I’m not sure I’m ready for it? No problem. Come and drive in the free paced laps session. Seriously. It’s free. Ride along in somebody else’s car. IT’S FREE.

Don’t have all the necessary safety equipment? If you have an SA2005 helmet, you’re good. Nothing else is required. Tech your own car and go.

Car isn’t track ready? Again, no problem. You can bring anything you want. Bring your Passat. Bring your Sentra. Drive it as fast as you want. Nobody is timing you.

It’s too dangerous? Nope. They have a Novice group with strict rules about passing and distances between vehicles and wonderful classroom-style instruction. The most dangerous part of driving at a Track Night is likely driving to Track Night.

Which brings me back to my original curious introduction. There’s simply no reason to not go to a Track Night event. They’ve covered everything. They’ve made it as easy as possible for anybody from a total noob to an experienced racer to get on track and have as much fun as possible.

My favorite thing about Track Night is that it isn’t about competition. As Intermediate and Advanced group coordinator Jon Krolewicz told me, “This is all about creating an atmosphere of safety. The only thing they can win tonight is the chance to go home safely in their undamaged cars. I don’t even have a six dollar plaque to give them. If somebody is behind them, and they didn’t just pass them, that means that they’ve been caught and they need to move over. I encourage them to think of the other drivers on course as teammates, not competitors. We’re all trying to ensure a safe environment where people can have fun.”

Tom O'Gorman leads the Novice meeting at Track Night in America

Tom O’Gorman leads the Novice meeting at Track Night in America

Novice coach and driving instructor Tom O’Gorman, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since he was about sixteen years old, echoed these sentiments in his Novice drivers’ meeting. I observed Tom’s meeting with about twenty-five novice drivers, many of whom were driving on a racetrack for the very first time. He provided crystal clear instruction on passing, flagging, and how closely they should follow the car ahead of them. After each session, Tom was available to give coaching to anybody who wanted it, offering opinions on braking zones, corner entry and exit, and just about anything that any of them wanted to know. I found myself wishing that my first track experience had been in such a risk-free, supportive environment.

Drivers were able to self-select into Novice, Intermediate, or Advanced. Although I definitely wanted to experience each of the groups, I felt as though I’d have the lowest chance of on-track incident in the Advanced group (Jon informed me later that I was wrong about this. They’ve only had two incidents so far in the program, and both were in the Advanced group). I grabbed my helmet and gloves and headed out on track in the Fiesta. My advanced group “teammates” were as follows:

  • A Nissan GT-R
  • two fully prepped actual caged racecars on slicks
  • a Cayman
  • some long-haired hick in a C7 Z51 OH WAIT THAT’S JACK
Two extreme ends of the American sporting vehicle spectrum in one picture

Two extreme ends of the American sporting vehicle spectrum in one picture

Needless to say, I let them all go out on track ahead of me – no need to be waving them all by the little ST in the first corner. Speaking of which, let’s look at the track.

NCM course map

We would be driving the West course with the chicane, which meant the Fiesta wouldn’t be at much of a disadvantage – but let’s not kid ourselves here. Also, I had to remember that it wasn’t a competition. Right. There was no way in hell that I was going to let that C7 lap me in a twenty-minute session.

I could give you a turn-by-turn description of the track, but this is the year 2015. LET’S GO TO THE VIDEO!

If you’re at work or something lame like that, let me explain what you didn’t see. The Fiesta is a freaking champ. Yes, it understeers a bit. No, I haven’t quite figured out how to unwind it properly in tight corners when the brake vectoring kicks in. The OEM Bridgestone tires squeal like angry banshees. But what a car. What. A. Car. I drove it in Sport mode, but I never once felt the AdvancTrac kick in. In the back straightaway, I was seeing speeds of between 105 and 108 mph. The suspension handled the curbing magnificently, settling the little hatch back down after every apex.

If you did watch the video, you’ll notice how easy the car is to drive. My hands were relatively calm, as the car just went where I pointed it. Heel-toe shifting is really only possible in legitimate racing shoes, as the brake pedal and accelerator aren’t positioned exactly where you would want them to be for proper heel-toe execution. That being said, once you get it, it’s sublime; notice how the car just hustles from the front straight into the chicane, maintaining great balance and holding the proper racing line. Virtually nothing upsets the ST. It’s definitely a better FWD car than I am a FWD driver at this point. I’m still learning exactly when and how it likes to have the throttle applied in corner exit, as there’s enough available torque to overpower the front wheels at nearly any point on the torque curve.

However, the brakes weren’t really up to sixty minutes of track time. By the time the third session started, the brake fade was noticeable, and halfway through, it was nearly unmanageable. I had just decided the car wasn’t really drivable any more when the checkered flag waved from the final corner station. You can watch me overcook several corner entries due to the brakes in this next video, but, much more importantly, you can watch me catch a Cayman that started nearly a minute before I did. (Disclaimer: SCCA TRACK NIGHT IN AMERICA IS NOT A COMPETITION. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU PASS ANYBODY OR IF THEY PASS YOU!)

So, in summary, let me just say this: Track Night in America is the best and cheapest way for virtually anybody to experience a track in his own car. You could spend your Tuesday nights watching a sitcom or passively observing a sporting event or you could get your ass into your car and be a DRIVER. Even if only for an hour. Even if you never actually race. You’re participating. You’re an active member of your own entertainment. I promise you, you’ll catch the bug.

As for the Fiesta, I’m ordering a set of real, track capable brake pads for it as we speak. I’m happy to thrash the OEM Bridgestones to within an eighth of an inch of their lives, but after that, I’ll be ordering a set of something a little more appropriate for dual duty on the track and the street. The old saying about “driving a slow car fast?” Eff that. The Fiesta is a Fast Car that you can Drive Fast. You, too, can go Porsche hunting for less than twenty-five grand.

So what’s stopping you?

The Sports Car Club of America provided the entry to the Track Night in America event at NCM Motorsports Park. Photo credit goes to the legendary Danger Girl.

NCMCHARLEY 868

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2015 GMC Canyon 4×4 2.5L Extended Cab Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-gmc-canyon-4x4-extended-cab-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-gmc-canyon-4x4-extended-cab-review/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1058706 Today we are running two reviews of the GMC Canyon at the exact same time – one V6 and one 4-cylinder – for your reading pleasure. If there ever was a time to compare the same truck with different powertrains (and two reviewers with different perspectives), this is it. Let’s begin this review with a […]

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2015 gmc canyon front 34

Today we are running two reviews of the GMC Canyon at the exact same time – one V6 and one 4-cylinder – for your reading pleasure. If there ever was a time to compare the same truck with different powertrains (and two reviewers with different perspectives), this is it.

Let’s begin this review with a disclaimer: I don’t get pickup trucks.

Having lived in or near a big city my whole life, I simply don’t understand the need or appeal of the pickup. To me they are work vehicles with cramped cabins and no trunks. Heavy and inefficient, too. They were great when I worked construction in college, where we loaded the bed with crap and trailered a skid-steer behind, but I just can’t understand why anyone would choose to drive a pickup daily. But two million Americans buy pickups every year, so clearly they must know something I don’t.

2015_gmc_canyon_canyon dash

The first thing about the mid-size Canyon (and its Chevy Colorado twin) is there is nothing mid-size about it, measuring up about on par with mid-90s Ford F-150 and significantly bigger than its Sonoma ancestor as professionally eyeballed by me when both trucks were parked nearby. Have you not been in a full-size pickup in the last decade? Go sit in one. They are huge! GM is betting that for thousands of buyers full-size trucks are just too big they won’t cry for a V8, either. This is in stark contrast to Ford and RAM who chose to go big and offer only full-size trucks, albeit with more interesting engine choices.

Unlike full-size trucks, where the cabin feels amazingly wide and one needs to stretch to adjust the radio or climate controls, the Canyon cabin feels just right. There is plenty of room in all directions for the driver and front passenger. The overall interior layout is simple and easy to use, with all switches and controls exactly where you’d expect them to be. Visibility is good but those not used to pickups may find parking and reversing a bit more intimidating – this is a vehicle longer than most SUVs. Interestingly, while windows, door locks and the driver’s seat have powered controls, the outside mirrors on this base truck do not.

This lower trim level model had the optional IntelliLink audio system with a wide angle back-up camera, Bluetooth, and USB and auxiliary audio inputs. It also came with an app to stream Pandora off your phone which worked great. However, it did not have satellite radio and the system was not too happy streaming that off my phone app. Part of this audio system upgrade is OnStar, including control buttons on the rear view mirror, which I accidentally called while adjusting my view.

2015 gmc canyon dash radio

Not surprisingly, the rear seats of this extra cab model are useless for anyone over five feet tall, but my seven year old daughter and her friends loved sitting there; they didn’t even need booster seats. My three year old son’s big Recaro toddler seat surprisingly managed to fit in there and he even had room for his little legs when the front seat was about mid-point on its tracks. If you’re serious about having more than one passenger in the Canyon, I strongly suggest the Crew Cab model.

For those insisting on the extended cab model, which should really be called regular cab as there is no conventional regular cab offered, GM has an interesting solution for those bulky car seats. Removing the headrest from the rear jump seat and inserting it into the bottom cushion extends the length of the cushion, giving the toddler seat more support. Oddly, I did not see this written in the owner’s manual and I only realized it when writing this review.

The best use of the space behind the front seat, however, is as storage. In my time with the Canyon, I had to drop off three boxes of stuff at a donation place. I placed them in the bed in the morning. Midday, I had to move them inside the cab due to rain. When I picked up my daughter from school, I once again had to move the boxes into the bed. When I parked the truck for the night, I had to move the boxes back inside the cab once again because I didn’t make it to the donation place during the day. I understand that the aftermarket offers a ton of bed caps and covers, but a lockable, waterproof “trunk-in-bed” like on the Honda Ridgeline or the RAM boxes does make sense.

2015 gmc canyon extra cab doors

The extended cab model is available only with a 6’2” bed, whereas the Crew Cab is available with either 5’2” or 6’2” bed. Whichever bed you choose, it will be 57.8” wide at floor, with 44.4” between wheel-wells, and 20.9” deep. A sheet of plywood would need to be transported above the wheel wells, with an open tailgate on long bed models. There is a light in the bed, which is not very bright, and very useful steps integrated into the rear bumper like on the Sierra/Silverado. Part of the Convenience Package is an EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate utilizing an internal torsion bar and a damper for easier opening and closing. It works great. While the tailgate is lockable, it is not connected to the vehicle’s central locking system.

The vehicle in this review was equipped with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder DOHC engine making 200 horsepower and 191 lb-ft of torque. The rear wheel drive version can me matched to a manual transmission but a vast majority of buyers will likely opt for the excellent automatic. In my opinion, GM has always done a great job of programing their automatic transmissions and here they didn’t disappoint. That transmission doesn’t have much to work with however, as this engine seems inadequate for duty in this 4,100 pound truck.

The truck was fine in casual driving around town or highway cruising. However, when the road gets hilly or highway passing is required, it screamed for more power with the gas pedal to the floor. Like most pickup trucks on the road, the bed of mine was empty. I can’t imagine hauling anything of substantial weight or towing with it at highway speeds. If this was a car, I would say its four-cylinder engine sounds a bit unrefined, too, but it gets a pass as truck engine.

2015 gmc canyon extra cab bed long

This combination of engine, driveline, and chassis is rated by the EPA to get 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. According to the on-board computer I got 19 mpg driving at a leisurely pace from Boston to New York City and 17 mpg on the way back driving with a heavier foot. All driving was done at night with minimal traffic. The difference between the real world numbers and EPA is quite stark in this case and feels like it’s because this little engine had to work a lot harder than the V6 would in its place. The maximum payload for this truck is 1,470 lbs. If it had a trailer hitch, as all pickups should, this Canyon would be rated to tow 3,500 lbs. A V6 model with a trailer towing package can tow up to 7000 lbs.

The base GMC Canyon 4-cylindeer 2WD extended cab starts at under $22,000 with designation charges. The vehicle in this review, a 4-cylinder, 4WD, extended cab has a starting price of $27,935. The Convenience Package is $590; factory spray-on bed liner is $475; and the upgraded audio system is $275. Total MSRP for this vehicle, with destination charges, is $30,200. A fully loaded V6, 4WD, extended cab with a long bed model can clear $45,000.

Full-size pickup trucks, especially the quad-cab models with short covered beds, have become the modern large American sedans. They can even look like sedans from certain angles and interior can be optioned out to compete with luxury sedans. But despite what some manufacturers claim, full-size pickups are not for everyone and there is a good business model to sell smaller trucks, as Toyota has proven over many decades. GM saw that large gap in the highest volume market and filled it with what seems like a great not-so-little truck.

2015 gmc canyon extra cab rear 34

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. He used a different camera for this review and most pictures came out crappy. He is sorry about that. 

General Motors provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. 

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2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/review-2015-land-rover-discovery-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/review-2015-land-rover-discovery-sport/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 14:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1051793 With CUV sales surpassing those of their sedan counterparts, it should be no surprise every manufacturer is trying to get in on the high ride height action. Land Rover, virtually absent from the hot CUV segment, has finally released the all-new Discovery Sport to replace the dated LR2. The new Disco Sport is first vehicle in what […]

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2015 land rover discovery sport front right

With CUV sales surpassing those of their sedan counterparts, it should be no surprise every manufacturer is trying to get in on the high ride height action. Land Rover, virtually absent from the hot CUV segment, has finally released the all-new Discovery Sport to replace the dated LR2. The new Disco Sport is first vehicle in what will become a family of Discovery SUVs, all styled similarly with cues to the big Range Rover, but differing in size.

2015 land rover discovery sport grill

Aimed straight at the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, the new Disco is based on a modified Range Rover Evoque platform, giving it a longer wheelbase to increase rear seat volume. Most importantly, with some clever packaging, Land Rover has managed to squeeze an optional third row seat into the Discovery Sport. They call it a “5+2 seating configuration” and make no secrets the third row is best suited for taking kids across town.

Those without kids may ask: Why do so many parents want CUVs with a third row seat? The answer: kids have friends and those friends, along with one’s own kids, need to be chauffeured around. CUVs this size are popular because, due to their small footprint, they’re easy to drive. Yet very few – none in the premium segment – offer a third row seat besides the new Land Rover. Seating flexibility alone could be reason enough for buyers to choose the Discovery Sport over its direct competitors. (Please note the vehicle pictured was not equipped with the optional third row seat.)

2015 land rover discovery sport dash

The original Discovery, known as the LR4 in its current generation, is known for its commanding seating position. Unfortunately, due to the Disco Sport’s size, that same seating arrangement could not be replicated. However, it does offer windows bigger than most other CUVs. In concert with a huge glass roof, the Disco Sport evokes a sense of spaciousness. Likewise, rearward visibility is also improved over most CUVs, with parking sensors and a backup camera further aiding reversing, parking, and tight maneuvering.

The Sport has JLR’s new Autonomous Emergency Braking providing visual and audible warnings when it senses an impending collision. The system is capable of stopping the vehicle or, at the very least, slowing it down to reduce the severity of a crash. Other active safety features, such as Lane Departure Warning, trailer stability assist and hitch assist, are also included. (The Disco Sport can tow up to 4,409 lbs, although probably slowly.) An additional traffic sign recognition system displays the current speed limit on the gauge cluster, though it often sees yellow highway truck ramp signs and interprets them as normal highway speed limits. Thankfully, all of those features can be disabled for the driving heroes among us.

2015 land rover discovery sport interior details

The Discovery Sport has an all-new (or at least all-new-ish) infotainment system which will eventually make its way across the model lineup. It is similar in look and feel to the old system (hence, the -ish) but improved in every way, especially in terms of speed and ease of use. The system’s eight-inch screen has a somewhat low resolution at 800×480 pixels, but offers a WiFi hotspot and does a great job of streaming music from the various apps on your phone. You can connect up to two Bluetooth devices, with one of them being for phone and music and the other for music only. Four high-wattage USB ports make sure everything stays charged on the move.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a direct transplant from the Range Rover Evoque, but in the Disco Sport is mated to a new 9-speed automatic transmission, good for 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The engine makes 240 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque, enough to move the little Rover around but not enough to win many stoplight drag races. The Haldex all-wheel-drive system is controlled by Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, allowing the driver to choose the type of driving surface so the Landie can automatically adjust throttle response, gearbox, braking, and stability systems for maximum traction. Few will take their Disco beyond the dirt in the little league field parking lot, but this system works surprisingly well in the bigger Range Rovers.

2015 land rover discovery sport details

It is difficult to describe how any new CUV drives, because they all drive fine. They’re all comfortable. They can all take an on-ramp much faster than they should. They all stop better than sports cars from a time not too long ago. Some manufacturers claim their CUVs are “sportier” than others, but how can you quantify that? Sure, compared to large SUVs such as the Lexus GX 460 or Land Rover’s own LR4, anyone can consider this to be sporty, but no one is going to autocross it, either. In the end, this Discovery Sport is a family-friendly, kid-hauling grocery-getter. And you know what? It drives just fine.

The Discovery Sport starts at $37,070 for the SE model. The HSE starts at $41,570 and adds power seats, HID headlamps, glass roof, power tailgate, 19-inch wheels, and various styling bits. The HSE LUX is $45,570 and it adds upgraded leather, better audio system, and a various items that are optional on lower models as standard. Third row seats are a $1,750 option on all models.

Land Rover finally brought a gun to the CUV gun fight. While it is not technically extraordinary, the Discovery Sport is a good looking vehicle, has all the features desired by its intended buyers including the cachet of being a Land Rover, and is competitively priced in its class. The Defender lovers of the world may hate it and all the other CUVs like it, but as our former Managing Ed. said, “millions of Americans couldn’t care less and have very rational reasons for buying them, nor are they in the grip of some false consciousness and in need of a vanguard to liberate their minds from the shackles of automotive marketing.” I imagine this vehicle will be the volume sales leader for Land Rover.

2015 land rover discovery sport rear left

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. He once spent six weeks driving a Defender 110 around southern Africa and currently owns a green Bruder Defender 90.

Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. 

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Capsule Review: 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/capsule-review-2015-jeep-wrangler-unlimited-sahara/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/capsule-review-2015-jeep-wrangler-unlimited-sahara/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1026617 In the darkest depths of the Cerberus era, nobody at Chrysler could have predicted how popular the all-new “JK” Jeep Wrangler would be. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the incredible cross-section of people buying the Wrangler. Everyone from suburban parents, white-collar upper management types and my own mother. This, by the way, is a vehicle that still […]

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2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara side yellow

In the darkest depths of the Cerberus era, nobody at Chrysler could have predicted how popular the all-new “JK” Jeep Wrangler would be. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the incredible cross-section of people buying the Wrangler. Everyone from suburban parents, white-collar upper management types and my own mother. This, by the way, is a vehicle that still utilizes a full frame and live axles!

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara front yellow

In my own opinion, the Wrangler’s success comes from several different factors. The most obvious is the availability of the long wheel base Unlimited model, which offers 4 doors and a proper rear seat. Second, the JK and JKU have been significantly improved over the TJ; in addition to a stronger frame and a better body, things like the roof options were greatly improved, while creature comforts like the heater were brought into the modern era. Third, it has been continually improved since its introduction; a new interior in 2011, an all-new engine in 2012, and various features, options, and trims over the years. All of this was done without taking away the Jeepness of it; removable doors, drain plugs, folding windshield, and unmatched off-road capability. Think about it, it has a freakin’ folding windshield! In 2015!

The JK is now in the autumn of its years, but it is as young as the day it was born. It can be configured as a base short soft-top model with steel wheels all the way up to a fifty thousand dollar four-door Rubicon with heated leather seats, Alpine audio, roof liner, climate control, and remote start. You can have half doors or full doors and three different tops in nine different trim levels. Take your pick of a proper six-speed manual or a pretty damn good five-speed automatic. There are catalogs thicker than 1989 phone books filled with accessories. AEV will drop a HEMI V8 and convert one into an awesome pickup truck for you. How much money you got?

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara interior seats trunk

One of my hard-core-ish Jeep buddies (clean TJ with 3” lift, wheeled in summer) said that it’s sacrilegious to have some of these options on a real Jeep and something about Jeeps being built not bought. My other Jeep buddy (fuel-injected ’84 CJ-8 on 33s, wheeled very often) loves how the Wrangler has evolved and would buy one if he had the money. Search any Jeep internet forums and it is evident that people who off-road their Wranglers love them as much as those who haul kids in them. 33s can be stuffed in without a lift kit, 35s with a $200 spacer kit. A winch can be hidden behind the factory bumper, and fenders can replaced for high clearance ones with a few hours of work. The Rubicon comes from the factory with Dana 44 axles, locking diffs, and electronically disconnecting sway bars for increased axle articulation. I don’t understand why idiots risk illegally importing Land Rover Defenders when the Wrangler is just so good.

There is no denying that the Wrangler drives like a truck on the street. It doesn’t like sudden maneuvers but it was not dramatic when I needed to avoid a moron who couldn’t see a huge yellow Jeep in his side mirror. The seating position is high, so look far ahead and drive defensively.  Respect the Wrangler, and it will make a fun daily commuter. Or you can go buy the idiot-proof Grand Cherokee. Highway ride is much less tiresome than it was in older Jeeps but ain’t no Range Rover.

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara interior dash steering wheel

Wranglers are a ton of fun, but they are not for everyone. The doors are small, the front seats lack lumbar support, rear seat backs are near vertical, and the hatch is kind of a pain. Wranglers are loud, tall, bouncy, and thirsty (16 city/21 hwy). None of that really matters, as you have either already stopped reading this or you are busy planning a weekend for the semiannual ritual of hard-top to soft-top swap. It’s a perfectly imperfect vehicle for winter snow and summer sun alike, and in my opinion all enthusiasts should own one in their lives.

The Wrangler starts at around $23,000 and the Unlimited around $27,000. The very Baja Yellow pictured Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, which comes standard with color-matched fenders, power windows and doors locks, and side steps starts at $32,295. The Sahara offers options that may not be available on other models, such as leather heated seats for $1300 and body-colored hard-top for $1895, remote start $495, Alpine audio, which sounds really good considering the fact that it is in a tin can, is $795. The Uconnect system with nav, hard drive, SiriusXM, and a USB port is $1895. Throw in a connectivity package, automatic transmission, and a destination change and you’re looking at $41,515. That is a lot, but it is still a lot cheaper than any beat up Defender 110.

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara rear side yellow

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. His first vehicle was an ’84 CJ-7. One day he met a cute chick who was driving a black TJ with a manual transmission. He married that chick and now they have two kids who love Jeeps, but sadly don’t own a Jeep!

FCA US LLC provided the bright yellow vehicle for the purpose of this review. Seriously, the yellow body with yellow top and yellow fenders is a bit much. I tried to get it muddy but my favorite construction site was fenced off, so I only managed to get it salty. 

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Review: 2015 Acura TLX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-acura-tlx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-acura-tlx/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1023361 Some time ago the Acura brand has lost its ways. The recent regroup of the brand’s car lineup resulted in the small ILX, midsized TLX, and top-dog RLX in a tried and true same-sausage-in-three-lengths setup. I recently had a chance to sample both the entry-level 4-cylinder TLX, as well as the loaded V6 all-wheel-drive version. […]

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2015 acura tlx profile side

Some time ago the Acura brand has lost its ways. The recent regroup of the brand’s car lineup resulted in the small ILX, midsized TLX, and top-dog RLX in a tried and true same-sausage-in-three-lengths setup. I recently had a chance to sample both the entry-level 4-cylinder TLX, as well as the loaded V6 all-wheel-drive version.

Acura TLX headlight led

The TLX is a combination of the TSX and TL models, which only makes sense because those two cars were so similar. The new vehicle retains the wheelbase of the old TL but gets a few inches chopped off its front and rear overhangs. Increased use of high strength steel and aluminum results in a stiffer chassis and a slight reduction of weight. Style wise, the TLX adopts the brand’s design language seen in the ILX and the RLX, with the much disliked beaked slimmed and trimmed. The headlights, too, get the brand treatment first seen on the MDX, with five bright LEDs per side.

The displacement of each engine remains the same but both get upgraded to direct-injection for the TLX duty. The result is a very slight bump in power to 206hp and a flatter torque curve with a peak of 182 lb-ft at 4500rpm for the four-cylinder. The V6 gains power over the whole rev range but only a small peak gain of 10hp, for a total of 290hp at 6200rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4500rpm. Fuel economy ranges from 24mpg city/35mpg highway for the four-cylinder to 21mpg city/31mpg highway for the AWD V6.

Acura TLX shifter engine wheels

Honda seems to have gone all out on its new transmissions. The I4 is mated to an 8-speed dual-clutch, which cleverly uses a torque-converter for smoother take offs and low speed maneuvering, with typical DCT action afterwards. In daily driving it works great, as all the side effects of a typical DCT are gone, but when the vehicle is really pushed the paddle-shifter requested shifts were not as fast as some of the competitors’ DCTs. This combination is available only in front-wheel-drive.

Often criticized by auto-journalists, and frankly no one else, for its lack of gears, the V6 ditches the 6-speed automatic now gets hooked up to a new 9-speed automatic, probably for no other reason than to shut those guys up. Honda says that the shifts are now five times faster and the gearbox is over sixty pounds lighter than the 6-speed it replaces. The V6 also gets start/stop and an odd, unnecessary in my opinion, push-button and toggle switch shifter which is somehow supposed to inspire performance as it will also be featured on the upcoming NSX. The V6 can be had in front-wheel-drive or in the torque-vectoring Super Handling all-wheel-drive configurations, last of which gets its share of updates.

2015 acura tlx side

Both cars feature adjustable driving modes; Econ, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ modes. The Econ mode must be evil so I didn’t even attempt to drive in it. The Normal mode is good for people who use cars as appliances and are never in the hurry. The Sport was my preferred street mode with liberal shift points and a quicker throttle response. The Sport+ turns each transmission into full manual mode. The four-cylinder is not much faster than my stock ’95 Integra GS-R but on the street I never found it to be really short on power. I would say that the four is more fun to drive than the V6 because it requires more focus from its driver. The V6 is smooth and quiet at highway speeds, but even with its flat torque curve, the 9-speed transmission is forced to kick down a few gears during passing maneuvers.

The front-wheel-drive TLX models feature a four-wheel-steering system cutely named P-AWS. The system supposedly provides better low speed agility and increased high speed stability. Between this and the fancy Super Handling AWD system, these new Acuras should out-handle anything with an M badge on it. But they don’t. The suspension is set for comfort and does a phenomenal job of absorbing road imperfections. Further, Honda took all this fantastic suspension and steering technology and innovation, and topped it off with highway touring tires that belong on a minivan.

2015 acura tlx dash interior

Acura played it safe with the interior, with a focus on function. Front and center are two gauges with a small display in between. On the center pod is a control wheel with function buttons around it, and four climate controls buttons with two toggle switches below the primary touch-screen button. Seats are comfortable, heated, heated and ventilated on the top model, and each occupant has plenty of head and leg room. There is a nifty cubby for cell phones, two cup-holders, big center and glove compartments, deep door pockets with space for bottles, and a sunglass holder. The rear seat has an armrest with cup-holders and the seat 60:40 split seat back folds down.

I have experienced Honda’s new two-screen infotainment center before and found it frustrating. This time I set aside thirty minutes to set everything up; radio presets, phone configuration, Pandora, “favorites”, and such. Then I took my time to learn the basic soft-key placement on the main screen and subsequent menu pop-ups. Even then, even when utilizing the steering wheel controls to the max, there were functions that required me to take eyes off the road for too long to look for something on one of the two screens. The system can also be controlled by voice commands, but I have not tried that. This is a system of great capabilities, but like the similar two-screen system in the Infiniti Q50, it is just too complicated and most buyers will only utilize a fraction of it.

2015 acura tlx interior details

The TLX is a better vehicle than both the TSX and the TL it replaces. It is roomy and comfortable but not big. It is very quiet and it has an amazing audio system. It is a vehicle full of wonderful technology that will never be appreciated. Both engines have good power and fuel economy. On the road the TLX is so reserved that deep thoughts will start going through your mind as if you are Matthew McConaughey, but it is nowhere as dreary as the Lexus ES. For those reasons, the TLX will keep the vast majority of returning TSX and TL buyers very happy. It is the people who are expecting a sport sedan that Acura says this is who will be disappointed.

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. He owns a mint and rather original Acura Integra GS-R. He hauls his two kids around in an Acura MDX.

American Honda provided vehicles for the purpose of this review.

2015 acura tlx profile side rear

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Review: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Altitude 4×4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-jeep-grand-cherokee-altitude-4x4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-jeep-grand-cherokee-altitude-4x4/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1008770 The current Grand Cherokee has been a huge success for the Jeep brand. The handsome vehicle is available with four engines, five drivelines, and in many trims, best of which can give the Range Rover a run for its money. The Altitude, introduced for 2014, is an interesting model, where Jeep takes many desirable features, […]

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2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude side

The current Grand Cherokee has been a huge success for the Jeep brand. The handsome vehicle is available with four engines, five drivelines, and in many trims, best of which can give the Range Rover a run for its money. The Altitude, introduced for 2014, is an interesting model, where Jeep takes many desirable features, wraps them in a monotone exterior with sporty black wheels, and prices the package well.

In the past I have reviewed Grand Cherokees with V8 and diesel engines. The Overland V8 felt like a hot-rod with tons of instant power but the fuel economy was predictably poor. The EcoDiesel is a smooth operator with a ton of torque and great gas mileage, but it comes at a high price. Could this nicely optioned V6 model be the happy medium?

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude front

The Pentastar 3.6-liter generates 290hp, which is more than the hot rod 5.9 Limited did in the late 90s, and 260lb-ft of torque. In this configuration it is mated to a new-for-2014 eight-speed transmission and the base Quadra-Trac I 4WD system with a single-speed transfer case. The EPA rates this combination for 17mpg in the city and 24mph on the highway, with 19mpg combined. Those numbers are very close to the ones I got real world driving, where I averaged about 18mpg with somewhat of a heavy foot around southern Florida.

This engine is surprisingly smooth, quiet, and has plenty of power on tap. Acceleration and highway passing are effortless and it loves to cruise. The transmission has a regular mode, which makes things a little lethargic until you really stomp the gas pedal, and a sport mode which magically quickens the throttle response and changes shift points to where they should really be. There also an evil Eco button which is suppose to save more fuel when engaged but in really it just makes things slower.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude interior details

The Pentastar-powered Grand Cherokees are rated to tow a maximum of 6200lbs. Unless towing is a serious buying objective, or you have a perfectly understandable diesel fetish, there is really is no good reason to select any of the other engines for the basic purposes of getting to work or hauling the kids around. The EcoDiesel and V8-powered Grand Cherokees, including the SRT, are rated to tow up to 7400lbs (7200lbs for 4×4 models).

The black twenty-inch wheels, which are wrapped in 265/50 GoodYear Fortera HL rubber, don’t exactly scream “Trail Rated” but the ride is surprisingly smooth and quiet. A tire’s side profile is the percentage of its width, so despite this being a dub, there is still a good amount meat to absorb potholes. I know a handful of people who own the JGC with twenty-inch wheels and none of them has bent a wheel yet. I reviewed the EcoDiesel Grand Cherokee with similarly sized wheels in the winter and that Jeep got through deep (6″-8″) fresh snow surprisingly well. The Altitude has the base coil-spring suspension with conventional shocks, unlike some other models that have the height adjustable air suspension. Like the V6 engine, for a vast majority of people this setup offers a very nice blend of ride comfort, handling, and payload.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude side profile

The dash is cleanly laid out with the minimum amount of buttons and just the right amount of knobs. The gauge cluster consists of center screen which is configurable in a multitude of ways via steering wheel controls. The seats are comfortable but could use more support overall, and the headrests have a nice tilt feature which can support your neck on long drives without putting you to sleep. The center console has a cubby for your phone with all connections, two cup holders, and a large segregated closed compartment. The rear seats recline and are split 60:40, but don’t have a center pass-thru. The rear window does not pop up like it once used to.

The touchscreen Unconnect is one of the most user-friendly systems on the market, with soft buttons for all major functions and auxiliary audio controls on the back of the steering wheel. If there is a downside, it’s that the heated seats/wheel controls are also hidden in it. The system streams music over every phone app imaginable, including Pandora and IHeartRadio. Your phone can be connected via Bluetooth, USB, or auxiliary input. There is also an SD card slot. The system even has a hotspot (subscription required) to stream music independently of your phone data program.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude other details

The interior is not perfect, however. The visibility is not great and there are blind spots in the back as well as in the front due to a large A-pillar, big side mirrors, and mirror mounts. Being picky, I noticed some wiring and not covered metal body under the seats, visible when you drop something, for instance, and uneven trim around the sunroof when looking from the outside in. The biggest annoyance is the electronic shifter which toggles like a joystick, requiring a look down or at the gauge cluster for gear indication.

The Altitude is priced and positioned between a loaded Laredo and Limited with some options. For $37,095 the Altitude offers SRT-like body-colored claddings, fascia, and grill, glossy black badges, black light trim, and black wheels. Inside are black heated leather and suede seats (the only color choice) and a large 8.4″ Uconnect touch-screen, sans nav. The driver gets a power seat but it lacks the memory feature. Power hatch, 115vAC receptacle, and a remote start round out the Altitude package. Sunroof is $1095 extra, 506-watt audio is $495, back-up camera with sensors is $395, and the destination charge is $995, for a total of $40,075 as seen here.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude wheel

The Altitude has many desirable features and it certainly looks good. It is priced well by skipping the features that the majority of buyers won’t care for, but it lacks some things, such as the roof rack. Some options are not available on it, specifically blind spot detection and the active forward collision warning and crash migration which can literally save your life – those are only available on the loaded Limited and higher models. Other versions of the Grand Cherokee provide some very impressive off-road hardware and/or road performance but no one will buy the Altitude for its power or off-road abilities but rather for the peace of mind and functionality that an all-wheel-drive SUV provides.

2015 jeep grand cherokee altitude side rear

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. In the past he has owned two Jeeps, a CJ-7 and a TJ Wrangler. His mother just bought a new Wrangler which he may have started modding. 

FCA US LLC provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review while I was thawing out in Florida. 

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Review: 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-subaru-outback-2-5i-premium/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-subaru-outback-2-5i-premium/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 14:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=995058 The SUV craze of the 1990s caught Subaru by surprise. The company simply did not have a product that everyone wanted. The North American division of Fuji Heavy Industries had no choice but to play the cards they were dealt.  The engineers looked into the VW Golf Country 4×4 for inspiration, then took a Legacy […]

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2015 Subaru Outback side

The SUV craze of the 1990s caught Subaru by surprise. The company simply did not have a product that everyone wanted. The North American division of Fuji Heavy Industries had no choice but to play the cards they were dealt.  The engineers looked into the VW Golf Country 4×4 for inspiration, then took a Legacy wagon and lifted it, added some molding, big fog lights with mesh screens, and a roof rack. The marketing people ingeniously called it the Outback and hired the best known Aussie in America, Paul Hogan, to promote it.

The results of this marketing brilliance were sales that exceeded expectations, possibly saving the company. The Outback was such a huge hit Volvo and Audi followed suit and jacked up their own wagons, creating the Cross Country XC and the allroad quattro.  At the 2014 New York International Auto Show, with yours truly in attendance, two models first dressed as vegan organic French-press coffee drinking hipster hikers, and later as that blissfully ignorant well-dressed couple that every thirty year old yuppie think they will always be, unveiled the fifth generation of the Outback.

2015 Subaru Outback front

Three inches taller, four inches longer, and five inches wider than the original, the new Outback is the same as the old Outback. Some found the styling of the new car lacking originality. Those are the same people who would have complained that Subaru killed a great product had the Outback looked any different. I was never a fan of the previous generation Legacy/Outback, so I found the new, dare I say more generic, look rather refreshing.

But Subarus have never been about looks. In fact I would go so far as to the say that most Subaru cars have been ugly in a cute way, sort of like a Pug or a Bulldog. Subarus have always been about functionality, reliability, all-weather traction, and price. The new Outback continues these traditions placing function over form and cost over perceived opulence. From the outside, the two-tone scheme of the original has been reduced, the fog lights got smaller, and the roof rack more pronounced but the two-box shape on stilts cannot be mistaken for anything other than an Outback.

2015 Subaru Outback interior frotn details

Inside, functionality and simplicity triumphs, but its quality has significantly improved over the previous generations. The infotainment system is much improved, it is now easier to see, and simpler to use and set up. The test vehicle did not have a navigational system, but controlling the radio, phone, and auxiliary input devices is similar to using a Windows tablet. In the front of the center console is an auxiliary audio input and two USB ports (that’s two more than Audi). The audio system did sound pretty good, too, for what is essentially a base vehicle. Looking from inside out, at night, the headlights are not overly bright given the recent technical advances in headlight technology.

Dual zone climate controls are equally simple to use, but there are no vents for rear passengers. There are cup-holders in the center console, bottle holders in the doors, big door pockets, sunglass holder on the roof, a simple covered cubby for phones, and a large glove box. It’s these little things that make daily life easy and it’s amazing how many automakers cannot get that right (I’m looking at you Range Rover). Nothing is perfect, however, and my eight year old daughter, who reads a dozen books a week, completely wrote the Outback off for not having reading lights for rear passengers.

The front seats are comfortable, but the headrests could use a rake adjustment and bottom cushions could be longer. Someone at Subaru finally figured out that heated seat buttons are invisible when they are located under the center armrest and moved them to climate control panel. The rear bench is wide with plenty of leg and head room. The seatback is split 60:40, but there is no center pass-thru, so skiers with more than two rear passengers have to use the meaty-looking roof rack. That roof rack itself is functional, too, with standard cross-bars that slide and fold into the rails when not in use. There are also four tie down loops which can secure up to 150 pounds of cargo.

2015 Subaru Outback details

With high ground clearance and a high center of gravity, Subaru did not intend to make a driver’s car out of the Outback. The 2.5-liter pancake engine also won’t impress anyone with its 175hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. Worse, this engine is attached to a continuously variable transmission. This powertrain combination makes buzzy and whiney noises turning an otherwise quiet cabin into a noisy one. For that noise buyers are rewarded with fuel economy of 25mpg in the city and 33mpg on the highway, which was once considered excellent for a small econobox. Despite all that, the Outback somehow manages not to be a soulless appliance and is somewhat fun to drive. Perhaps it’s the car-like seating position and the jacked-up ride height, along with suspension tuned to nicely absorb the winter ridden roads, that create the feeling of being a rally driver.

Subaru makes a big deal of their AWD system, so it was a nice coincidence that the Northeast got hit with a big snow storm while the Outback was in my possession. It is common knowledge that tires are the most important thing in winter driving but this car was equipped with a set mediocre Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport. Automakers like to use these tires because they are cheap, quiet, comfortable, and last long. I have personally had some bad experiences with these tires, so I was very cautions driving the Outback in the snow. To my surprise, the big wagon proved capable; granted the snow was packed and it wasn’t deep. In an empty lot near my work I turned the hoon knob up a little and even then, with stability control off, the vehicle stayed totally composed and controllable. There is a good reason why New England and Denver are Subaru’s biggest markets – with a proper set of snow tires this would be an amazing winter vehicle.

2015 Subaru Outback rear hatch open

The test vehicle was equipped with Subaru’s EyeSight system, which is optional on all but the base Outback. The system works off two cameras mounted between the rear view mirror and the windshield. The system is able to detect speed differentials, brake lights, pedestrians, and bicycles. It has the ability to cut power, apply brakes, and bring the vehicle to a complete stop, if not avoiding an accident completely, than at least minimizing the impact. It tells those who bury their heads into their phones at traffic lights that the vehicle in front has moved. When reversing, it calmly alerts you that a vehicle is coming from the side. The whole system can be fully disabled for those with mad driving skillz, but for the majority of buyers this is a no-brainer option – it can protect the not only vehicle occupants but everyone else on the road, too, and will likely repay for itself in the first near-hit.

The base Outback, steel wheels and all, starts at about $26,045. The 2.5i Premium model seen here starts at $27,295. EyeSight with power tailgate package is $1695, mirror compass is $199, and rubber floor mats are a bargain at $72. For some reason Subaru charges a mandatory $300 for the vehicle to meet the Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle standard. Total price, with destination charges, is a very reasonable $30,111. Other options on the 2.5i Premium are sunroof and a nav system. Limited model comes with leather and the 3.5R Limited has more powah!

For thirty grand, the mid-level Outback gives you large SUV functionality, solid reliability, and all-weather traction while not looking like a cookie-cutter CRA-V4. Fun-to-drive factor, latest and greatest safety systems, and good gas mileage are the icing on this frosty cake. I was surprised by home much I liked this Outback and I would put it high on my shopping list of two-row SUV-ish vehicles, along with the Grand Cherokee and the 4Runner.

2015 Subaru Outback rear

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. He is known to enjoy organic coffee made in a French press, day hikes, and nights out on the town. He has yet to find one ideal vehicle for all those activities.

Subaru of America, Inc. provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. 

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Review: 2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/review-2015-5-volvo-xc60-t6-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/review-2015-5-volvo-xc60-t6-awd/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 17:24:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=955474 Volvo is in midst of a turnaround. Sold by Ford and acquired by Chinese Geely Automobile, Volvo representatives see the company heading on a path similar to Jaguar and Land Rover. With this fresh injection of money, in recent years we have seen many concept cars, existing product updates, amazing new engines, and the first all-new […]

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2015 volvo xc60 t6 side 2

Volvo is in midst of a turnaround. Sold by Ford and acquired by Chinese Geely Automobile, Volvo representatives see the company heading on a path similar to Jaguar and Land Rover. With this fresh injection of money, in recent years we have seen many concept cars, existing product updates, amazing new engines, and the first all-new post-Ford model, the handsome XC90. Refreshed for 2014, the 2015.5 XC60 receives further minor upgrades, including an app!

2015 volvo iphone app screenshot

Smart phones, as they are called, are all the rage among kids these days. They say that kids even care more about their fancy phones with intentionally cracked screens than they do about cars, which is equally sad and puzzling. Automakers have their hands full with cell phones, too. From distracted driving, proper connectivity, to charging ports and cubbies, cars must be fully cell phone friendly. Several automakers have even gone as far as integrating cell phone-like apps into their infotainment systems and even developing their own apps, which is what Volvo just did.

This app, available on iOS, Android, or Windows Phone (respect and apologies to all the BlackBerry users) enables to user to get vehicle information, location, status, as well as remote unlocking and start. It’s basically all the information that is selectable on the gauge cluster of most modern vehicles, in the palm of your hand. It even sends you push notifications if your Volvo is unlocked. Its best feature is probably being able to unlock and start the car from your phone and spy on its location when it is used by someone else. VIN number, user passcode, and code generated by the vehicle were needed for the initial setup. Only the user passcode was needed for further usage. The app is part of the 2015.5 update which includes Sensus Connect, an OnStar-like service which I did not try out.

2015 volvo xc60 t6 front

Recently Volvo has also introduced a new family engines called Drive-E. I had a chance to drive an S60 with the 302hp supercharged and turbocharged version of that engine and simply fell in love with it. The engine had plenty of low-end power and pulled to the redline with authority, all while achieving almost 30mpg overall. Unfortunately the Drive-E engines are currently available only in FWD configuration. The vehicle in pictures is an AWD T6 model powered by an older 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine with 300hp and 325 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a powerful engine, and it moves the boxy XC60 with ease, but it is neither as refined as the new Drive-E nor nearly as efficient at 17mpg in the city and 24mpg on the highway.

Despite its age, the recently updated XC60 still looks fresh and really stood out when I parked in a garage full of gray generic cars. It’s still a modern and handsome design, one that draws attention but is also quickly forgotten, and almost invisible to cops. It’s also unmistakably Volvo, thanks to the family headlight and grill design, as well as the huge six inch male symbol logo front and center.

2015 volvo xc60 t6 dash

The driver and passengers are rather isolated from road in the XC60. The vehicle is very quiet and the body feels very stiff, allowing only deep thumps from road imperfections to be transmitted inside. The ride is very comfortable overall but the twenty-inch wheels and 255/45 Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires are a bit of overkill and probably not the best choice for winter. The few buyers who will throw the XC60 into a curve at speed will be rewarded with minimal body roll and general composure similar to many European sedans.

The interior has premium and solid feel to it. All of the interior materials are soft and nice to touch, gauges are easy to read, and the two-tone sports seats are very comfortable and supportive, finished in soft leather. Rear passengers might complain about legroom, and fitting three booster seats across the bench seat will be challenging. The center stack is full of small buttons but the primary controls are performed via the four big knobs and steering wheel controls. The infotainment system could use a bigger screen and it could be a bit higher in the dash.

2015 volvo xc60 t6 interior details

The 2015 Volvo XC60 T5 Drive-E FWD starts at $36,200. The vehicle reviewed here is $42,400. Platinum package is $4400 and it includes a power tailgate, Xenon headlights, keyless entry, backup camera, HomeLink™, Harmon Kardon audio, adaptive cruise control and many other active safety features such as collision warning and avoidance, pedestrian/cyclist detection, and lane departure warning. Climate Package & Child Booster Seats is $1550, sport seats are $500Blind Spot Information System Package is another item that should be standard on a Volvo but costs $900. Metallic paint is $550, dub wheels are $1000, and the destination/delivery charge is $925. The total for the tested vehicle comes to $52,225. The top of the line XC60 T6 AWD R-Design Platinum is $50,750 before options.

2015 volvo xc60 t6 trunk

For decades Volvo has been know as the safety brand. Looking at the Monroney sticker and where the company is today, I would love to see all of those new active safety features become standard across the model range. Furthermore, all of that technology and those great new engines are not going to contribute to additional sales if price is significantly higher than the sales leaders such as Jeep’s equally equipped Grand Cherokee or the Lexus RX 350. The XC60 is a pleasurable vehicle to live with but it is out-pricing itself in a very competitive market segment.

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Volvo Cars of North America, LLC provided the vehicle for this review.

2015 volvo xc60 t6 rear 34 2

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Review: 1982 VAZ 21033 – Lada 1300 for the Soviets http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/review-1982-vaz-21033-lada-1300-soviets/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/review-1982-vaz-21033-lada-1300-soviets/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:26:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=937082 Everyone knows it by its export name, Lada, but its real name was VAZ and that is how it was commonly known in Soviet Union. Like all other Soviet automakers, VAZ is an acronym and it stands for Volzhsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or Volga Automobile Plant. This is not to be confused with Volga cars which were […]

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1982 vaz lada 21033 front 34

Everyone knows it by its export name, Lada, but its real name was VAZ and that is how it was commonly known in Soviet Union. Like all other Soviet automakers, VAZ is an acronym and it stands for Volzhsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or Volga Automobile Plant. This is not to be confused with Volga cars which were made by GAZ, Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod or Gorky Automobile Plant, some 600 kilometers southeast.

1982 vaz lada 21033 rear 34

The 2103 model, like all Ladas in this series, 2101 through 2107, is based off the 1966–1974 Fiat 124 Special. Designed to be the car of the people, in its transformation from Fiat to VAZ, the vehicle lost most things that could have been described as a luxurious. Furthermore, the body and chassis were modified to withstand the harsh Soviet climates; thicker steel, better heater, increased ride height, and a newer Fiat-designed engine. The 2100-series VAZs and Ladas, also known as Classic, Riva, Signet, Laika, or Kalinka depending on the market, were produced from 1970 until 2012 in Russia, and the 2107 is still in production in Egypt!

1982 lada vaz 21033 exterior details

The VAZ 21033 pictured here is one of the more rare models. The 21033 was a less expensive version of the basic VAZ 2103. The differences between the two are limited to the 21033 having a 70hp 1.3-liter engine, versus a 75hp 1.5-liter engine. The 2103 also had a radio with a single speaker, whereas the 21033 did not. Those lucky enough to be able to purchase a new VAZ may have been given the options of some models which included engine size or a wagon body. The price for the 21033 was 8617 Rubles, whereas the price for the more powerful 2103 was 8667 Rubels in 1982. Needless to say anyone who could choose, chose the 2103.

1982 lada vaz 21033 exterior details 2

The story of the pictured 21033 is that it was won in a state lottery by some lady in 1982. Because she was not buying a car, she was not given a choice of model, so she got what no one else wanted. After thirty years of use and abuse, the VAZ was purchased by a young Russian-American enthusiast of Soviet vehicles named Roman. With the exception of paint, he restored mostly by himself in Ukraine and then shipped the car to New York two years ago. After proper federal and state paperwork was completed, the car was issued New York state license plates.

1982 lada vaz 21033 interior dash

Vehicle restorations can vary in forms and qualities; for instance I have a personal distain for cars that have been supposedly restored to factory level, but are in reality over-restored and therefore superior to what they were brand new. Over-restoring any Eastern Bloc car would be a rather simple task given their original built quality, and that is where Roman was extra careful. The car was improved where it seemed practical, so factory issues such as poor panel gaps and overs-pray were avoided.

1982 lada vaz 21033 interior details driver

 

Each part used was an original factory part, many of which proudly display a CCCP logo, otherwise known as “made in USSR”. Brand new parts were used on few rare occasions but most were old, restored to original condition. Since these vehicles have been in production for such a long time, finding the original model year part was not always easy for Roman. One such instance were the front fenders, which varied in style but not in fitment. The replacements for the rusted out original fenders were no longer available, so fenders from a newer model had to be adopted for proper side-marker and trim fitment. Steel wheels with chrome covers are also original, down to what looks like a missing center cap.

1982 lada vaz 21033 other details

All interior parts are original, including seat covering. Shockingly, such luxury item as the rear center armrest was standard but headrests were not added until later in production. Manual seat-belts provide world class insecurity and a lot of the interior had a very familiar Fiat feel. Where he could, Roman added factory accessories, such as the factory radio and with a mono-speaker mounted below it; at the right frequency, the ignition system is very audible. Other interesting features are designed with security in mind, such as quick disconnect wiper blades and side mirror, both of which were frequently stolen in communist Russia.

1982 lada vaz 21033 interior details

The front seats offer little support yet are comfortable, feeling springy like older Mercedes-Benz seats. They give an impression on being seated on, rather than seated in. The rear bench has the same springy feel to it. I was really impressed with the amount of leg and headroom for such a small car; a modern 3-series would not be any more spacious, with the exception of the VAZ being a lot narrower, having smaller doors, and much smaller overall exterior dimensions. This is a small car by modern standards, one can almost hug it!

1982 lada vaz 21033 engine

The trunk is lined with a factory-like vinyl cover which I have never seen before as it was something that was likely easily ripped and therefore quickly discarded. The full-size spare tire fits snugly on the left side and is complimented by two tool kits and a foot air pump, all factory parts. Yes, it may seem mind-boggling by today’s standards, but VAZ owners were expected to perform minor service and repairs by themselves. On the right side of the trunk is the gas tank, which in some other Fiat models was relocated under the rear seat.

1982 lada vaz 21033 tool kit

Around town, the little VAZ keeps up with traffic just fine, but it does struggle a bit at highway speeds. The peak of 70hp and square shape simply does not allow it to cruise like an S-class, or even a new Hyundai Accent. Nor should it, as it was designed in time and place where freeways just did not exist, speeds over 60mph were rarely reached and considered fast. The engine has a narrow power-band and does not like to be spun at speeds that approach the redline. The clutch, the shifter, and the steering feel like they have an organic, unobstructed, mechanical connection to the engine and the chassis; it can be felt and heard. From personal experience of driving similar cars over longer distances, this is amazingly unique these days but it does get tiresome.

1982 vaz lada 21033 side

Once the iron curtain fell, one of the first things people in Eastern Europe did was ditch their crappy commie cars. They wanted something, anything, with more power, better reliability, and improved fuel economy. They wanted to be able to hear the radio while driving and have enough power to safely pass a tractor on a narrow two-lane road. With time they developed taste for status which is best shown by the automobile one drives.  In recent years, however, the Eastern Blok cars have developed a cult and patriotic following. People want to restore and preserve them. To many of those people those once hated but now charming cars represent an important era in history, one that shows perseverance and victory against communist tyranny.

1982 lada vaz 21033 greenwich concours 2014

If you want to learn more about Eastern Bloc cars, I suggest this Facebook page. Additionally, in the past I have reviewed an FSO Polonez and a Lada Niva. On semi-regular basis I do write-ups on Hooniverse about weird and obscure cars and trucks that are living and dying on the streets of Poland; see the many links within that post.

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

1982 vaz lada 21033 front

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Capsule Review: 2014 Jaguar F-Type V6S Convertible http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2014-jaguar-f-type-v6s-convertible/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2014-jaguar-f-type-v6s-convertible/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 14:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=918066 I felt very conflicted following a quick nighttime Boston-to-New York City drive in this new Jag. It just did not meet my expectations. The car drove nice on the twisty and hilly Merritt Parkway but it was neither the sports car I desired, nor the grand tourer that the XKR was. Something was clearly wrong. […]

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2014 Jaguar F-type convertible rear left

I felt very conflicted following a quick nighttime Boston-to-New York City drive in this new Jag. It just did not meet my expectations. The car drove nice on the twisty and hilly Merritt Parkway but it was neither the sports car I desired, nor the grand tourer that the XKR was. Something was clearly wrong. Upon reaching my destination I carefully re-read Derek’s reviews and quickly realized that I am an idiot and that this F-Type has failed me in another way altogether.

2014 Jaguar F-type convertible top up top down

Like any proper modern sports car, the F-Type has a number of settings and adjustments available to its driver; suspension, transmission, steering, stability control, and even exhaust. I fiddled with the transmission and the exhaust because those settings were convenient, but I did not know that the others even existed. In my re-reading of Derek’s F-Type V6S review I came upon these words:

“Oh, and you absolutely must get the car with the “Configurable Dynamic Mode”, which adds another $3,000 to the base price, but effectively gives you two cars for the price of one.”

Son of a gun. My car had that option but I just dismissed it as a stability control setting that allows you to wag the rear-end like a pro, which I had no desire to do. Selecting it changes suspension, steering, transmission, and exhaust settings to ‘dynamic’. Like in many other sports cars, notably BMW’s M cars, this button transforms a smooth and quiet roadster that my mother would love, into a loud and quick sports car that I want. I am not exactly sure what the checkered flag button physically does, but all that a potential buyer needs to know is that it takes a vehicle that feels like an entry-level Mercedes SL and turns it into a Porsche Boxster.

2014 Jaguar F-type convertible dash

But I had another issue with this Jag, and here is where this Jag has clearly failed me. In his review, Derek was going on all about how every woman in the world loved this car and its driver. Reading deeper into his writing, women were literally throwing themselves at Derek just to be chauffeured around in the slick new roadster for a bit. The car has transformed him from being a humble but righteous autoscribe into a playboy that surpasses the likes of Lapo Elkann.

That did not happen to me. Not a single woman has expressed any interest what so ever in this car. I even made a point of dressing a little better when driving it and ensuring that my pricey mechanical timepiece was visible to all passer-bys. Not one woman even looked at me. Not even my wife. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Point. Zero. Now I’m no Jack Baruth, I got zero game, but c’mon, I did not even get a gander from the ladies.

2014 Jaguar F-type convertible exterior details 2

But the car did attract a lot attention, except that it was from every single balding middle-aged man in vicinity. They inquired about the British Racing Green paint and how it glistened in the sun. They needed to know the engine specs. One asked if it was a V12. They needed to hear it. I was tailgated by a young guy in a 3-series and challenged to a drag race by a Cayman owner. Even a homeless man yelled at me from across the sidewalk “how about five bucks for a bottle wine, stylin’ man!?” Five bucks!

I understand that attention as the F-Type is a gorgeous car. From bonnet to boot, there is not a wrong line on this car. There are however some questionable details and cost-cutting, such as the sculpted bolts on the rims of the wheels or plastic roll-bar covers which should really be aluminum. Open the huge front-hinged bonnet and you’ll see a plastic engine cover and not hand-polished aluminum velocity stacks. No complaints about the interior, other than outside visibility with the top up and the outdated infotainment system. The seats are adjustable in umpteen ways and wrapped in soft leather that has an intoxicating smell.  Only the British can do leather like this.

2014 Jaguar F-type convertible interior details

While fun in the corners and highway ramps, the ride is bouncy when the road gets bumpy. There was also surprisingly more wind noise with the top up than one would expect, and the Meridian audio system did not sound nearly as good as the one in the Range Rover. The best solution to those problems is lowering the top and pressing the active exhaust system button.

In alfresco cruising wind buffing is kept to a minimum, with only a slight breeze over the top of the driver’s head. The heater vents are positioned so that hot air blows directly over the 2/3 and 9/10 hand positions on the steering wheel, which itself is heated. The top setting for the heated seats is akin to sitting on hot lava rocks, which makes me believe this car could be fun with the top down over three seasons.

2014 Jaguar F-type convertible front left top

The 2015 Jaguar F-Type convertible starts at $69,000. The more powerful F-Type S, such as the one pictured here starts at $81,000. The test vehicle was splashed in $1500 British Racing Green paint, stanced with 20” $1500 Tornado wheels, outfitted with a $2000 Premium Pack 2, $2400 Vision Pack 2, $3400 Performance Package, heated seats and steering wheel for $600, Meridian audio for $1200, Ivory headliner (not made of real ivory) $500, HD and Sirius radio $450, and extended leather package for $1925. The total price of the test car, with delivery, came to $97,400. Those wanting more power can opt for the $92,000 F-Type V8 S. All trims are available in a coupe version for about $4000 less each. Additionally, the coupe is available in the even more powerful $99,000 550hp F-Type R trim.

Currently there are surprisingly many premium sports cars and roadsters on the market. Their abilities surpass those of supercars of only few years ago and are only limited by the driver’s skills, and even that is vastly supplemented by modern electronics. The question of which to buy is no longer answered by buff-book performance numbers, but rather by finding one that best matches your desires – there are no bad choices.

2014 Jaguar F-type convertible vaz 2303 23033 lada

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC provided the vehicle for this review.

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Review: 2014 Lexus GX 460 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-lexus-gx-460/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-lexus-gx-460/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 13:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=916530 The various models of the Toyota Land Cruiser are some of the most respected off-roaders in the world. But what works elsewhere in the world does not necessarily work in North America. Dressed up in what is perceived to be luxury, how does this fancy Land Cruiser Prado, as its known everywhere else in the […]

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2014 lexus gs 460 side

The various models of the Toyota Land Cruiser are some of the most respected off-roaders in the world. But what works elsewhere in the world does not necessarily work in North America. Dressed up in what is perceived to be luxury, how does this fancy Land Cruiser Prado, as its known everywhere else in the world, perform in the United States?

2014 lexus gs 460 front

Get in and right away you realize that this is a truck and not a car disguised to look like one. It drives like a truck, it handles like a truck, and it feels like a truck. Guess what, it’s a truck. If that’s not your thing please stop reading and consider buying the excellent Toyota Highlander.

The exterior shape is a classic SUV two cube design. Being a Lexus, it has body cladding and running boards which are supposed to make it look upscale and softer in order to attract someone other than rich adventure travelers. New for 2014 is a Lexus family grill, the contours of which do not match vehicle’s utilitarian side profile, and frankly it looks like an add-on made by an Eastern European aftermarket company.

2014 lexus gs 460 dash interior

Hop into the driver’s seat and you will be greeted by a high seating position and large windows which yield a very commanding, Range Rover-like, sitting position. The whole dash has a very vertical feel to it, much different than anything else on the road. I was disappointed to see that the dash felt more like a Toyota, good quality but not pleasant to the senses, rather than any of the excellent new Lexus cars. All the commonly used controls are nicely laid out and very easy to use. Unfortunately the infotainment screen feels old due to its low resolution and inability to perform more than one task at a time. Instead of a new grill Lexus should have invested the money into the dash.

The rear bench is big, soft, and flat – exactly what it’s supposed to be in a vehicle like this. It does not slide, despite being on rails to allow third row access. The two-passenger third row seats are best used for short rides due to difficultly of access and lack of legroom. The third row folds in an interesting way; the bottom cushions slide under the rear cargo floor and then the seat-backs fold flat to form the cargo floor. With the third row folded, the cargo area is large and tall, something rarely seen in the days of sporty CUVs with sloping roofs. The floor is raised several inches, like on the Yukon, to accommodate the folded rear seats. There is no hatch but rather a large door hinged on the right which is a little heavy to operate. The rear window pops up for quick access, but I wish it rolled down into the door like on the 4Runner.

2014 lexus gs 460 third row cargo hatch details

Power comes from an aluminum 4.6-liter DOHC port-injected V8 which puts out 301hp and 329 lb.-ft. The engine feels heavy and it sounds loud, like a truck is supposed to. Several years ago this power would have been sufficient, but now it is lagging behind its competition. The only transmission choice is a six-speed automatic that is connected to a two-speed full-time 4WD transfercase. Compounded by a 5128 lb. curb weight, the GX gets 15mpg in the city and 20mpg on the highway. It’s not a fast vehicle, as it does not like abrupt full-throttle application, but it is smooth at any speed.

Start driving and you will immediately notice the soft suspension, a trait common to vehicles with real off-road abilities in order to allow axle articulation and traction. All potholes, no matter the size get absorbed, even at high speed but at the expense of handling. It’s not that the handling is bad; it’s just truck-like and not CUV-like. Steering feel and braking are also truck-like. To put it simply, the GX 460 requires a certain amount of respect – don’t drive it like a lunatic.

2014 lexus gs 460 interior details

Astute readers and buyers will be interested in how the Lexus GX 460 compares to the Toyota 4Runner. Underneath the sheet metal, those two are basically the same vehicles. Mechanically, the biggest difference is that the Lexus has a V8 engine, standard third row seats, and a hinged rear door. The 4Runner comes only with a V6 engine but offers a choice of 2WD and 4WD, optional third row seats, and has a tailgate with a roll-down rear window. The difference in power is not really noticeable because of the Lexus’ extra 400lb of luxury weight and the two vehicles drive nearly the same. GX’s advantage comes in maximum trailer towing: 6500 lbs. versus 4Runner’s 4700lbs. People who think of actually taking their vehicles off pavement may want to look into the new 4Runner TRD Pro which comes with locking diffs, fancy suspension, and proper mud tires.

2014 lexus gs 460 front side

The 2014 Lexus GX 460 starts at $49,085. As shown here, $4710 Premium Package adds leather, wood, automatic wipers, LED fog-lights, parking sensors, heated/cooled seats, and touch-screen nav. The somewhat flimsy cargo cover is $150 and the wheel locks are pretty pricey at $81. Total comes down to $54,826 before $910 delivery fee. A Luxury model starts at $60,715 and it includes nicer leather, air suspension, fancy headlights, and many other minor upgrades. If you have been noticing more new GX 460s on the road, it is likely because Lexus has had very aggressive lease rates on them, comparable to a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, a much less expensive vehicle.

Despite what seems like a lot faults, I personally like this truck, but I do have a general bias toward proven off-roaders. It’s honest; it does not try to be all things to all people like, say, the BMW X5. It feels strong and solid, like it could take a lot of abuse and just shrug it off. Fortunately for those disagreeing with me, the market is full of cars that resemble trucks.

2014 lexus gs 460 rear side

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. provided the vehicle for this review.

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Review: 2014 Range Rover Supercharged LWB http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-range-rover-supercharged-lwb/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/review-2014-range-rover-supercharged-lwb/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 16:19:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=906881 In the early 1990s Land Rover realized that their Range Rovers were often used to chauffeur people of wealth and taste. Designed to be capable off-road, the 100-inch wheelbase unfortunately meant limited rear seat leg room. For 1992 Range Rover Country LWB became available, with a wheelbase stretched additional eight inches, all of it going […]

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2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base rear 34

In the early 1990s Land Rover realized that their Range Rovers were often used to chauffeur people of wealth and taste. Designed to be capable off-road, the 100-inch wheelbase unfortunately meant limited rear seat leg room. For 1992 Range Rover Country LWB became available, with a wheelbase stretched additional eight inches, all of it going directly into the rear seat legroom. For 2014, Land Rover is bringing the LWB back.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base side

The LWB adds 7.3-inches to wheelbase of a conventional Range Rover, all of which goes directly into the rear seat leg room. The current Range Rover does not suffer from lack of leg room but this extra space transforms it into something resembling a Learjet, especially when equipped with the “Executive Seating Package”. This test model retains a conventional three passenger bench that is power reclining and folding and has heated and ventilated outboard seats. Features bundled into the LWB model include an extended center console, which oddly takes leg room away from the middle passenger, power window shades, and a panoramic sunroof.

The front seats remain the same as on the SWB model, which is to say really nice; wrapped in soft leather, supportive, with pillow-like headrests, and ergonomically perfect. These may just be the best seats on the market right now, and they were heated, ventilated, and massaging, too. The massage feature is nice, especially on longer drives, but it is not as intense as the chairs at Brookstone. The current Range Rover retains the signature high seating position and large windows all around yield airy cabin feel and outstanding visibility, all rather trivial traits that are rarely seen in modern vehicles.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base rear door seat

The gauge cluster is actually a 12.3-inch display screen that is cleanly laid out and easy to manipulate via a steering wheel stalk. The same cannot be said for the 8-inch infotainment touch-screen which is slow to respond and simply outdated. In the touch-screen’s defense, it does perform a lot of functions, and there are hard buttons for the most frequently used ones. The rest of the dash is a showcase of simple contemporary design wrapped high quality materials. The upgraded Meridian Premium Audio 825W system will make even Justin Bieber’s music sound good.

For 2014 Land Rover dropped its naturally aspirated V8 in favor of a supercharged V6. The LWB is available only with the more powerful supercharged V8 engine. 510hp and a very flat torque curve that peaks at 461lb-ft offers instantaneous power at anytime, making the 5320-pound Rover move like a sports sedan, and allowing it to accelerate from zero to 60mph in under 5.5 seconds. Having reviewed the V6-powered Range Rover Sport in the past, I think the V8 is worth every penny of its $10,000 premium on the SWB and Sport, Range Rovers. ZF eight-speed automatic transmission is the only choice. It has normal, sport and manual modes, but with this much power, I found myself just keeping the shift knob in D.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base dash

We, as the car buying and driving public, are jaded by the driving characteristics of modern cars. For instance, never before would some wanker blogger be able to take a 707hp car on a race track and not die within a minute. The same true holds for this Range Rover – the chassis dynamics and overall handling are downright amazing for a vehicle this size, and simply superior any previous Land Rover product. This was something I realized on an enjoyable drive down the Merritt Parkway, a road where more than a decade ago I came close to rolling a Discovery on.

Much of the handling can be attributed to the air suspension, and associated cleverly named subcomponents, which magically manage to filter out just about all road imperfections while keeping the big Rover composed, and dare I say sporty. While air suspension systems have a lot of critics (disclaimer: I’ve owned two vehicles with air suspension and didn’t have any issues), it may be the least compromised way of retaining comfortable ride, great handling, and big load capacity. The ability to raise and lover this vehicle by as much as five inches is an added benefit. Turning radius is now also large sedan-like, as opposed to tractor-like on older Landies.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base interior details

It is well known that most Range Rovers never leave pavement, but despite that Land Rover does offer some amazing off-road technology that enables these vehicles to be truly capable (11” ground clearance, 35” water fording), as I experienced some time ago (part 1,2,3). What many people forget is that these vehicles also offer 7716-pound towing capacity with 331-pound maximum tongue weight, and 220-pound roof rack capacity. This is in addition to the 82.8 cubic feet of cargo space and 1600-pound load capacity, all just a little less than the GMC Yukon.


2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base interior exterior details

All of this goodness comes at a price. First you pay at the dealer: the base Range Rover starts at $84,225. Do yourself a favor and get the “supercharged” one, which is to say V8, for $101,025. The LWB comes with the V8 and starts at $106,225. The test vehicle was equipped with Vision Assist Pack (cameras, swiveling headlights, blind spot detection) for $1760, Lane Departure Warning for $640, Adaptive Cruise Control for $1295, Meridian audio upgrade for $1825, Four Zone Climate Control Package $4150, parking sensors for $1200, rear seat entertainment is $2400, soft closing doors are $600, and towing package which includes a full-size spare and locking rear diff is $1300. This brings the total MSRP to $121, 390. Then you have to pay at the pump to feed an SUV that sips premium gas to the tune of 14/19 mpg city/highway.

While this is not a perfect vehicle, it is the best Range Rover ever. The LWB adds space that most buyers won’t opt for, not because of the cost but because the elongated body visually throws off the proportions. There are dozens of so-called premium luxury SUVs on the market, many of which cost half as much, but none of them, as we will soon find out, are as refined to the level of the Range Rover.

2014 land rover range rover lwb long wheel base front

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC provided the vehicle for this review.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Nissan NV200 SV Cargo Van http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2014-nissan-nv200-sv-cargo-van/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2014-nissan-nv200-sv-cargo-van/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=881666 For decades buyers made the pickup truck the bestselling vehicle in North America. Despite its utilitarian roots, the pickup truck has morphed from a working man’s appliance into a replacement for big body-on-frame American luxury sedans. Sure, that V8 Crew Cab is a nice vehicle, but what are you really going to do with a five-and-a-half-foot bed? […]

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2014 Nissan NV200 cargo front

For decades buyers made the pickup truck the bestselling vehicle in North America. Despite its utilitarian roots, the pickup truck has morphed from a working man’s appliance into a replacement for big body-on-frame American luxury sedans.

Sure, that V8 Crew Cab is a nice vehicle, but what are you really going to do with a five-and-a-half-foot bed?

2014 Nissan NV200 cargo volume rear

For those not paying attention, there is a van revolution going on in the United States. The American vans that we have known and loved are about to die. Ford is replacing their E-series with the European Transit and the smaller Transit Connect. Chrysler ditched its full-size vans a decade ago and just recently replaced them with rebadged front-wheel-drive Fiats, under the Ram ProMaster line. Soon they will be adding a smaller Ram ProMaster City.

Nissan was one of the early pioneers in the next-gen van space, with the big, if awkward looking, NV-series vans. The big NVs come with V6 and V8 engines, and can be ordered in varying wheelbase lengths, heights, and capacities. They recently followed it up with the smaller, front-wheel-drive based NV200 that you see above. The NV200 also serves as a basis for New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow, which can been bogged down by all kinds of politics.

2014 Nissan NV200 cargo dash

When compared to a compact pickup truck (a segment that many seem to dearly miss), the advantages of any van are clearly apparent. The most obvious one is the large lockable cargo space that can protect one’s belongings from theft or the elements. Cargo space on the NV200 is 122.7 cubic feet, comparably bigger than most capped pickup beds. Furthermore, it is accessible not only from the rear, via two large barn doors, but also via a large sliding door on each side. The floor of the cargo area is lined with rubber and there a six D-rings to tie objects down.

That cargo area is 53 inches high and 54 inches wide, with 48 inches between the wheel-wells, which is the width of a standard piece of plywood. That plywood will be easy to load, too, as the loading floor is just 20 inches off the ground – no Man Step® needed here. The maximum length of that plywood is limited to 82.8 inches. Longer items, up to 116 inches, can be transported when the passenger seat back is folded down. All that cargo space can be filled with up to 1500 pounds of people and things, which is more than some full-size pickups.

2014 Nissan NV200 cargo interior details

The passenger portion of the interior is finished in a typical commercial-grade heavy durable plastic. This SV model was equipped with Nissan-typical infotainment system which consists of a slightly outdated nav system, USB port, CD player, Bluetooth, satellite radio, Pandora streaming, and a handy back-up camera. Secondary steering wheel mounted controls are a nice touch. While there are plenty of storage cubbies, none of them are particularly large or covered. Many small business owners would probably appreciate additional USB ports and a 120vAC receptacle. The seats are covered in durable cloth, but with a short bottom cushion and a hard headrest that presses on the driver’s head, they are not very comfortable overall.

The NV200 is powered by a 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine which makes 131hp and 139lb-ft of torque. It is matched up with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which sends that power to rather small looking fifteen inch wheels that are wrapped in 185/60-15 tires. NV200’s major utilitarian shortfall, in part due to that engine, is that it is not recommend for trailer towing, something that every pickup truck will happily do. The EPA rated the little van at 24mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway, which is superior to any pickup with the exception of the new Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.

2014 Nissan NV200 cargo exterior details

The small wheels may not inspire confidence but a Nissan product development guy assured me that they have beat the crap out of them in testing and found no faults. I traveled in the NV200 around some very industrial roads that have a lot of heavy truck traffic, and dirt roads that leads to my local junkyard, and found no issues. Many trucks and vans beat up on their passengers when driven unloaded, but the NV200 was pretty smooth. Unfortunately, the only cargo I was able to transport with the NV200 was a pair of Specialized Stumpjumers and some parts for my project car, both of which were of no significance in terms of space or weight.

In city driving, an empty NV200 has just enough power. It will get out of its own way, but drag racing even the slowest of bicycles cars should be avoided. It somehow feels a little livelier on the highway, but passing or merging maneuvers should be planned well in advance. Smart packaging makes the NV200 a rather narrow vehicle, and allows it to easily zip around cities and fit into parking garages – something that was likely inspired by the needs of van customers in Europe and Asia. Despite the large mirrors, rear windows, and a back-up camera, reversing can still be intimidating to some.

2014 Nissan NV200 cargo side sliding door open

The NV200 S starts at $20,490. The SV model starts at $21,480 and it surprisingly does not come with many extra features but it allows the buyer to select many more options, whereas the S is strictly a stripper. The pictured Red Brick SV came with a Technology Package ($950), rear glass ($190), and painted bumpers ($190). Add destination and handling and the total price comes to $23,670.

Nissan NV200 comparison

With Ford’s Transit Connect and the upcoming Ram ProMaster City, this segment of the market is about to get red hot. Nissan is strong out of the gate with the early availability, strong price point, and the best gas mileage. Being slightly envious of all these vans, General Motors will have its own mini cargo van called City Express, which forgoes imitation and in the most flattering way replaces the Nissan badge with a bowtie.

2014 Nissan NV200 cargo rear

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. Read his ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Nissan provided the vehicle for this review.

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Review: 2015 GMC Yukon SLT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2015-gmc-yukon-slt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2015-gmc-yukon-slt/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 22:15:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=853377 Until a decade or so, if you wanted a three-row SUV your choices were pretty much limited to body-on-frame offerings, most of which were related to a pickup truck. But now, even GM’s own GMT960s (Enclave, Acadia), provide similar amount of interior space to this Yukon. Furthermore, they are less expensive, more efficient, and easier […]

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2015 GMC Yukon SLE front 34 left

Until a decade or so, if you wanted a three-row SUV your choices were pretty much limited to body-on-frame offerings, most of which were related to a pickup truck. But now, even GM’s own GMT960s (Enclave, Acadia), provide similar amount of interior space to this Yukon. Furthermore, they are less expensive, more efficient, and easier to drive. It’s possible to argue that the biggest, if not the only, advantage of these body-on-frame V8-powered SUVs is their towing ability.

So why do GM, Ford, Nissan, and Toyota still bother with these dinosaurs?

2015 GMC Yukon SLE rear 34

The simple answer is because people are buying them. Spend time on this nation’s roads this summer and you’ll see full-size SUVs loaded up with summer essentials, often towing boats, campers, or project cars. The merits of three-row unibody “trucks” aside, a full-size V8-powered SUV still holds appeal for many consumers.

2015 GMC Yukon SLE interior dash

Climb into the driver’s seat of this Yukon SLT 4×4 and prepare to be overwhelmed. Surrounding you, the driver, are:

  • 37 dash buttons,
  • 8 dash knobs,
  • 13 steering wheel buttons,
  • 13 door buttons,
  • 6 gauges,
  • 2 screens,
  • 1 shifter with a button,
  • 1 multi-functional stalk,
  • 3 toggle switches
  • 8 roof buttons,
  • 2 12v receptacles,
  • 4 USB ports and

It’s not as bad as it sounds, since many of those buttons are for secondary controls. That said, many of those secondary buttons could be combined with others or simply eliminated. Even grouping them to one area that’s hidden from view (Lexus does that) would visually clean up the interior. In daily driving, however, where most drivers just switch between presets, drink coffee, occasionally input a destination, take a phone call, or vary the temperature setting by a few degrees, the interior layout will suit most people just fine. Perhaps the center screen could be positioned more toward the driver as opposed to being in the middle of the very wide dash.

Where the interior does fall a bit short is in the quality of materials used. Self-appointed plastics experts will rightfully complain about flimsy feeling panels and a lack of soft-touch materials. The leather, with its contrasting stitching, a mark of luxury de jour, also does not seem soft or of high quality. A GMC is supposed to feel better than a Chevy but not as good as a Caddy. In the case of this particular GMC, the interior still seems average at best.

2015 GMC Yukon SLE interior details

GM’s biggest challenge seemed to be designing the two rows of rear seats. To be safe and comfortable, the seats have to be big. Buyers also want the functionality of a flat cargo floor. Furthermore, no one wants to pull heavy seats out of vehicles anymore, therefore the seats have to fold flat. In addition to all that, the middle row had to provide easy access to the third row, making the final design both complicated and compromised.

The solution to this was to raise the floor in the rear section of the vehicle, creating a compartment in the back, and making it even with the level of the folded third row. The middle row, (captain’s chairs in this tester, but a bench is available), is even with the third row when folded. This makes for a flat loading floor but takes away from overall cargo volume. The third row folds and raises with a push of a button. The middle row folds down with a push of a button, or via a lever, but needs to be raised manually. The middle seats also fold and tumble forward for passenger access to the third row. Nissan has a much nicer solution in its Pathfinder that even allows a rear-facing baby seat to remain in place when the seat is folded forward.

The power hatch has two settings: fully open or three-quarters open, to avoid potential impact with a garage roof. The rear window also opens independently of the hatch which is handy for dropping small things into the cargo area. The problem with that window is that it is only fourteen inches high, a relatively small opening for such a big vehicle. With the third row seats folded, the cargo area is generous. 12v outlets, cubbies, covered storage bin, and cargo tie down hooks further increase the functionality, but there is no cargo cover.

2015 GMC Yukon SLE tailgate trunk cargo

Notice the raised floor from the bottom of the the tailgate opening. Ignore the crib.

This Yukon is one of the quietest SUVs I have ever driven; wind noise and engine noise are basically absent, surprising given its large surface area and upright design. Gone, too, is the V8 burble. The ride is very smooth and it takes a sizable pothole to jolt the passengers. One of Yukon’s drawbacks is visibility; both A- and D- pillars are very thick, windows are relatively short, side mirrors are small, and when the optional rear entertainment screen is opened it completely blocks the inside rear view mirror. There are blind spot sensors, parking sensors, and a backup camera, but no surround view display, which would be very beneficial.

The Yukon, when equipped with the Max Trailering Package (ref. code NHT), is rated to tow 8200lbs (8500lbs for 2WD models). The package includes a 3.42 axle ratio, trailer brake controller, a self-leveling suspension, and a 2” receiver with a 7-pin connector. The receiver is hidden behind a cover which is held by two wing nuts. Roof rails are standard on the SLT.

Despite the rugged looks and a 22” step-in-height, the ground clearance is only eight inches, but the front air dam looks even closer to the ground. The twenty inch polished wheels are wrapped around in 275/55-20 Continental all-season tires that say “EcoPlus Technology” on them. While they seemed great on the highway I would not venture too far off pavement.

2015 GMC Yukon SLE interior rear details

EcoTec3 is the new series of GM’s V6 and V8 engines. The Yukon is powered by a 5.3-liter V8 version which produces 355 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque. The OHV engine is sporting new(-ish) technologies such as direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation, and variable valve timing, and mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Loaded up with my family and a day’s worth of kids’ stuff, the engine pushed the 5700lb vehicle effortlessly in all situations but struggled to achieve 15mpg in heavy-footed mixed city/highway driving, short of EPA’s rating of 16 city, 22 highway mpg. Those wishing for more power can step up to the Denali and its 6.2-liter 420hp/460tq engine.

For 2015, the Yukon SLE 2WD starts at $47,330. The starting price for this SLT 4WD is $57,735. The Sun and Entertainment Package which consists of a sunroof, nav system, and rear seat DVD player (component input but no HDMI) adds $3255, less a $500 credit. 20″ wheels add $1400, second row bucket seats  are $590. The Max Trailering Package is a bargain of the bunch at $650, and an alarm is $395. Total MSRP with destination charge for the reviewed Yukon is $64,520.

For comparison, an equally loaded up Nissan Armada Platinum is $56,395 and its fancier Infiniti QX80 cousin is $80,245. A Toyota Sequoia is $65,410 and a Ford Expedition Limited is $61,113, all more or less equally loaded.

Yikes! That’s a lot of money, particularly when compared to the Pilots and Highlanders of the world. How much do you really want one of these? Enough to pay 5 Series money? Not to worry; if you’re not interested, someone else will be, and they’ll be tailgating you on the freeway shortly.

2015 GMC Yukon SLE side

Kamil Kaluski is the east coast editor for Hooniverse.com. Read his ramblings on eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous car stuff there. 

General Motors provided the vehicle for this review.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/capsule-review-2014-land-rover-range-rover-evoque/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/capsule-review-2014-land-rover-range-rover-evoque/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:00:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=843970 This has never happened to me before. Four different women complimented me on this vehicle. I’m guessing they were somewhere between 25 and 45 years old – it’s really difficult to tell these days. They were all fit, attractive (-ish), wore fancy sunglasses, and carried equally fancy bags which complemented their outfits. They all loved this […]

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2014 Land Rover range rover evoque front 34

This has never happened to me before. Four different women complimented me on this vehicle. I’m guessing they were somewhere between 25 and 45 years old – it’s really difficult to tell these days. They were all fit, attractive (-ish), wore fancy sunglasses, and carried equally fancy bags which complemented their outfits. They all loved this baby Range Rover. To them, it represented an essential accessory that would complete them. That, my friends, is a marketing success.

2014 Land Rover range rover evoque rear

The Evoque does not sit well with a Land Rover enthusiast such as myself. My earliest television memories are of Camel Trophy races. In college, I spent six weeks driving around southern Africa in a Defender 110. In 2002, I attempted to enter the G4 Challenge. If I could, I would put NATO steel wheels and mud-terrain tires on every big Range Rover in existence. And yet, here I am driving this car that has R A N G E R O V E R written across this hood failing to justify its existence. Clearly, the hotties know something I don’t.

The problem with enthusiasts is that we forget that car companies’ first goal is to be profitable. Rest assured that Jaguar-Land Rover won’t quickly forget their corporate experiences of the past two decades. The good thing is that at the rate they are going they won’t have to worry about it. There are waiting lists for new Range Rovers and the Jaguar F-type is just drop dead gorgeous. With attractive lease rates, the Evoques have been appearing at newly constructed loft style condominiums everywhere.

2014 Land Rover range rover evoque dash interior

No matter what your opinion on Evoque’s styling, it has clearly become part of the Land Rover design language, as seen in the new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. While the bigger vehicles have more masculine styling, this baby Rover looks striking and athletic, and therefore more appealing to the above mentioned ladies, who are clearly its target customers. Unlike Rovers of the past, this is form-over-function design. The slick sporty exterior lines have opposing effect on interior space, overall utility, and rear visibility, all of which have been Range Rover trademarks for due to their two-box design and large windows.

Front seats are comfortable but legroom and headroom are lacking for back seat passengers. Overall interior materials are nice, but not to the level of the big Range Rovers. The huge panoramic roof gives the cabin a very airy feel, but oddly enough it does not open. The infotainment system is the typical slow and outdated model seen on all JLR vehicles; it Bluetooths, in streams, it navs, it syncs, and it even offers some interesting options which I’d gladly trade for increased ease of use.

2014 Land Rover range rover evoque trunk

Some will find the round pop-up shifter irritating, but now that almost all automakers have switched to electronic shifters, I found it more acceptable. Below it is the AWD Terrain Response system and hill ascent control, which I have not had an opportunity to evaluate – and chances are that neither will most buyers. The rest of center console consists of are two cup-holders, two 12v receptacles, a cubby for your cell phone, and a storage bin capable of storing the fanciest of purses.

The direct-injected 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder produces 240hp and 250lb-ft. The vehicle feels peppy above 2500rpm, but with the transmission is in D, it likes to up-shift early. This sometimes puts a delay in acceleration, as the transmission will hunt the proper gear out of the nine it has available. Turning the shifter knob to S makes things smoother, but it’s still best to avoid lower engine speeds. There are also paddle shifters but I can’t imagine anyone actually using them.

2014 Land Rover range rover evoque interior details

The 2014 Evoque is rated at 21mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway, a slight increase from the past model years due to the new nine-speed transmission. Also new is the engine start/stop system, which is one of the most annoying things on any new car, but easily disabled with a press of dash mounted button. My real world numbers achieved on short, traffic infested city runs and enthusiastic highway runs in sport mode resulted in an average of about 22-24mpg.

The starting price for the Range Rover Evoque 5-door is $42,025. The pictured vehicle has the Pure Plus Package, Xenon/LED headlights, cameras everywhere, dub wheels, fancy leather, adaptive cruise control, contrasting black roof and a number of other gizmos. The price for this almost fully loaded Evoque is $59,140, which includes a destination charge.

2014 Land Rover range rover evoque side

The main goal of the Evoque was to attract new customers to the Land Rover dealership; those with smaller budgets, those who do not need a large SUV, and those who never considered a Land Rover before. It has achieved that goal with the lure of brand image, styling, and Posh Spice’s approval. Based on those facets alone, Land Rover will sell each one as fast as they can make them.

 

Kamil Kaluski is the east coast editor for Hooniverse.com. Read his ramblings on eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous car stuff there. 

Land Rover provided the vehicle for this review.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Audi A6 TDI Prestige http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2014-audi-a6-tdi-prestige/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2014-audi-a6-tdi-prestige/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 13:15:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833226 It’s likely that we all have been asked the most dreaded question at parties: “what’s your favorite car?”. I prefer to put a different spin on it: what car would I most like to take a cross-country road trip in? There is always a compromise of comfort, cabin space, trunk space, speed, cost, and/or fuel […]

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2014 audi a6 tdi side

It’s likely that we all have been asked the most dreaded question at parties: “what’s your favorite car?”. I prefer to put a different spin on it: what car would I most like to take a cross-country road trip in? There is always a compromise of comfort, cabin space, trunk space, speed, cost, and/or fuel economy. After spending a weekend with this car, I can say that my answer to that question undoubtedly is the Audi A6 TDI.

2014 audi a6 tdi front

From the side it is uniquely Audi, offering perfect proportions when compared to the shrunken down A4 and the elongated A8. The once bizarre corporate grill has faded into normalcy over time, as have the often duplicated fancy headlights, which, by the way, are amazing. The rear is reminiscent of the original A8. Overall the exterior design is clean, modern, but conservative at the same time. The S-line treatment of the pictured vehicle hints of its sporty aspirations without being obnoxious about it. Bystanders will like this car when they see it but forget about it few minutes later.

2014 audi a6 tdi dash

The interior looks great, too. Every surface is pleasing to the senses; the soft leather smells great, the wood grain is intentionally left uneven, and the minimalist layout is pleasing to the eye. What’s important on a long trip, however, is comfort. The vehicle is very quiet at all speeds and the suspension does a fantastic job of keeping the unpleasantness of the outside world, outside. With plenty of room for four passengers, very comfortable seats, those complaining about these accommodations should have just stayed home.

The infotainment screen hides into the dash to further underscore that clean layout, which is especially nice for night driving. Vital information such as Sirius XM channel or navigational directions are displayed in the gauge cluster. Audi’s MMI Navigation interface is one of the best and easiest to use in the business. The main, iDrive-like, knob is positioned right where your hand is when your arm is resting on the armrest. It is surrounded by hard and soft keys, operation of which is reflected on the screen. All basic controls are easy to access, and once your presets, iPhone and gadget-de-jour, are synced and set to your liking, there is really no need do anything there.

2014 audi a6 tdi interior details

Nobody with an ounce of oil in their blood wants to drive a boring car, which many so-called luxury cars, tend to be. The beauty of the A6 TDI is that, despite the aforementioned refined ride and isolated comforts, it is simply fun to drive. The steering is quick, if a little over-boosted, the adjustable suspension is set just right, allowing plenty of highway ramp fun. The three suspension settings do not change vehicle dynamics drastically, and with sincere respect to Audi chassis engineers, I really question the need for those settings.

The real story here isn’t the ride, or the interior, or the looks. Rather, it is the 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine and its 428 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm. Numbers themselves are never impressive; it’s translating those numbers into real world driving characteristics that make so many of us lust after compression–ignition engines. This engine turns this car into a beast. The power is instantaneous; no lag, no delay, no nothing. It. Just. Goes. Off the line, highway passing, the A6 TDI doesn’t care. It just goes, pressing you deeper into the seat. It goes smoothly, it goes evenly, it goes without any drama, and it goes while getting 38mpg on the highway.

2014 audi a6 tdi engine

But nothing is perfect, and neither is this vehicle. For instance the two front cup holders are simply too small. And there is no USB or auxiliary audio input ports (you need to use Bluetooth). Its price, which starts at $57,500 ($67,295 as pictured), does not do it any favors, either. Furthermore, any potential buyer would be a fool to ignore Audi’s reputation for long-term reliability. And yet, if anyone asked me what I would want to drive from New York City, around the Great Lakes and over Rocky Mountains, to San Francisco, this would be my answer.

In my lifetime of automotive obsession, two decades of driving, dozens of personal cars, and years of reviewing cars, I have never been more impressed. As a reviewer, this frustrates me because in my mind I sound like some kind of wobbler. 

2014 audi a6 tdi rear

Audi provided the car for the purpose of this review.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Subaru WRX Premium http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2015-subaru-wrx-premium/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2015-subaru-wrx-premium/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 12:30:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=828394 Please welcome Hooniverse editor Kamil Kaluski for his first review for TTAC. Like much of the Playstation Generation, I spent much of the 90’s ogling over the forbidden fruit from the Land of the Rising Sun: Type Rs, EVOs, WRXs  – fun, reasonably priced, reliable, econobox-based sports cars with great potential. Naturally, I bought a […]

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2015 subaru wrx (1)

Please welcome Hooniverse editor Kamil Kaluski for his first review for TTAC.

Like much of the Playstation Generation, I spent much of the 90’s ogling over the forbidden fruit from the Land of the Rising Sun: Type Rs, EVOs, WRXs  – fun, reasonably priced, reliable, econobox-based sports cars with great potential. Naturally, I bought a WRX as one as soon they debuted in 2002. Six months later I promptly sold it.

I didn’t hate the original bug-eyed WRX – I was just disappointed by it. The chassis, even with a set of Eibach springs, still rolled and yawed in every direction. The engine had no power below 3500rpm, and then, out of nowhere, burst to life in a boost-filled fury. The gear ratios of the five speed manual transmission made accelerating fun, at the expense of any highway comfort.  The fuel economy would have been poor for a V8 – for an economy car four-cylinder (even a boosted one) it was abysmal.

2015 subaru wrx (5)

If you were to blindfold a past owner and put them behind the wheel of the newest WRX, they’d immediately know what car they were in. Little cues, like the seating position, the shift knob and of course, the unmistakable, off-beat boxer hum, all remind you that underneath the much improved skin, beats the same rambunctious heart. Then again, the window switches seem to be carried over from the year 2002.

Outside of its Corolla-on-steroids looks, the biggest difference in the WRX is the engine. The displacement is back to two thousand cc’s, but there’s now variable valve timing and direct injection. The result is 268hp, which in the days of 300hp+ V6 Mustangs does not sound like much.The real news is the 258lb.-ft. that is available between 2,000-5,200rpm. Now that there’s some torque being made as low as 1000 rpm, daily driving is a lot more pleasant, while cruising on the highway isn’t going to drive you into madness. And it still screams all the way from 3000 rpm up to redline.

2015 subaru wrx (2)

But wait! There is more! For the first time ever, the WRX also manages to get decent gas mileage. With a 6-speed manual transmission, the 2015 WRX  is EPA rated at 21mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. My real-world heavy-footed trip down the New Jersey Turnpike resulted in a dash-computer calculated average of 27.7mpg, which I would say is pretty darn good. A CVT is a $1200 option, but really, why bother?

With the exception of a ride that is slightly rough over the worst of northeast’s post apocalyptic winter roads, Subaru has removed any objectionable behavior from the WRX that may be encountered during daily operation. Some may find it to be sprung too softly for serious at-the-limit driving, but Subaru really needed something more than a few horsepower and a big wing to justify the existence of the STI. Overall it’s a nice compromise for the enthusiasts and that incidental WRX buyer who just wanted an Impreza with more power.

2015 subaru wrx (4)

While remaining typical Subaru (that is to say, spartan if we’re being polite), the interior also received some updates. The biggest difference is one that you won’t see: road noise. The 2015 version is orders of magnitude quieter than the boomy, gusty examples previously sold here. More than the crappy fuel economy or the wonky gearing, this was my biggest annoyance when it came to driving long distances in my old WRX.

Head and leg room is abundant for all passengers, even on sunroof-equipped vehicles such as this one, and the manual seats are comfortable and supportive. All controls, with the exception of heated seat buttons, are logically located and easy to use. With small inoperable vent windows, door-mounted mirrors, and thinner than average A-pillars, the visibility all around is excellent.

The radio/infotainment system feels dated. The main display consists of segmented characters, and some information displayed on it may be incomplete. All controls are made via a bunch of small buttons and one knob. There are auxiliary controls on the left side of the steering wheel. There is also a secondary screen higher up on the dash which shares duties with the onboard computer, fuel economy gadget, and a boost gauge. Aux and USB inputs are located in the center console. The climate controls consist of three simple knobs – it might be the most efficient setup on the market, yet everyone else insists on more complex controls. It baffles me.

2015 subaru wrx (7)

Those unimpressed by its lack of evolution should be happy to know that Subaru has managed to refine the coarser elements of past examples, without eliminating any of its character or thrills. With a starting price of just $26,295, the WRX is one of the best performance car deals on the market. And if it looks a bit too sedate or Civic-esque for you, there’s always the hotter, sharper-edged STi.

2015 subaru wrx (9)

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

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Comparison Review: Kia Soul Versus Nissan cube: First Place: Nissan cube http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/comparison-review-kia-soul-versus-nissan-cube-first-place-nissan-cube/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/comparison-review-kia-soul-versus-nissan-cube-first-place-nissan-cube/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2010 16:59:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=341164 Driving enthusiasts, given the choice between the Soul and the cube, will opt for…a Honda Fit. So this comparison between Kia’s and Nissan’s boxes-on-wheels assumes different priorities. Which provides the most relaxing refuge from the seriousness of work when commuting to and fro? Short answer: the cube. Like the Soul, the cube is a riff […]

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Cubism

Driving enthusiasts, given the choice between the Soul and the cube, will opt for…a Honda Fit. So this comparison between Kia’s and Nissan’s boxes-on-wheels assumes different priorities. Which provides the most relaxing refuge from the seriousness of work when commuting to and fro? Short answer: the cube.

The hipster haircutLike the Soul, the cube is a riff on the basic box popularized in the U.S. by the original Scion xB. Unlike the Soul, the Nissan’s major lines are either parallel or perpendicular to the pavement. In other words, it’s a box.

And yet, unlike the classic xB, it’s not simply a box. There’s some subtle surfacing in the bodysides. The window openings have rounded corners. Further outside the box: the cube is asymmetrical. There’s a small window in the right side C-pillar, and the pillars around this window are blacked out, but no corresponding window on the left side, where the pillar is body color. This asymmetry is even functional. From the driver’s seat you couldn’t see out such a window on the left side anyway. And with no window, there can be a storage bin inside the left C-pillar.

Yes, many people hate the cube’s exterior. Or find a car that looks like a Toontown escapee both silly and pointless. But this silliness is the point. Some people want a car that doesn’t take itself seriously, and that displays a clear disregard for convention. If you’re going to diverge from mainstream auto design, why stop short of challenging people? The Soul’s design isn’t challenging. The cube’s is.

The Soul’s styling is optimized for 18-inch wheels. The cube’s exterior is far less wheel-centric, so its 16s are plenty large. This one’s all about the box. The tested cube was a krom model, meaning a unique grille with Ford-like faux chrome bars, side skirts, and unique wheels. I’d pass on these bits, as they don’t add much to the appearance of the car, and the side skirts make little sense given the overall mission. 100_5610

With some notable exceptions, Nissan wasn’t as adventurous with the interior design. The most notable exception: the headliner far above your head is molded to form a series of concentric waves around the dome light. Think Japanese rock garden. A sunroof would interrupt the pattern, which might be why none is offered. The instrument panel similarly includes some very zen circles and curves, and forms a wave when viewed from above. This wave motif continues with the floormats. Very calming.

But why is the cube interior only available in light gray or (in the car I drove) off-black? The VW Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser, and (to a lesser extent) Kia Soul all offer vibrant color inside the car. Nissan offers colorful vent surrounds as dealer-installed accessories, but these hardly compensate for the overwhelming colorlessness of the rest of the interior.

The instruments include a weak attempt at whimsy, with blue and white graphics that are too obviously painted on. But why did Nissan’s inexplicable infatuation with orange LED displays have to infect the cube? Not only does the orange trip computer nestled between the tach and speedometer clash with the blue and white graphics, but orange simply isn’t a soothing color. Consult a zen master for better alternatives. Perhaps a cool blue?

The driver can select among 20 colors for the ambient lighting in the footwells and cupholders. This feature would be more compelling if you could change the color of all of the instrument panel readouts to something other than orange. As it is, the carpet doesn’t match the drapes unless you opt for even more orange. One electronic feature the cube could do without: the $100 alarm system that goes off if you attempt to open a locked door. Or breathe on the car. It’s not entertaining.

Ripples in the CubeThe problem with striving to be whimsical is that some jokes are bound to fall flat. Case in point: the cube’s optional (and removable) “dash topper.” What’s a dash topper, you ask? Well, it’s a small circle of shag carpet velcroed to the top center of the instrument panel. No doubt the intent was to make being inside the cube more like being inside one’s family room, to give you a little piece of home the moment you leave work. The original concept might have called for covering the entire top of instrument panel with shag carpet, 1970s custom van style. The airbag engineers would have nixed any such concept. Cut a little here, and little there, and you get the small circle in the center. Even in the context of the cube, the car toupee (as I came to call it) seems pointless.

Once past color and the car toupee, the interior gets better. When packaging the cube, Nissan made much different choices than Kia. The cube’s windshield is much more upright than the Soul’s and its instrument panel was designed to take up as little visual space as possible. The downside: unless you have long arms, you’ll have to lean forward to operate the radio. Or use the redundant controls on the steering wheel. Also, the upright windshield yields huge front side windows. Generally a good thing, but the non-extending sun visors cover only the forward half of said windows. So, expect bright sunlight in your eyes if it’s westward ho in the late afternoon.

The upside: from the driver’s seat the cube’s interior feels much more expansive than the Soul’s. No cockpit effect whatsoever. You feel like you’re navigating a small room. The broad seats, similar to those in the Quest minivan, are softer than most these days. Lateral support? What would be the point? Much more missed in their absence: heated seats. Wait for the automatic climate control to do its job, power up the Rockford Fosgate audio, then kick back and enjoy the comfort of home on the way home.

Which brings up the name. The point of such a silly car is to forget about life’s necessities, most notably work. Say “cube,” and the first thing most people will think of is the place they spend their time at work. Few want to be in a cube once they leave work. The name originated in Japan. Does “cube” lack this usage over there? Fire and ice?

The cube’s roominess extends to the sliding and reclining back seat, which is mounted high enough off the floor to provide adults with thigh support. My kids loved how well they could see out. Credit the low, unraked beltline.

There’s not much space between the rear seat and the left-hinged tailgate. Enough for groceries, but luggage for four probably isn’t happening. As in the Soul, the front passenger seat does not fold. A pitty, as this feature would be especially useful for long objects given the non-invasive IP and upright windshield. Unlike in the Soul, there’s no hidden storage compartment beneath the cargo floor. While this does provide a deep well, it also means that when the rear seat is folded the cargo floor isn’t remotely flat. Nor can the rear seat be removed or flipped far forward. No magic here.

On the spec sheets, the Soul has a power advantage. Out in the real world, the cube’s 1.8-liter four dramatically outperforms the Soul’s 2.0 even though both vehicles weigh about 2,800 pounds. The cube’s secret weapon: a CVT. This CVT isn’t without its disadvantages—one’s ears often convey the impression that the clutch is slipping. The relationship between engine noise and vehicle speed is decidedly non-linear. And said engine noise is overly buzzy—“buzz box” entered my mind, and stuck there until the phrase (almost) became endearing. But, to give credit where credit is due, the CVT enables the 1.8 to boost the cube to 40 MPH much more effortlessly than it has a right to. There’s no sluggishness off the line or lugging at higher speeds. A responsive six-speed automatic might yield similar performance with a more natural feel—but no competitor offers such a transmission. The Soul’s quick-to-upshift, slow-to-downshift four-speed automatic is decidedly inferior.

Also, recall that you’re not driving a conventional car. In the cube, it seems oddly appropriate to simply prod the pedal and then let the powertrain hoist you up to speed. Too bad you can’t just push a button, as in an elevator. MPG in typical suburban driving came to 25.8.

Zen garden?Handling…how do you want a family room on wheels to handle? Body motions are fairly well controlled, and the door handles remain well off the pavement in hard turns. Agile…not really. And yet more fluid and natural feeling than the Soul, despite vague, overboosted steering that feels directionless on center. Intent on running the Tail of the Dragon? You’re shopping in the wrong class of vehicle.

Given the cube’s mission, ride quality is more important than handling. While the cube’s ride quality is far from luxury class, and can feel a little busy at times, it is smoother and much more forgiving of road imperfections than the Soul’s. You have a much better shot at relaxing during that commute to the cube in Nissan’s cube.

At the cube’s price (still just over twenty grand when loaded up with the krom bits) you expect some shortcomings. And the cube has them. Nissan needs to change the IP lighting, kill the (engine) buzz, tighten up the on-center steering, extend the sun visors, and heat the seats. But even with these shortcomings the cube outpoints the competition in combining an offbeat exterior with an expansive interior and relaxing driving experience. Those that “get it” should get it. The rest of us…well there are plenty of more conventional cars for us.

[Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, a provider of pricing and reliability data]

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