The Truth About Cars » Video http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 30 Jul 2015 22:00:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 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 » Video http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 2015 Ford Edge Ecoboost Review with Video http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-ford-edge-ecoboost-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-ford-edge-ecoboost-review-video/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1116857 The large two-row crossover is a rare breed. With compact crossovers getting less compact and folks defecting to supersized three rows, Toyota and Honda chose to kill the Venza and Accord Crosstour while Ford pressed on with a redesign of the Edge. You can think of the Edge as a “tweener” crossover slotting between the Escape and […]

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2015 Ford Edge Exterior Front-002

The large two-row crossover is a rare breed. With compact crossovers getting less compact and folks defecting to supersized three rows, Toyota and Honda chose to kill the Venza and Accord Crosstour while Ford pressed on with a redesign of the Edge. You can think of the Edge as a “tweener” crossover slotting between the Escape and the Explorer while at the same time being the spiritual successor (in modern form) to the Bronco and two-row Explorers of yesteryear. Although Ford says the Edge is a complete redesign, you could be forgiven for thinking this is more of a refresh, and that’s not a bad thing since the Edge was already one the most appealing options in this phone-booth-sized segment.

Exterior
Although the 2015 Edge looks more like a lightly massaged 2014 than an all-new model, it actually rides on a different platform with two all-new engines under the hood and shares surprisingly little with its predecessor in terms of parts. The last-generation Edge was designed around Ford’s “CD3″ parts bin which was co-designed with Mazda and from those building blocks came the last-generation Fusion, Mazda6, MKZ and even the CX-9. For 2015 Ford pulls from the new CD4 parts bin which serves as the basis for the current Fusion and will underpin the new Taurus and Flex among others. Although weight reduction is all the rage these days, the platform swap sheds less than 100 pounds from the Edge’s curb weight.

This change under the sheetmetal explains the Edge’s growth which is up four inches overall with a one-inch wheelbase stretch. The increase gives the Edge a sleeker and less boxy profile than before while offering more interior room. Meanwhile, Ford tacked on a new grille that strikes me as the merger of Hyundai and Ford’s styling cues. Since the Venza and Crosstour are leaving us this year (production has supposedly already stopped) this means the Edge’s direct competition comes in the form of the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Nissan Murano and certain versions of the Kia Sorento which comes as either a two- or three-row crossover for 2016. If you want to expand the pool, the Grand Cherokee and Lexus RX are also plausible cross-shops, although the Jeep is far more off-road focused and the RX truly competes with the Edge’s ritzy brother: the Lincoln MKX.

2015 Ford Edge Interior Dashboard

Interior
Having not sat inside an Edge in about a year, I had to hunt one down to figure out what changed. The short answer is: everything. The long answer is: the design is similar enough to the outgoing model that current Edge shoppers will feel right at home, but different enough to give them a reason to lease another. Ford merged the squarish style of the 2014 interior with design cues from the latest Focus and Fusion. Instead of continuing Ford’s button minimalism strategy, 2015 adds buttons to make the infotainment system and climate control easier to use.

Front-seat comfort is excellent, although you’ll find that the new Murano’s seats are a hair softer and the 2016 Sorento (in top end trims) offers a wider range of seat adjustments. Rear-seat comfort is excellent and I found the rear cabin more comfortable than the competition, especially the Jeep which has strangely stiff seat cushions. Seat comfort is, in general, a reason to upgrade from a compact crossover to this midsized category. Much of the increased comfort comes from increased legroom and headroom. For 2015, the Edge gains three inches of combined room vs the outgoing model. The way legroom is measured seems to be a matter of constant debate, highlighted by the similar legroom numbers you get in the Honda CR-V. However, in the real world, the Edge not only feels larger, but it’s larger in practical terms as well. In the Edge I was able to properly install a rear-facing child seat behind a 6’2″ passenger, something I could not do in the CR-V. In the way-back you’ll find 25 to 40 percent more cargo room than most compact crossovers, but less than the average 3-row crossover with the 3rd row folded.

2015 Ford Edge MyFord Touch

Infotainment
Ford’s touchscreen infotainment system is not long for this world. Starting in the 2016 calendar year, we will see the highly-anticipated SYNC3 system start to roll into Ford models. Until the software refresh hits however, the Edge will soldier on with the base 4.2-inch SYNC system or the optional 8-inch MyFord Touch (optional in SEL and standard in Titanium and Sport). Since LCD love is all the rage, SEL models can be equipped with Ford’s ubiquitous partial LCD instrument cluster (standard in Titanium and Sport) where twin 4.2-inch displays flank a large central speedometer. Base models get a 6-speaker unbranded audio system and shoppers can option up a 9-speaker premium option or a 12-speaker Sony audio system as our tester was equipped. The twin-LCD system is starting to look dated compared to the LCD clusters that are optional in high end trims of the Grand Cherokee and Sorento but on par with what’s in the Murano.

MyFord Touch is one of the most maligned infotainment systems on the market, but it is also one of the most fully featured. Even in 2015 there are still mainline brands that don’t offer voice command of your USB-connected music library. At this point Ford has addressed most of the major issues that plagues the MFT system launch, except for the speed. Interacting with the touchscreen requires patience as screen changes are considerably slower than the Kia, Chrysler, GM and Toyota alternatives.

Integrated telematics systems that email you vehicle health reports, allow you to call a concierge, request emergency assistance and know when your airbags have gone off are seeing a renaissance. This generation of Ford’s infotainment system includes SYNC Services which offers OnStar-like telematics without the integrated modem. On the downside, if you’ve forgotten your phone and you get in an accident, the car can’t dial for help.

2015 Ford Edge 2.0L Ecoboost Turbo Engine-001

Drivetrain
Last time we looked at the Edge, Ford made the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder a $995 option over the 3.5-liter V6. In an interesting reversal, the V6 is now a $425 optional engine and the 2.0-liter is standard. Despite the identical displacement, the 2.0-liter is almost a new engine. Ford increased the compression, fiddled with the fuel and oiling systems and tacked on a new twin-scroll turbocharger for improved efficiency and a broader torque curve. Power is up 5 horsepower and 5 lb-ft over last year to 245 and 275 respectively with a beefier power band. That’s 35 fewer ponies than the optional V6, but 25 lb-ft more. Also different from last year, you can finally get the small Ecoboost engine with all-wheel drive.

Making the Edge Sport sportier than before is another new engine: the 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 from Ford’s F-150. Inserted sideways under the Edge’s hood, the turbo-six loses a little power but still trumps the outgoing 3.7-liter V6 by 10 ponies and 70 lb-ft (315 hp 350 lb-ft). More impressively, that torque comes to a boil 1,250 RPM sooner. In perhaps the most interesting twist, the Edge Sport doesn’t come with AWD standard. That’s right, all 350 lb-ft of twist are routed to the front wheels only by default. Torque steer? You betcha.

2015 Ford Edge Exterior-001
Drive
Torque steer isn’t just what classifies the 2.7-liter turbo. The 2.0-liter turbo has plenty of that particular demon under the hood as well. (Although I find the act of controlling torque steer amusing, I also willingly bought a new Chrysler LHS at age 18, so take that into consideration.) Put the pedal to the metal and the small turbo engine whirs to life with a hair of lag that’s very similar to BMW’s 2.0-liter turbo. After 7.5 seconds the Edge will hit 60 mph, followed by the 1/4 mile in 15.8 seconds. That’s almost half a second slower than the Murano and V6 Grand Cherokee but only a hair behind the Santa Fe Sport and Sorento with the 2.0-liter turbo. Shoppers should know that a dealer provided 3.5-liter V6 model was just 2/10ths faster to 60 and posted essentially identical 1/4 mile numbers while drinking more fuel. Why is it a $425 option? Because some folks just want six cylinders. (In case you were wondering, a brief test in an AWD Edge Sport (dealer provided) ran to 60 in a scant 5.8 seconds.)

Curb weight ranges from 3,912 pounds in the FWD 2.0-liter Ecoboost base model to a maximum of 4,236 pounds in the FWD Sport model. If you want AWD, it adds around 165 pounds, bringing the AWD Sport to a fairly hefty 4,400 pounds when fully equipped. Despite the weight, the Edge handles surprisingly well. You can thank a few things for that: the wide 64.8 inch track, standard 245-width rubber and a suspension design that’s related to Ford’s global portfolio including the current European Mondeo. Somewhat surprisingly, jumping from the base SE to the Titanium or Sport trims doesn’t buy you wider rubber but the aspect ratio falls from 245/60R18s in the SE to 245/55R19s in the Titanium and 245/50R20s in the Sport. While the aspect ratio and spring rates obviously play a role in lateral grip, the SE and Sport are closer together than you think. (As a late 2015 option Ford will offer an optional 265/40R21 wheel and tire package with summer rubber which we were not able to test.)

2015 Ford Edge Interior Dashboard-004

The hefty curb weight, moderately soft springs and 55-series tires combine to give the Edge a compliant highway ride that wafted over potholed and rough pavement without batting an eye. While not as soft as the new Murano, the Edge has a more pleasing balance because the Nissan often feels too soft on your favorite winding mountain road. Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport actually deserves its name because it feels the most nimble and athletic in the corners. The Hyundai weighs around 500 pounds less which certainly doesn’t hurt, but the suspension is also tuned on the firmer side of this segment. On the other side is the Grand Cherokee which, thanks to its off-road mission, weighs more, is higher off the ground and feels more ponderous. Meanwhile the Sorento straddles the middle of the segment thanks to a light curb weight and moderately firm springs. Steering feel is numb but accurate and I had no problems understanding what the front wheels were up to.

Priced between $28,100 for a FWD SE model and $48,100 for the AWD Sport trim, the Edge starts more expensive and scales higher than the Korean options. However, shoppers need to look beyond the low starting price with the Kia and Hyundai because base Santa Fe and Sorento models come with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is considerably less powerful than the Edge’s base engine and the Koreans have fewer features standard as well. Equip the Hyundai and Kia with a 2.0-liter turbo engine so they compare more directly with the Edge and they ring in at $31,250 and $31,100 respectively, giving Ford the upper hand in MSRP. The value pricing continues against Nissan and Jeep with the Edge undercutting the Murano by around $1,000 across the line and the Jeep by $1,500-2,000 depending on the options.

Nissan’s Murano wins the award for being the best highway cruiser in the bunch. The Jeep is the off-road alternative and the Edge is the value leader. The Kia, however, is my top choice. The Sorento has a fresher look, it’s slightly bigger with a nicer interior and a 0-60 time that’s a bit faster as well. The Sorento handles surprisingly well in its latest generation and top-end trims are better equipped than the Edge. While the Sorento EX is more expensive than a base Edge, you do get more feature content in the Kia and by the time you compare top-end trims the Sorento is less expensive. The only trouble with the Sorento is that Kia attempts to compete with the Edge, Escape and Explorer with one vehicle. Get the base Sorento and it’s Escape priced with 2 rows and a weak 2.4-liter engine. The 2.0-liter turbo Sorento is a 2-row luxury-leaning crossover with optional Nappa leather and HID headlamps. Check the box for the V6 and you get a small third row for your mother-in-law as a smaller alternative to the Explorer. This means that V6 Edge competition gets whittled down to just the Nissan and the Jeep.

After a week with the 2.0-liter Ecoboost Edge I have come to a few conclusions. First up, skip the V6 as it really makes no sense. The fuel economy in the 2.0-liter turbo is better and the performance is nearly identical. Second, get AWD even if you live below the snow belt, unless you really love torque steer. Third, the front-wheel peel in a FWD 2.7-liter twin-turbo Edge Sport made me giggle. If you’re shopping for the best 2.0-liter turbo crossover in this segment, stop by your Kia dealer. However, if you want something this size that will put a smile on your face without braking the bank, the Edge Sport is the CUV you’re looking for. The Edge Sport AWD bridges the gap between the fire-breathing Grand Cherokee SRT and a mainstream crossover like the Sorento and Santa Fe Sport. Think of the Edge Sport as the gravel-road version of the Taurus SHO. I’ll take a red one.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.65

0-60: 7.5

1/4 Mile: 15.80 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average Economy: 24.6 MPG

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We’d Like To Congratulate This Limousine’s Builder [with Video] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/wed-like-to-congratulate-this-limousines-builder-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/wed-like-to-congratulate-this-limousines-builder-with-video/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1123337 At TTAC, we typically don’t run whatever video is making its way around the Internet during whatever particular day. Today, well, we have a reason to break with that tradition. The clip above, shot this past weekend, features a stretched Chrysler 300 beached on a railway crossing and unable to move as a train barrels down […]

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At TTAC, we typically don’t run whatever video is making its way around the Internet during whatever particular day. Today, well, we have a reason to break with that tradition.

The clip above, shot this past weekend, features a stretched Chrysler 300 beached on a railway crossing and unable to move as a train barrels down the tracks in its direction.

Instead of saying “You won’t believe what happens next!!!” like BuzzFeed Autos, I’d like to congratulate the builder of that stretched gangster mobile.

Why?

For starters, when you stretch a vehicle, you typically do it at the expense of its structural integrity. Secondly, if that train’s weight is likely measured in millions of pounds. While the train might not be moving incredibly fast, that’s a lot of force going into the side of a limo, a vehicle that should have less structural integrity than on the car it’s based.

Yet, this limo, against all odds, still looks like a limo at the end of its long trip down the tracks in front of the train’s cow catcher.

For comparison, here’s a Top Gear clip where the show ran a train into a much smaller car at a much higher speed, but you get the idea.

The coachbuilder responsible for this particular limousine should get a medal in doing it right.

[Source: CarScoops]

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TTAC Reader Pits Simulated MX-5 Against the Real Deal [with Video] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/ttac-reader-pits-simulated-mx-5-against-the-real-deal-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/ttac-reader-pits-simulated-mx-5-against-the-real-deal-with-video/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1120377 My company, Force Dynamics, builds full-motion driving simulators. They work by tilting you as the simulated vehicle corners or accelerates, so your brain is tricked into feeling lateral or longitudinal accelerations. Sometimes people who watch our machines in action say, “This is moving way too much!” So when we started racing a Mazda Miata in the […]

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Force Dynamics Driving Simulator

My company, Force Dynamics, builds full-motion driving simulators. They work by tilting you as the simulated vehicle corners or accelerates, so your brain is tricked into feeling lateral or longitudinal accelerations.

Sometimes people who watch our machines in action say, “This is moving way too much!” So when we started racing a Mazda Miata in the ChumpCar World Series, I decided to conduct an experiment.

We wrote an accelerometer application for Android (the existing ones weren’t useful due to their lack of adjustable damping) and mounted it in the car during my stint. Later, I put the same device on our motion platform, and recorded the same section of Watkins Glen in iRacing.

The result: a comparison of the forces you feel while driving a race car with the forces you feel while driving our motion systems. The phone, like your inner ear, can’t tell the difference between being accelerated or tilted. What you see on the phone in each half of the video is what I was feeling in the real car and in the simulator.

How do the two experiences compare? Practicality limits the simulator’s sustained force to about .6 g. Luckily, your perception is enhanced a bit: in the simulator, the force keeping you in the seat gets lower as you tilt, whereas in real life that force is always 1 g, so you feel more “oomph” for a given load in the simulator than you do in real life. There’s also a psychological component. You’re seeing yourself cornering, and you’re getting other secondary cues, too: in the 401cr, your rate of rotation; vibration; sound and fury.

How do the two differ? Well, the real car is easier: your positional awareness is better, and the onset cues are sharper, so it’s easier to read the car on turn-in. Those differences aside, however, I was almost immediately comfortable making the transition to real driving. Shifting, braking, cornering, and handling the car on the limit all made nearly direct transitions to the track; for example, I was immediately comfortable holding the car at small slip angles through long, fast corners, because it behaved exactly like I expected it to.

What this means is while the simulator can’t fully match the sustained accelerations of a real car, the overall feel can be very good, and a high-quality motion platform can help immensely in the transition from simulator to track.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.

Submitted by David Wiernicki. You may know him as B&B member PeriSoft in the comments.

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2015 Lexus RC F Review (with Video) – Is F Greater than M? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-lexus-rc-f-review-video-f-greater-m/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-lexus-rc-f-review-video-f-greater-m/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1111321 The last Lexus coupé-only model to grace luxury Japanese dealer lots was the 1991-2000 Lexus SC 300/SC 400. Since then Lexus has tried to satisfy luxury coupé and convertible shoppers simultaneously with the hardtop SC and IS convertibles since 2001. That is until the folks in Japan decided to change their strategy to compete more directly with BMW, […]

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2015 Lexus RC F Exterior

The last Lexus coupé-only model to grace luxury Japanese dealer lots was the 1991-2000 Lexus SC 300/SC 400. Since then Lexus has tried to satisfy luxury coupé and convertible shoppers simultaneously with the hardtop SC and IS convertibles since 2001.

That is until the folks in Japan decided to change their strategy to compete more directly with BMW, Mercedes and Audi in every segment. The result is the development of the RC.

Perhaps because Lexus decided against a 2-coupé strategy, as utilized by BMW and Mercedes, the RC is mix mash between the compact IS and the mid-sized GS — with a little bit of Lexus IS C tossed in for good measure.

In theory, the new coupé was also to serve as the basis for an all-new convertible. Unfortunately, the dealer network revolted and demanded another change in course, redirecting efforts into a 3-row crossover. As a result, the all-new RC is sold alongside the aging Lexus IS C convertible, a situation that’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Fortunately for enthusiasts, Lexus developed their M4-fighter at the same time as the more pedestrian RC 350, otherwise the very-blue 467-horsepower RC F you see above may have met the same fate as the moribund convertible.

Exterior
Lexus’ last M fighter, the IS F, was as unassuming as the RC F is bold. The Lexus ES says, “I’m on my way to the mall,” while the front end of RC F says, “I’m on my way to an anger management intervention.” Base RC 350 coupés have a grille that’s bigger and angrier than Lexus has ever used before. For the RC F, the visual impact gets downright ferocious.

Something struck me as odd when I first set eyes on the RC F a few months back in New Orleans: I’m not a fan of the front end on the IS, largely because the daytime running lamp is divorced from the headlamp. In the RC F, this theme actually works. The difference is the rest of the IS’ form is mainstream and the headlamps themselves look like any other lamp module, making the swoosh seem out of place. For the RC, Lexus reshaped everything, giving the design a more three dimensional feel with concave headlamps. The look works, especially with the optional tri-beam LED headlamp modules (a $1,160 option) fitted to our tester. The only thing missing from this nose are the tiny LED fog lamps you find in the RC F-Sport. At the launch event I attended, Lexus claimed their desire for “no-compromise cooling” meant the fog lamps were left on the cutting room floor.

Now to identify the competition. The RC F obviously has the BMW M4 in its sights and Lexus features an Audi RS 5 in a few commercials, but there are two other players: the new Cadillac ATS-V and the current Mercedes C63 AMG coupé. (The new C63 Coupé should be out in 2016 as a 2017 model, but my local dealer still has three 2015 models on the lot.)

Cadillac’s ATS sedan appears small when stacked against the BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS, but the coupé segment is different and all the entries are but a hair apart. The largest variation at work here is the wheelbase. The Lexus has the shortest span at 107.5 inches and the M4 the longest at 110.7 inches. This helps accentuate the M4’s low and long profile. The other main difference is curb weight. Thanks to standard Quattro, the RS 5 is the heaviest at 4,009 pounds and the M4 is the lightest at 3,530. Curb weight is crucial in a performance vehicle and that’s a sizeable variation. The RC F weighs in second heaviest at 3,958 (or about the same weight as a Jaguar XJ). The Merc is a cupcake lighter and the Caddy straddles the middle at 3,700 pounds.

2015 Lexus RC F Interior-008

Interior
Although the RC is a hybrid of the IS and GS, the interior is pure IS — which I found a little disappointing. Instead of the upright dash and large wide-screen infotainment screen you find in the GS 350, we get a multi-tired dash and a small LCD with narrow proportions. As with the IS, I find the interior somewhat jarring, mainly because of the enormous airbag bump on the passenger side.

The RC F suffers from the same problem as every other entry in this segment: an interior designed for a car half the price. This isn’t unusual. In fact, the RC borrows its interior from the IS 250 while the M4 leverages the basics from the 320i. Also similar to the competition, you won’t find real cow in the base RC F. Lexus insists the NuLuxe pleather seating is a premium feature as it’s bonded to the seat’s foam and won’t “pucker” or “wrinkle” like leather. However you slice it, it still won’t faux anyone.

2015 Lexus RC F LCD Gauges-002

The only major change to the IS interior for coupé duty is a rearrangement of the cupholders and the incorporation of Lexus’ new infotainment controller. F models get a different partial LCD instrument cluster versus the RC 350 with a small fixed speedometer on the right and everything else replicated by the disco dash. In terms of overall parts quality and design, I found the ATS, RC and M4 to all be quite comparable while the aging RS 5 is still the most pleasing to my eye. Narrowing the ranking, I put the M4 above the ATS and the RC F last. If the ATS had the LCD cluster we see in the CTS, it would take top honors, and the RC F is last because the large expanse of injection molded dashboard can’t compete with the extra touches we get in the rest.

I found the front seats to be comfortable and on par with the Audi RS 5 and a notch above the old C63’s narrow seat backs. As we have come to expect from BMW recently, the M4’s front seats are excellent and offer more adjustability than we find in the RC. Unexpectedly, Cadillac has taken a page from BMW’s playbook and offers your choice of 16- or 18-way adjustable seats with more range of motion than you find in the Audi or Lexus.

2015 Lexus RC F Interior Enform Navigation-001

Infotainment
Since the RC shares its dashboard with the IS sedan, the coupé also adopts the small LCD infotainment screen of its four-door sibling. U.S.-bound models get a standard 7-inch LCD screen perched high on the dash. Unfortunately, the distance from the driver and the large plastic bezel conspire to make the screen look smaller than it is. The problem is further compounded by the screen measuring smaller than the competition. As with the IS sedan, the standard display audio system is the only way you can escape the infamous Lexus Remote Touch system. Thankfully, the base system is well featured with HD Radio, SiriusXM, CD player, iPod/Bluetooth integration and weather/traffic displays.

I find myself very conflicted about the Lexus Enform navigation and infotainment system. When coupled with a touchscreen — as in the Lexus GX 460 — I find the system easy to use and intuitive. Admittedly, the software lacks some of the polish of BMW’s iDrive, but it is still one of my favorites. Sadly, in most Lexus vehicles, the touchscreen has been swapped for a joystick-like device which transforms the system from easy to use to frustration itself. For 2015, Lexus is trying something new: a track pad in the RC and NX. The laptop-like unit works essentially the same as the former joystick and offers haptic feedback in addition to some limited pinch and scroll gestures. HD Radio support and traffic information via HD radio are standard, so you don’t need an XM subscription to get a color-coded map. If you can get beyond the input method, the system proved reliable and moderately intuitive. Overall, however, I rank this system below BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Infiniti’s new two-screen setup, and even Mercedes’ aging COMAND system. On the flip side, Lexus is one of the few manufacturers to offer complete voice command of your USB/iDevice a la MyLincoln Touch and the luxury automaker continues to expand the number of smartphone integrated app features. New for 2015 is an OnStar-like app that gives you all the standard “did I lock my car” telematics features in addition to alerting you if the car is speeding (handy if Johnny Jr. drives your RC F to school), exceeding a geo-boundary or violating curfew.

2015 Lexus RC F Engine 5.0L V8

Drivetrain
This segment is split in two camps. On the left we have the turbocharged, six-cylinder engines from Cadillac and BMW, and on the right we have the naturally aspirated V-8s from Lexus and Audi. (Next year is likely to bring a unicorn to this segment: a twin-turbo V-8 from Mercedes.)

F buyers get a reworked 5.0L V-8 from the discontinued IS F. Based on the 4.6L V-8 found in the LS 460, the 5.0L version has some significant changes in addition to the displacement bump. We get the usual bevy of performance tweaks, such as titanium valves, a fuel surge tank and high-lift cams. We also get something unusual on a performance vehicle: the ability to operate on the Atkinson cycle. (Technically, a modified Otto cycle.) Unlike most engines, however, this V-8 can switch between Otto and Atkinson cycles, depending on what is needed at the time. This is accomplished by swapping the variable valve timing system found on the old 5.0L design with a new electronically controlled unit on the intake side, allowing a greater deal of control over both valve lift and duration. When efficiency is needed, the intake valve stays open part way into the compression cycle, effectively making the compression stroke “shorter” than the expansion stroke, improving efficiency. According to the engineers, the advantage to employing this fuel-sipping tech is that switching back to max-burn mode takes less time than cylinder deactivation and it can be done across a broader range of engine RPMs. The advantage to the consumer is the solution is 100 percent transparent; cylinder deactivation systems can change the exhaust note and decrease engine smoothness. Thanks to these modifications, the RC F produces more power than the hybrid implementation of this engine present in the LS 600hL while still delivering a 2 mpg bump in the EPA highway score of 25 mpg. The RC F achieves 19 mpg on the combined cycle.

Sending power to the rear is an eight-speed automatic made by Aisin. For those into trivia, this is a variant of the first production eight-speed automatic (in the Lexus LS) for automotive use and was introduced a year before the ZF eight-speed that’s sucked all the air out of the room. For F-duty, Lexus beefs up the internals and allows the torque converter lockup clutch to engage in gears 2-8. (Lexus calls this SPort Direct Shift, or SPDS, but it the same concept used in many modern automatics like Mazda’s SKYACTIV six-speed.) Aft of the transmission is a standard Torsen limited-slip rear differential or an optional electronically controlled, torque-vectoring rear axle as part of the performance package.

2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-007

Drive
Every coupé in this segment handles incredibly well, zips to 60 in the blink of an eye, and stops on a dime compared to your average compact luxury sedan. In truth, the difference out on the road — aside from the raw numbers when it comes to 0-60 times and road holding — is down to personal preference and how your priorities stack up against the facets of the car’s road personality.

Let’s start with the big dog, the artist formerly known as the M3 coupé. At just over 3,500 pounds, the M4 is light for this segment. Despite making 10-percent less power than the Lexus, the BMW is faster to 60 because it is nearly 15-percent lighter and turbocharged. Thanks to less mass, the torque curve flattening effects of the German hairdryer, and the quick-shifting dual clutch transmission, the Bimmer will run to 60 half a second faster than the Lexus — if you can find the traction.

2015 Lexus RC F Exterior Headlamp LED

On the downside, this is not the E92 M3 you’re longing for. The steering feel in the Lexus is a hair more precise and, overall, it’s an easier car to drive hard. I’ll leave the track day diaries to Jack Baruth, but when pitted back to back, there is something artificial about the Lexus torque-vectoring rear axle. Unquestionably, it allows the rear of the RC F to rotate in ways the standard Torsen diff can’t (I had the opportunity to test a few cars at NOLA recently), but the feeling isn’t as satisfying as the M4, despite the M4 having a torque-vectoring rear end as well.

That said, the RC F is just as quick around most tracks; I chalk that up to how easy it is to pilot and the programming of the eight-speed auto that aggressively downshifts based on your braking Gs. Back out on the paved road, the transmission’s shift logic lost its charm. When you’re on your favorite mountain highway having a little fun, you look like a dweeb while the transmission hangs onto 2nd gear as you cautiously pass a pack of cyclists. It also means that real-world passing maneuvers take considerably less time in the M4 as the DCT is far less reluctant to downshift. On the flip side, the ride on the RC F is more livable, is likely to be more reliable, and my insurance guy tells me it’d cost me a lower premium, too.

2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-022

Audi’s RS 5 is seriously spendy ($8,500 more than the RC F) and it is the oldest car in the group now that Mercedes has sent the C63 out to pasture. Like most Audis, the RS 5 has a weight balance “problem” because the engine and part of the transmission hang out ahead of the front axle. The resulting 59/41 (F/R) weight distribution is the most skewed of the bunch (identical to a Honda Accord Sport or Mazda6), but thanks to Audi’s engineering it hides it fairly well — though push the RS 5 in the corners and you get more plow and less feeling from the front axle. Although I find the RS 5 the best looking option, the heavy curb weight, standard AWD, electric power steering, weight balance and high price tag make the RS 5 a dynamic choice only on an ice circuit.

Then we have the ATS-V which, aside from the surprisingly cheap looking instrument cluster, is my choice. A few years ago, the mainline auto press would have scoffed at Cadillac putting a turbocharged six-cylinder engine under the hood of a BMW M fighter — except that’s exactly what BMW has done. Cadillac, for their part, kicked it up a notch further. The larger displacement V-6 approaches the RC F’s horsepower figure at 464, but crushes the segment with 445 lb-ft of torque at just 3,500 rpm. With the new GM 8L90 automatic transmission and a curb weight that’s 200 lbs heavier than the BMW, the Cadillac is slower off the line — by a slim 1/10th of a second. GM also offers a six-speed manual in the ATS if you prefer to row your own, and get to 60 slower. As good as the Lexus eight-speed is, GM’s new slushbox is better. The shifts are faster and crisper and the shift logic is more country-road appropriate than the DCT in the M4. The 8L90 will hold gears in Sport mode like the rest, but it’s more willing to up-shift after you’ve passed the slow poke.

2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-013

As a package, the ATS is more willing to turn in and it feels more nimble than the BMW or the Lexus. The transmission isn’t as sharp as BMW’s dual-clutch box, but it is more livable for a daily driver in stop and go traffic. As with the ATS sedan, the steering feel and general dynamics are superior, but it lacks the polish you get with the German. Where the ATS really scores is value. When priced similarly to our $74,000 Lexus tester, the Cadillac offers more comfortable seats, a heads-up display, adaptive suspension, the best automatic in the group, and an overall style that splits the difference between the more sedate Germans and the over-the-top Lexus.

Lexus’ latest performance vehicle is the finest example of what Lexus does best: incremental changes. The RC F is the sum of everything Lexus has learned over the years about competing in the luxury market and, lately, the performance luxury market. The “Lexus way” is to continually improve while taking the “safe route” with a naturally aspirated engine and a proven traditional automatic. Unfortunately, playing it safe is what puts both the M4 and the RC F tied in second place. Although each vehicle has its pros and cons, they balance out on my tally sheet. While the M4 is faster and more direct, BMW is also playing it safe with conservative styling and road feel that isn’t as direct as the Cadillac. It’s hard to go wrong with the 2015 RC F, but the Cadillac ATS-V is a new instrument cluster away from perfection.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.2 Seconds

0-60: 4.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.5 @ 115 MPH

Average Economy: 20.8 MPG

2015 Lexus RC F Trunk-001 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-009 2015 Lexus RC F Interior Paddle Shifters-001 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-018 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-010 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-001 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-009 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-017 2015 Lexus RC F Interior Paddle Shifters 2015 Lexus RC F Trunk 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-008 2015 Lexus RC F LCD Gauges-002 2015 Lexus RC F Interior Enform Navigation-001 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-007 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-016 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-008 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior Headlamp LED-001 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior Headlamp LED 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-007 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-015 2015 Lexus RC F Interior Enform Navigation 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-006 2015 Lexus RC F LCD Gauges-001 2015 Lexus RC F LCD Gauges 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-005 2015 Lexus RC F Interior Back Seat 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-014 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-006 2015 Lexus RC F Engine 5.0L V8-001 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-005 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-013 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-022 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-004 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-014 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-011 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-001 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-021 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-012 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-004 2015 Lexus RC F Engine 5.0L V8 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-003 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-011 2015 Lexus RC F Exterior-020 2015 Lexus RC F Interior 2015 Lexus RC F Interior-010

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2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-volkswagen-beetle-1-8t-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-volkswagen-beetle-1-8t-review-video/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 13:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1103201 Once upon a time, Volkswagen’s iconic Beetle sold primarily on its low sticker price, durability reputation and ease of maintenance. VW’s new Bug, however, sells on retro style and a healthy dollop of nostalgia. The Bug before us today is the second generation “New Beetle” first resurrected in Europe as a 1998 model based on VW’s […]

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2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-003

Once upon a time, Volkswagen’s iconic Beetle sold primarily on its low sticker price, durability reputation and ease of maintenance. VW’s new Bug, however, sells on retro style and a healthy dollop of nostalgia.

The Bug before us today is the second generation “New Beetle” first resurrected in Europe as a 1998 model based on VW’s Golf and A3 platform. It was then redesigned for 2012, sharing its bones with the MK5 Golf and Jetta.

Redesigning retro is always tricky. This explains why the original Bug barely changed over the years and why the other retro-flashbacks like the PT Cruiser and Chevy HHR turned into one-hit wonders. If you don’t change enough, shoppers won’t see a reason to trade Herbie in for a new time capsule. Change it too much and you’re left with a caricature. Either way you slice it, retro comes at a cost.

Exterior
The original “New Beetle” rocked cutesy-bubbly good looks, headlamps that screamed for aftermarket eye-lashes, tail lamps that begged to be flower-powered and a bud vase built into the dash. VW’s second take on the retro-bug is deliberately more masculine, or so I’m told. The classic fender bulges and retro-inspired wheels are still here, but this bug is longer, wider, and lower than ever before. Making this profile semi-circular like the last gen model would have been tricky since it’s nearly half a foot longer, so they didn’t even try. Instead the engineers penned a kink where the windshield meets the roof for a more traditional roofline up front. The changes make Herbie look like a bug that’s been stepped on slightly or stretched in the middle — take your pick.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-006

The 2015 model is still instantly recognizable as a Bug, but I think I actually miss the “cutsey” new bug’s overall style. The new front bumper seems especially out-of-place as it exaggerates the front overhang and the crisp creases don’t jibe with the oval lamps and bubbly fenders. The design struck me as a paradox: It is as conservative as we expect from Volkswagen, but slightly discordant with the rest of their product line. For a manufacturer known for elegant, restrained and monolithic styling, the Beetle strikes me as almost cartoonish. Almost. VW offers a fix, however: the Beetle drop-top. By removing the lid, the Beetle loses the “squashed” look and somehow gains rear headroom as well.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-007

Interior
The interior borrows parts from the corporate bin and wraps them in retro styling. We get plenty of painted plastic trim and two glove boxes as a nod to the past. If you’ve recently taken VW’s new Golf out for a spin, you should know that this Beetle is related to the 2015 Jetta, not the 2015 Golf and Audi A3. This means you find plenty of hard plastics inside, and the cabin doesn’t have the “discount Audi” feel you find in VW’s hot hatch. Is that a problem? Not necessarily. The Golf has an unusually nice interior for its base price tag and the Beetle is merely class average. Of course, the Beetle is also an odd product to classify as its only real retro competition comes from the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper.

Even on our loaded 1.8T tester ($27,805), VW decided not to borrow the Jetta’s power seats or automatic climate control. Although I found the front seats comfortable for my body shape, the range of motion is limited compared to other compacts. The Bug’s rear seats have become a tad more spacious in this generation, but should still be considered “emergency” seats due to limited leg room. Headroom is tight in the rear, but suitable for folks under 6-feet tall. Compared to the internal competition, you’ll find about 4-inches more rear legroom in the 3-door Golf and nearly 8 inches more in the Jetta sedan. If that surprises you, then you may also be surprised to hear that the Fiat 500 actually gives you more rear legroom than the VW, although cargo room is unquestionably more limited.

Once upon a time, you couldn’t get leather in your Beetle and we’ve come full circle to your choice of cloth or V-Tex leatherette — VW-speak for pleather. Of course, the Beetle is all about retro styling and that’s most apparent in the Classic trim, which is well equipped, bargain priced, and comes upholstered in checkered cloth and brown pleather.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Infotainment

Infotainment
No, our tester didn’t come with a CB radio, but there is something retro about VW’s long-serving infotainment systems. Base models get an AM/FM radio, single CD player, Bluetooth and VW’s MDI interface for iDevice/USB integration. In an odd twist, the new Beetle Classic trim and the top-end trim get VW’s touchscreen navigation head unit while the middle two models do not.

The 5-inch touchscreen is shared with the Jetta and, at this point, is far from a spring chicken. Compared to the latest offerings from the competition, VW’s nav system is slow, less polished, less intuitive and the screen is small. Although the 2015 Golf uses a newer system, the one you really need to wait for is the 2016 “MIB II” system with its larger screen and thoroughly modern software package — but it is expected to feature on other VW models before the Beetle. On the bright side, the optional 9-speaker Fender audio system is totally groovy.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8L Turbo Engine-001

Drivetrain
I never really minded the odd-ball 2.5L five-cylinder VW used to put under the Beetle’s hood, but there is no denying the new 1.8L turbo is a huge improvement. Also found under the hood of the Golf, Jetta and Passat, the 1.8L engine cranks out a respectable 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. Making the 1.8T even more attractive, all 184 lb-ft happen at just 1,500 RPM. Classic models come only with an Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic transaxle while other trims start with a five-speed manual. Opting for the slushbox will give you the best gasoline fuel economy at an EPA rated 25 MPG city and 33 highway.

Also shared with the Jetta is the Beetle’s refreshed 2.0L turbo diesel, good for 160 horsepower and 238 lb-ft of torque. Although it’s a little slower than the 1.8L gasoline turbo, acceleration is aided by a standard six-speed manual and an optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DSG) transmission.

If neither of those drivetrains float your boat, you can still get the Beetle R-Line with the last generation GTI’s 2.0L turbo engine with 210 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of twist. All those ponies are routed to the front wheels via the same six-speed DSG as the TDI model or a slightly tweaked six-speed manual.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Backup Camera

Drive
Out on the road, the differences between the Jetta, Golf and Beetle are readily apparent. The Beetle is noisier, more softly sprung and slightly slower than the all-new Golf hatchback. Comparisons to the more closely related Jetta are again a little more appropriate than with the Golf. When driven hard, the Beetle exhibits predictable dynamics with plenty of body roll and protest from the tires. At just under 3,000 pounds, the Beetle isn’t a heavy car for the 21st century, but neither is it overly light. A similarly equipped Jetta is a hair lighter despite being longer and the new VW Golf weighs about 100 lbs less. To put that in perspective, the Fiat 500, which could be seen as the only real competitor in this price bracket, is nearly 500 pounds lighter. (The Fiat is, of course, much smaller.) Handling improves on the top-end 1.8T model thanks to wider 235/45R18 tires all the way around, but you’ll need to step up to the R-Line before suspension changes address the soft springs our tester wore.

Acceleration in the 1.8T model is excellent for any car in the $20-26K range with 60 happening in 7.5 seconds, notably faster than the old 2.5L five-cylinder model. Although I wish VW had paired this engine to their six-speed manual, the base five speed is well matched to the engine. Shifter feel is excellent, shifter travel is moderate and the clutch pedal had a linear engagement we’ve come to expect from the Germans. The turbo engine’s low-end torque makes hill climbing a breeze and if you get the manual there’s less gear shifting than a comparable naturally-aspirated engine. Steering feel is average for the compact segment with moderate steering effort.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Instrument Cluster

The 2.0L R-Line model I sampled briefly from a local dealer seemed underpowered compared to the modern crop of direct-injection 2.0L turbos on the market, but it is notably faster than the Fiat 500 Abarth. Additionally, the six-speed DSG is a dynamic partner on your favorite winding road. The downside to the R-Line is that it isn’t the same engine you get in the current GTI. The new GTI 2.0L turbo has considerably more torque, a bit more horsepower and it all comes to the boil a little sooner than the old engine. That means the R-Line is not the Beetle-GTI hybrid you may be hoping for. It’s also a little rough around the edges thanks to less sound deadening material in the Beetle.

After a week with the Beetle, which happened to be shortly after my spin in a 2015 GTI and 2015 e-Golf, there’s just no way to sugar coat it: The Jetta and Golf are better options unless you value style over practicality, efficiency and performance. The Beetle is unquestionably more car for your dollar then you’ll find at the Fiat dealer, with more luggage room and a snazzier stereo. The problem is the new Golf is sitting right next to the Beetle on the lot. The Golf is more efficient, roomier, has a bigger trunk, handles better, it’s slightly faster and has a much more premium interior. For about the same price.

Now there is a twist here, and that is the VW Beetle Convertible. At $25,595, the Beetle convertible is better looking than the hard top beetle and it’s one of the best drop-top deals in the USA. VW also offers a 2.0L R-Line convertible and a diesel convertible with a six-speed manual. If you’re contemplating a Beetle and want style, there’s nothing wrong with the hardtop — go right ahead. If you’re on the fence, take my advice and either get the Golf or drop a few more bills and get the Beetle convertible.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.6 Seconds

0-60: 7.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 28.2 MPG

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8L Turbo Engine 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8L Turbo Engine-001 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Backup Camera 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Cargo Area 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-001 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-002 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-003 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-004 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-005 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-006 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-007 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Exterior-008 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Infotainment 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Infotainment-001 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Instrument Cluster 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-001 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-002 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-003 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-004 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-005 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-006 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-007 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Interior-008

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Smart Decides Cursing Children Are Hilarious, Clever [Video] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/smart-decides-cursing-children-hilarious-clever/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/smart-decides-cursing-children-hilarious-clever/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 22:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1111105 Ahead of its new Fortwo and Forfour models, Smart is releasing an advertisement destined to live only on the Internet. The ad — titled “Swearing Kids” — is completely self-explanatory and accurate. It is wholly uncensored and mostly funny and full of naughty language that’s definitely Not Smart For Work. Like anyone with children will […]

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Smart advertisement

Ahead of its new Fortwo and Forfour models, Smart is releasing an advertisement destined to live only on the Internet.

The ad — titled “Swearing Kids” — is completely self-explanatory and accurate. It is wholly uncensored and mostly funny and full of naughty language that’s definitely Not Smart For Work.

Like anyone with children will tell you, kids have a habit of picking up foul language from parents and repeating it at the most inopportune times.

George Carlin can’t be too proud, though, as the purveyor of micro cars only covered just two of his seven dirty words.

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Thank You, YouTube Viewers – TTAC Hits 1,000 Subscribers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/thank-youtube-viewers-ttac-hits-1000-subscribers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/thank-youtube-viewers-ttac-hits-1000-subscribers/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 19:59:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1111225 TTAC hit 1,000 subscribers on YouTube today and it’s all thanks to our man Alex L. Dykes, who single-handedly puts together some great videos, and to those of you who’ve chosen to show your support with clickvotes. If you haven’t subscribed, why haven’t you subscribed yet? Don’t you want us to make videos? Come on, […]

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TTAC YouTube Videos

TTAC hit 1,000 subscribers on YouTube today and it’s all thanks to our man Alex L. Dykes, who single-handedly puts together some great videos, and to those of you who’ve chosen to show your support with clickvotes.

If you haven’t subscribed, why haven’t you subscribed yet? Don’t you want us to make videos? Come on, people. Do it for Alex. Do it for TTAC. Do it so we can justify doing more than one video a week.

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2016 Acura RDX AWD Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2016-acura-rdx-awd-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2016-acura-rdx-awd-review-video/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1098569 Acura has been a brand of highs and lows for a while. The MDX has been a perennial best-seller while their large sedans have largely sat unsold. The RDX, meanwhile, has had an interesting history. Acura’s first attempt at a 2-row crossover was ahead of its time with a 2.3L turbocharged engine producing 240 horsepower […]

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2016 Acura RDX Exterior-005

Acura has been a brand of highs and lows for a while. The MDX has been a perennial best-seller while their large sedans have largely sat unsold. The RDX, meanwhile, has had an interesting history.

Acura’s first attempt at a 2-row crossover was ahead of its time with a 2.3L turbocharged engine producing 240 horsepower and Acura’s Super Handling AWD system capable of sending 90 percent of engine power to the rear. The ride was criticized by Motor Trend as “harsh” and folks complained about turbo lag from the segment’s only four-cylinder turbo engine.

As the segment grew, most entries used naturally aspirated 6-cylinder engines and RDX sales failed to achieve orbit. All indications were that Acura’s compact crossover was destined to be a low-volume niche player in one of the fastest growing segments. Then Acura did something unexpected.

By the 2013 model year, small displacement turbo engines had become a staple in the segment but Acura chose to buck the trend by replacing their 2.3L turbo with a 3.5L V6 during the redesign. The engine swap wasn’t the only thing that surprised Acura fans. Engineers stretched the RDX in every direction, softened the suspension, jacked up the ride height two inches, dialed down the “sport”, removed the SH-AWD system and fitted electric power steering. Proving that the compact luxury crossover shopper isn’t looking for TL Type-S on stilts, RDX sales more than doubled and remain on an upward trajectory, outselling its former BMW nemesis and besting every luxury 2-row crossover save the Lexus RX and Cadillac SRX.

2016 Acura RDX Exterior-004

Exterior
Being a refresh and not a redesign, changes to the exterior are evolutionary. 2016 brings Acura’s signature full-LED headlamps and turn signals which sport three LED projector arrays and two LED reflector arrays for the high beams. (There has been some confusion about the high beams being halogen or LED lamps. The high and low beams are both full-LED but they use different optical systems to focus the light.) In addition to the new beams, there are more creases, a restyled “beak” and some extra chrome. Out back, new LED taillamps join the party with a restyled bumper cover to make the RDX look a little more like the MDX and ILX.

Before we go further, we ought to talk about how this crossover segment boils down. In practical terms, there are three different size classes of luxury 2-row crossover. At the top end we have the Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX and Lexus RX, which are all 186-200 inches long. Next we have the semi-segment where the RDX plays with the likes of the GLK, MKC, Q5, NX 200t, XC60 and X3. At the small end of the scale lie the Evoque, Q3, GLA and X1. You can consider the RDX a “tweener” in some ways since it’s at the large end of the middle segment but still 6-inches shorter than a Cadillac SRX.

2016 Acura RDX Interior-003

Interior
Like many companies, Acura limits the interior color options depending on the exterior color you select. Unlike most other companies, however, the choices are more limited. In base RDX models, all colors except “Slate Silver” are tied to a single interior color. Stepping up to the $38,970 RDX with Technology Package allows one more exterior color and adds an additional interior color choice for the black and dark grey exterior. That’s a far cry from the level of customization you get in the competition, especially the Evoque, MKC and X3.

Spanning from $35,270 to $43,420, the RDX is one of the least expensive vehicles in this segment. As a result, it should not surprise you that you have to step up to the $38,940 model to get leather seats and the 8-way power adjustable passenger seat. As with the rest of the Acura lineup in the USA, real wood trim is unavailable at any price, although we now get standard rear climate vents.

Although the RDX is about the same size as the X3 on the outside, you’ll find four-inches more combined legroom in the Acura, split fairly evenly front and rear, making it easier for drivers with long legs to find an ideal driving position. Unfortunately, some taller drivers will notice the RDX has a little less front headroom than the X3. The trade-off for the roomier digs can be found behind the second row where cargo capacity comes in at 26.1 cubic feet, one cube below the X3, 20% smaller than the XC60 and 45% smaller than the cargo hold in the Lexus RX.

2016 Acura RDX Interior-005

Infotainment
Base and “AcuraWatch” models get a 7-speaker sound system with a 5-inch color LCD set high in the dashboard. USB, iDevice and Bluetooth integration are all standard, as is Sirius/XM and Pandora Radio (a smartphone is required for Pandora). Because the RDX uses the same basic dash parts for all models, the small LCD looks a little lost in the dash.

Adding the Technology Package brings the biggest change to the RDX’s interior for 2016: the AcuraLink 2-screen infotainment system. Here’s how Acura has described the split screen rationale: the 8-inch display set high in the dash is used for navigation, leaving the 7-inch touchscreen below to handle climate and audio functions. However, in reality you end up using both screens and their interaction takes some getting used to. While it’s true that you can switch between audio sources with the lower screen while simultaneously watching the navigation map on the upper screen, if you want to browse a playlist, that’s done solely with the upper screen. Entering an address for navigation can be done using either screen with the control wheel/joystick or an on-screen keyboard on the 7-inch screen. The overall design is not as well-integrated as the Infiniti InTouch system in the Q50, but it has grown on me since I first encountered it and the extensive voice command system is one of the best in the segment.

Drivetrain
Instead of starting with a 2.0L turbo engine like most of this segment’s entries, all RDX models use the same engine. 2016 brings a light revision to Acura’s 3.5L naturally aspirated V6, bumping power to 279 horsepower and torque to 252 lb-ft. Acura tweaked the segment’s only cylinder deactivation system to be more aggressive, switching to three-cylinder mode often to improve highway fuel economy. Sadly, the 2016 revision did not bring the direct-injection system found in the TLX, RLX and MDX.

Early indications were that the RDX would get the same 9-speed ZF automatic transmission as the MDX and TLX. However, for 2016 at least, the RDX continues to use the same Honda/Acura 6-speed automatic as last year. Also the same as last year is an AWD system that’s different from the SH-AWD system in the MDX and TLX. In a nut shell, the MDX can send 90% of engine power to the rear by fully locking the center coupling and over-driving the rear axle vs the front. SH-AWD also has a torque vectoring function which can send 100% of the rear axle power a single rear wheel. The RDX isn’t like that.

To cut weight and cost from the second generation RDX, Acura chose to fit a more conventional AWD system. The current AWD system is somewhat unusual in this segment because the majority of systems will fully lock a center coupling allowing power to be split more or less 50-50 front to rear. The RDX won’t send more than 40% of engine power to the rear axle, leaving 60% up front. Without the torque vectoring axle found in the SH-AWD Acuras, the RDX relies on an open differential and brake-based traction control to keep things in check on loose surfaces.

2016 Acura RDX Interior-009

Drive
The lack of SH-AWD means while the AWD MDX is a dynamic competitor to a base AWD X5, the RDX is not a dynamic competitor to the X3 in the same way. Speaking of the MDX, despite having a similar 60/40 weight balance and weighing 300 pounds more, Acura’s three-row crossover actually feels more nimble, especially on winding mountain roads when under power. That’s because the MDX’s rear axle will send more power to the outside rear wheel to help rotate the vehicle and compensate for the front heavy weight balance. That doesn’t happen in the RDX. Because the front wheels in the AWD RDX are handling the majority of the engine power, the front end feels light during hard acceleration and, depending on the surface, you’ll experience mild torque steer. The difference in feel between the XC60/MKC/NX and the RDX in this regard is not huge, but it is noticeable. I will temper that with the reality that FWD luxury crossovers are gaining sales success and the AWD RDX is still more dynamic on the track than the FWD model.

At 3,737 pounds, the base RDX is among the lightest 2-row luxury crossovers around, but adding the AWD system and all the options will push the curb weight to 3,946. If that sounds heavy, Volvo’s XC60 is up to 300 pounds heavier and Audi’s Q5 can be up to 500 pounds heavier. The light curb weight pays dividends when it comes to acceleration and braking with our tester running to 60 in 5.8 seconds and braking from 60 to 0 in a short 116 feet. When it comes to absolute grip, the light curb weight helps, but it can’t compensate for the softer suspension or the increased ride height and the RDX places in the middle of the pack in terms of grip but below average in terms of feel when at 8/10ths. On the flip side, light-weight design and cylinder deactivation system allowed the RDX to average nearly 24 MPG over a week’s driving of 800 miles. That’s better than most of the 4-cylinder entries in this segment.

2016 Acura RDX Interior-006

All RDX models get Acura’s “amplitude reactive dampers” which are a twist on a normal strut design. The strut contains two valves with different operating profiles. One remains closed unless the suspension encounters a large and fast motion – like hitting a pothole – allowing the suspension to “soak” up the large road imperfections while normally using a different valve to give the damper a “firmer” feel over small imperfections. Either way you slice it, this suspension design and the 8.1 inches of ground clearance make the RDX’s ride more Lexus RX than BMW X3. To address the cabin noise complaint from first-gen RDX buyers, Acura fits active noise cancellation to all trim levels.

At $33,100 and $34,480, the Lincoln MKC and Lexus NX 200t (respectively) both start less than the $35,270 RDX, but the Acura comes with more standard equipment and a more powerful V6 engine. Depending on your options, the RDX may come in between $1,000 and $2,000 less than a comparable Lincoln or Lexus, although both offer more customization than can be had in the Acura. As with the Acura ILX, Acura is bundling their “AcuraWatch” system (radar cruise control, collision warning, auto braking, and lane keeping) with more models than in the past, starting with a base model with AcuraWatch for $36,570. The “best value” is found in the fully-loaded AWD RDX for $43,420, which undercuts the Lincoln by $4,000, the Lexus by nearly $5,000 and the BMW by over $10,000.

2016 Acura RDX Exterior-003

Obviously, a BMW X3 comparison is fraught with problems. The X3 is rear-wheel drive by default, has a near perfect weight balance and offers luxury features and customizations not available on the Acura. However, is the improvement in dynamics and luxury worth $10,000-$12,000? That’s not so easy to answer, but perhaps it is the key to understanding Acura’s sales success. Perhaps a better question: is the Lexus RX worth $10,000-$15,000 more? The RDX is more nimble, more engaging, faster, has a hair more leg room and is significantly less expensive. The only real downside to the RDX is the loss of 15 cubic feet of cargo space.

Acura’s refreshed 2016 lineup seems to show it’s getting its mojo back. The 2013 RDX was just what the segment’s shoppers were looking for and the 2016 RDX tacks on trendy LED lamps, radar cruise control love and more LCD real estate in the cabin. I wouldn’t say that makes the RDX the best overall crossover in the segment, but, in my opinion, it is the best value hands down. One thing’s for certain: the 100,000 folks that plan on buying a Lexus RX in 2015 need to visit the Acura dealer. Acura has perfected the classic RX 350.

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.4

0-60: 5.8 

1/4 Mile: 14.6 @ 96 MPH

Fuel Economy:  23.8 MPG

2016 Acura RDX Exterior 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-001 2016 Acura RDX Exterior1 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-002 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-003 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-004 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-005 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-006 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-007 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-008 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-009 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-010 2016 Acura RDX Exterior-0011 2016 Acura RDX Interior 2016 Acura RDX Interior-001 2016 Acura RDX Interior1 2016 Acura RDX Interior-002 2016 Acura RDX Interior-003 2016 Acura RDX Interior-004 2016 Acura RDX Interior-005 2016 Acura RDX Interior-006 2016 Acura RDX Interior-007 2016 Acura RDX Interior-008 2016 Acura RDX Interior-009 2016 Acura RDX Interior-010

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You Should Be Watching The Goodwood Festival of Speed, And You Can http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/you-should-be-watching-the-goodwood-festival-of-speed-and-you-can/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/you-should-be-watching-the-goodwood-festival-of-speed-and-you-can/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 13:35:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1100665 The Goodwood Festival of Speed is underway and you should be watching it. Thanks to the powers of the internets, you can, right now, on YouTube.

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The Goodwood Festival of Speed is underway and you should be watching it.

Thanks to the powers of the internets, you can, right now, on YouTube.

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Alfa Romeo Giulia First Official Video Goes Live http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/alfa-romeo-giulia-first-official-video-goes-live/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/alfa-romeo-giulia-first-official-video-goes-live/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:09:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1099569 This is what you’ve been waiting for, folks – the sound of the brand new Alfa Romeo Giulia’s 510 hp six-cylinder roar. [h/t Jalopnik]

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This is what you’ve been waiting for, folks – the sound of the brand new Alfa Romeo Giulia’s 510 hp six-cylinder roar.

[h/t Jalopnik]

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2015 Ford F-150 Platinum 4×4 3.5L Ecoboost Review [With Video] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-ford-f-150-platinum-4x4-3-5l-ecoboost-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-ford-f-150-platinum-4x4-3-5l-ecoboost-review-video/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 12:00:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1094033 Ford’s F-150 is an important vehicle for Ford and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say it’s an important vehicle for America. In 2014, the F-150 was not just the most popular truck in America, it was the most popular anything in America, selling more than 740,000 examples. For those that love their […]

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2015 Ford F-151

Ford’s F-150 is an important vehicle for Ford and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say it’s an important vehicle for America. In 2014, the F-150 was not just the most popular truck in America, it was the most popular anything in America, selling more than 740,000 examples. For those that love their numbers, that is more F-150s than everything Hyundai sold in the USA put together.

Redesigning the F-150 isn’t just putting Ford’s profits on the line. Hundreds of suppliers and countless employees are worried about Ford’s aluminum gamble.

First let’s talk aluminum. There seems to be plenty of confusion about the first “all aluminum pickup.” Here’s the deal: the F-150 is aluminum bodied. If you were worried about how an aluminum frame would hold up, fear not, the F-150’s body rides on a high strength steel frame, which is half the reason for the high towing and payload numbers. The other half is the aluminum body. Although, there has been plenty of argument about the supposed 700 pound weight saving, Ford does say that about 450 lbs comes from the aluminum body alone. In a simplistic sense, for every pound you take out of the body, you can put it right back in the form of payload. This is the single largest reason the F-150 has payload figures that are 400-600 lbs higher than comparable GM and RAM models.

The majority of the body is made of 6000-series aluminum, which is about 33% lighter than sheet steel of the same thickness. Ford heat treats most of the F-150’s aluminum panels to improve strength and saves a little bit of money by using less expensive 5000-series aluminum in areas like the cab floor and interior parts. According to an engineer at BAE Systems, aluminum also has better dent, ding and corrosion resistance than steel, which is why it is used in military vehicles where those properties are important. If you’re thinking about how easily an aluminum soda can bends, a steel can of that same thickness would dent easier and, according to the engineers, shatter more easily. This is a huge benefit in the bed of the F-150, where Ford was able to make the panels thicker and still save weight. The bugaboo of course is the cost of repair. Body shops have less experience with aluminum, it’s more expensive to replace and labor costs are higher at the moment.

2015 Ford F-158

Exterior
As you’d expect from a modern American pickup, the F-150 is bigger, bolder and angrier up front than the model it replaces. If you’re willing to pony up the cash, Ford will sell you the segment’s first full-LED headlamps, but I found the headlamp brightness to be somewhat lackinglike all the main players in this segment. Out back we find a new tailgate design that is not only lighter because it’s aluminum but also damped like the Japanese competition so it doesn’t slam down on you. The benefit of an aluminum tailgate is immediately evident as it was much easier to close than the competition even though our model had the integrated tailgate step.

Although I think the RAM is attractive, the growing overbite is a design I’d have left on the cutting room floor, and GM’s square wheel arches have always made me scratch my head. Therefore the pickup aesthetics award goes to Ford since the 2015 model brings just enough “butch” without looking ridiculous.

2015 Ford F-166

Interior
When designing a vehicle that spans from $26,100 to over $62,000 there will invariably be trade offs. If you use the same core interior parts in all models, you have to either be willing to make the base models look and feel more expensive, or be willing to have some hard plastics in the top end trims. Ford, like GM and Chrysler, chose the latter. This means that our nearly fully-equipped Platinum model sported real wood trim and soft leather, but inches away were hard plastic door panels and trim pieces. Note: that’s not a negative, it’s simply a statement of fact. Personally, I don’t have a problem Ford’s use of hard plastics because that’s the norm in the pickup truck segment. It would only be a problem if nobody else was doing it.

While I think the RAM’s interior is better looking, especially in the brown and tan version, the F-150 is the king of the hill in terms of parts quality, especially in the platinum trim where you get acres of aluminum trim and fit and finish beats the competition. While I found the base front seats in the Silverado to be more comfortable than the Ford, the Platinum model gets Ford’s massaging and anti-fatigue system. Basically, it’s the same system we saw in the Lincoln MKS. Ford places several air bags inside the seat bottom and back cushion that are tied to a compressor and computer-controlled valve system. In addition to providing multi-way adjustable lumbar support, the software can inflate and deflate the bags in sequence to “massage” your back and improve leg circulation. At first, it just seemed like the truck was slowly groping my bottom, but after an hour and a half in the seat I was hooked. Most luxury cars with similar systems only run for 15 to 20 minutes, but the Ford system stays on until you turn off the car or the compressor noise gets to you.

 

2015 Ford F-162Infotainment
Ford’s touchscreen infotainment system is slated to be replaced by the highly anticipated SYNC 3 system as soon as next year. Until then, the F-150 soldiers on with the same infotainment systems we’ve seen for some time. Base models get a 4.2-inch color LCD radio with SYNC voice recognition software and 4-speakers. Top end trucks jump to 11 speakers (with a subwoofer) and the screen grows to an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, satellite and HD radio.

Dropping LCDs into the instrument cluster is all the rage, and Ford has three to choose from. Base models get a small 2.3-inch LCD, mainly for trip computer functions; mid-level trucks use a 4.2-inch LCD and top end trims get customizable 8-inch display. Compared to the RAM and Chevy disco dashes, the Ford LCD looks more polished and was more responsive than the system in the Chevy

Drivetrain
The big three have chosen different paths to fuel efficiency nirvana. Chrysler is doubling down on the ZF 8-speed automatic, GM designed a new family of 6 and 8 cylinder engines with aggressive cylinder deactivation and Ford has chosen a two prong strategy with aluminum bodies and small displacement turbo V6 engines.

smart-trailer-moduleThe engine lineup starts with Ford’s familiar 3.5L V6 used in everything from the Explorer to the Taurus. Good for 283 horsepower and 255 lb-ft, the V6 is a little down on power vs the Chrysler 3.6L V6 and certainly less “torquey” than GM’s new pickup-only 4.3L V6. Instead of a V8, the next stop is a 325 horsepower 2.7L V6 with twin turbos. While that sounds down on power vs the GM 5.3L V8, keep in mind the Ford is lighter than the Chevy and the 375 lb-ft of torque comes to the boil sooner and hangs out longer than GM’s V8. Chrysler’s 5.7L HEMI and 8-speed automatic yield better power, torque and 0-60 performance, but fuel economy is drastically lower.

Next up is the only V8 on offer, but it’s not the top-end engine option. Producing 385 horsepower a 387 lb-ft, the 5.0L produces more torque just above idle and over 3,000 RPM, but at certain speeds the 2.7L actually beats the V8. The halo engine is the same 3.5L twin-turbo V6 we have seen for a while. For 2015, it’s tuned to 365 ponies and 420 lb-ft of twist but Ford has implied it will get some significant updates for the upcoming Raptor.

15F150-3.5L-EcoBoost_01_HR

All four engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic and available four-wheel-drive. This puts Ford two speeds behind most RAM models and the 6.2L Chevy which finally gets GM’s heavy-duty 8-speed. The Raptor will receive Ford’s new 10-speed automatic and we should see that filter down to other V6 models, but Ford hasn’t said when. In the mean time, the most efficient F-150 is the RWD 2.7L Ecoboost model at 22 MPG combined while the least efficient, the 5.0L V8 4×4, rings in at 17 MPG combined. Meanwhile the Chevy ranges from 17-20 (despite the cylinder deactivation on the 4.3L V6) and the RAM runs from 15-24 thanks to a thirsty 5.7L V8 and the fuel sipping diesel at the top end.

2015 Ford F-155

Drive
Although the F-150 was put on a diet, the base V6 still feels a bit sluggish compared to the competition. RAM’s heavier 1500 has a hair more torque, a lower first gear and 33% more gears to choose from overall. GM’s 4.3L V6 offers considerably more low-end torque which allows it to feel peppier when towing.

Of course, the naturally-aspirated V6 and V8 engines are arguably less important to the F-150 shopper since a whopping 63% of sales have been twin-turbo equipped. Ford hasn’t broken out sales of the 2.7 and 3.5L Ecoboost engines separately, but I suspect the new 2.7L engine is quiet popular. While our tester was 3.5L equipped, I spent a day in a dealer provided 2.7L model for comparisons.

Although the 3.5L Ecoboost is fun, I think the 2.7 fits my needs better. The turbos largely make up for the slight torque reduction you get compared to the competition’s V8s, and although the 5.7L HEMI and 8-speed auto are faster and nicer to tow with, the 2.7L engine is quite simply the most well-rounded truck engine out there. There’s more than enough torque for towing 7,500 lb trailers with ease, dropping 2,000 lbs into the bed, or piling the kids into your SuperCab. Over 110 miles in the 2.7L RWD tester, I averaged 21 MPG, below the EPA numbers but still above the V8 competition.

2015 Ford F-153

The 3.5L twin-turbo engine allows up to 12,200 lbs of towing in some configurations thanks to the healthy torque figures. 0-60 times came in at 6.45 seconds, among the faster times in this segment, but thanks to GM’s new 8-speed automatic, the 6.2L  Silverado is fastest. Fuel economy in the 3.5L Ecoboost model was lackluster, coming in at 16.4 MPG during our week, nearly 1MPG behind the 2014 6.2L Silverado before GM added the 8-speed to the mix.

Apples to apples comparisons are hard because of the multitude of cab, bed, axle, tire, wheel and drive line choices in all the trucks in this segment, but you can bet if everything were equal, the F-150 would be the handling champ simply because it is lighter. When it comes to the ride, the RAM 1500 wins hands down due to the coil springs in the rear and the available cushy air suspension system.

I hinted about it earlier, but the main benefit to the reduced curb weight of the F-150 is not fuel economy but load capability. It’s most obvious when we compare like model to like model as shown below. All three models are within $1,000 of one another with the F-150 being the most expensive at $43,950 and the RAM the least expensive at $43,010. I chose the 2.7L V6 in the Ford because it is seen as the alternative to an entry-level V8.

F-150 TowingFord advertises a maximum 3,300 lb payload capacity and 12,200 lb towing limit, but like every other truck, most configurations are below the maximum. The take away here is that the payload is consistently higher than the competition. Keeping in mind that the payload is the total of cargo and passengers, it is easy to see how this improves practicality. In the F-150 you and your two 190-pound friends can grab 1,500 lbs of concrete at Home Depot with ease. In the Ram or Chevy you’d have to make two trips. Opt for the 5.0L V8, and the payload jumps to 3,020 pounds and towing increases to 9,200 in the same configuration. If that’s not enough the 3.5L Ecoboost will tow 10,700 in approximately the same configuration. You should note that conventional towing over 10,000 pounds will require a commercial Class-A or non-commercial Class-A license in some states, so depending on where you live, towing over 10,000 may not be material.

If my money were on the line, I suspect I would be torn between the 2.7L F-150 and the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. In that mash-up, the EcoDiesel with the air suspension would be my choice largely because I tow more than I haul and the EcoDiesel not only has a higher tow rating but the way it tows it also superior thanks to the epic torque and the 8-speed automatic. Does that make the RAM the better truck? No, it’s just the one that suits my need better. After a week with the F-150, I have to say the 2.7L engine is a 10-speed automatic away from perfection and the 3.5L Ecoboost would be perfect if the fuel economy was 4 MPG better.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.45 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.12 Seconds @ 92.56 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 16.4 MPG

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2015 Infiniti Q50S Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-infiniti-q50s-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-infiniti-q50s-review-video/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 14:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1078809 When Infiniti launched their original G sedan, the brand started gaining a reputation as “the Japanese BMW” due to its sharp handling and V6 engine that loved to rev. Today, the Lexus IS and Cadillac ATS have taken the 3-Series’ place as the compact luxury sedans with the sharpest handing and best feel. What of […]

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2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior

When Infiniti launched their original G sedan, the brand started gaining a reputation as “the Japanese BMW” due to its sharp handling and V6 engine that loved to rev. Today, the Lexus IS and Cadillac ATS have taken the 3-Series’ place as the compact luxury sedans with the sharpest handing and best feel. What of the Japanese BMW then? To answer that question, Infiniti sent me a 2015 Q50S with all the options, including the controversial steer-by-wire system.

It’s my opinion the run-away sales success of the 3-Series (142,000 sold in the USA alone last year) has more to do with BMW being the ultimate marketing machine, not making the “ultimate driving machine.” The current generation 335i is certainly fast, but compared to the E36, it’s bigger, softer, more numb, more luxurious and better built than ever before. That’s not a slam because those qualities are exactly why I like the 3-Series more now than ever before. Rather than chasing the “old 3-Series” as Lexus and Cadillac have in many ways, Infiniti decided to create their own definition of the ultimate driving machine.

Before we go much further, you should remember when Infiniti launched the Q50 as a “replacement” for the G37, they kept the G37 around and renamed it the Q40 (still available as a 2015 model). This is an interesting twist on the norms in this segment. Most of the competition simply drops a lower output engine in the same vehicle rather than keeping the old model on as the discount alternative. This means the IS 250, 320i, A3 and CLA 250 all start below the Q50’s $37,150 price tag and compete more directly with the Q40. Although some have called the Q50’s sales “weak”, when you look at the whole picture, the Q40 and Q50 combined have outsold the Lexus IS 250 and IS 350 by 4,000 units and together are nipping at the Lexus ES’ heels.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-005

Exterior
Styled after Infiniti’s Essence concept, the Q50’s exterior combines sleek, flowing lines with an enormous maw and angry LED headlamps. Although I know that some of our readers have referred to the Q50 as an “angry fish,” I actually like the look. I don’t think it’s as aggressive as the ATS or as refined as the new C-Class but it is far more distinctive than the 3-Series and A4 and less controversial than the IS 350 F-Sport. For some reason, the side and rear of the Q50 remind me a great deal of the Mazda6. Let me know what you see down in the comment section.

Infiniti’s entry in this segment has always been on the larger side of things and that continues with the Q50. At 189.1 inches long, the Infiniti is a hair bigger than the Audi A4 and slightly smaller than the 3-Series GT hatchback. In case you were wondering, that’s still several inches shorter than the Acura TLX and Lexus ES which are 5-Series sized but 3-Series priced.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior

Interior
The Q50 wears the best interior that Infiniti has ever made. While no hands have rubbed silver dust into the Q50’s optional maple trim (as in the Q70), this cabin is easily one of the best in the segment. The new Mercedes C-class still wears the interior design and workmanship crown, but the compact Infiniti climbs up the luxury ladder to a place above the Acura TLX and a small notch above the BMW 3-Series. (The maple trim is only offered on top-end trims.)

Thanks to the Q50’s generous exterior dimensions, we have rear seats with more leg room than any of the compact luxury sedans, but you will find more room in the 3-GT. Unfortunately, like many compact luxury entries, rear headroom suffers due to the car’s sexy side profile. If you were hoping for a large trunk, you’ll be disappointed. The Q50’s trunk holds just 13.5 cubic feet, only a hair bigger than the Mercedes CLA or BMW 3-Series despite the car being larger in general. If you opt for the Q50 Hybrid then trunk volume shrinks to a decidedly convertible like 9.4 cubic feet, a hair less than BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Infotainment-003

Infotainment
The Q50 is the first Infiniti to receive the new 2-screen InTouch infotainment system which uses both an 8-inch touchscreen LCD and a 7-inch touchscreen LCD. Like the last generation Infiniti systems, you can also control most of the system’s functions via a joystick-like button on the steering wheel. But wait! There’s more! Infiniti also includes a new navigation control wheel in the center console behind the shifter a la iDrive and MMI. This gives the driver three different input methods to choose from. However, not all features can be accessed via the steering wheel control or the control wheel, and some options will need to be ‘touched’.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-001

Some passengers were truly and permanently perplexed by the 2-screen layout, but I adjusted to the software quickly. While this sounds like Acura’s 2-screen system, Infiniti’s solution is better thought out and both screens are touch-enabled rather than just one as in the Acura system. Acura’s advertised goal was to allow you to keep the top screen for navigation while you used the lower screen to play with your audio device, but that’s only half true as the top screen is needed to perform a large number of audio functions. In the Infiniti, the function overlap between the screens is large, so you can browse your media device and perform select other operations via either screen. This level of choice seems to be what confuses some shoppers. I have never seen a car infotainment interface that has so many ways of doing the same thing. On the flip side, by the second day, I settled into the system preferring to ignore the controller in the console and use a combination of steering wheel controls and the lower touchscreen.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Engine-001

Drivetrain
Rather than starting with a turbocharged four-banger, Infiniti skips entry-level power and makes a 328 horsepower 3.7L V6 standard on all Q50 models. (Other world markets get a Mercedes sourced four-cylinder turbo gasoline mill and four-cylinder diesel as well.) The engine’s 269 lb-ft of torque slots between the 2.0L turbo and 3.0L turbo competition. Should you need more oomph, Infiniti’s answer is not forced-induction, but hybridization. The Q50 Hybrid uses the same hybrid system we first saw in the M35h. Engine displacement drops to 3.5L and power to 302 horsepower. The engine is then mated to a 67 horsepower electric motor for a combined 360 horsepower and an undisclosed torque figure. (I estimate it at 380-400 lb-ft.)

Both engines are mated to essentially the same 7-speed automatic transmission and an optional mechanical AWD system. The key differences in the hybrid model (aside from the electric motor) are the additions of a dry clutch between the engine and the 360V AC motor and a wet clutch inside the transmission case that allows the wheels to be decoupled from the transmission. This allows the batteries to charge while the car is stationary and smooths out EV-to-gasoline mode changes.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-0011

Drive
Our tester was the “S” model which “sported” sport brakes, sport seats, sport suspension, magnesium paddle shifters staggered summer tires (245/40R19 front and 265/35R19 rear). Even with 3,675 pounds of curb weight to hustle, the Q50S corners exceptionally well and the double wishbone suspension and dual-mode dampers keep the suspension settled over broken pavement. Opt for the standard all-season rubber and grip is a little lower than the more athletic competition. Where the Q50 splits from the pack is in the feel.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the optional Direct Adaptive Steering system. That’s what Infiniti calls their steer-by-wire system in the Q50 and, to be perfectly blunt, it makes the Q50 feel “video game-ish.”

2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-002

Unless the system detects a fault, there is no mechanical connection between the wheels and the steering wheel. If a fault is detected, or if the power is off, a clutch pack closes giving a mechanical connection. This allows the steering system to “compensate” for things like potholes, cross winds, grooved pavement, etc by keeping the wheels pointed the direction you’ve indicated by the steering wheel regardless of slight inputs from the road. The car can send back as much feedback as it wants, but this is kept to a minimum. This reduces driver fatigue on long trips, but the feeling of the car moving slightly in the lane in response to external forces while the steering wheel does nothing is unusual to say the least.

In addition to the steer-by-wire system, the Q50 gets “active trace control”, which uses the brakes to slow individual wheels “vectoring” you around the corner. The result of all these systems together is steering that may almost be “too precise.” In a corner, at even eight-tenths, you expect to get a slight hint of understeer. You may not even realize that your car is doing this because it is so “normal.” The Q50, however, goes exactly where you point it, something that takes some getting used to. Infiniti’s interpretation of the “ultimate driving machine” philosophy seems to be one that prioritizes actual steering precision and road holding over feel and connection.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-010

Steering feel aside, the Q50 acquits itself well in every other area. The S model accelerates with the best in the segment, posting a 5.05 second run to 60 in our RWD tester and a 60-0 distance of a scant 111 feet. Non S rear-wheel drive models will be a hair slower due to the reduced traction. Also, since there was essentially no wheel slip in the rear-wheel drive Q50S, the AWD model will actually slow the 0-60 time by a hair. If you want something faster, the hybrid model will dip below 4.8 seconds. There are few entries faster than the Q50 and if you want to get to highway speeds faster than the Q50 Hybrid, you’ll be left with just the 335i, C400 and S4.

Fuel economy in the Q50 is similar to the other 300+ horsepower entries in this segment, with the exception of the Volvo S60 T6 Drive e and BMW 335i that can average in the mid 20s when driven gently. Jump in the hybrid and you can average over 30 mpg if you keep your highway speeds under 75 mph. The economy is similar to the GS 450h but 0-60 and passing performance is dramatically better.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior.CR2-002

For 2015, the Q50 starts at $37,150, which is closer to the less powerful four-cylinder competition. That is just $600 more than the sluggish IS 250, $910 more than an ATS 2.0T and manages to actually be $350 less than a base 328i. Audi’s A4 is a decent deal starting $1,650 less than the Q50, but you get 108 fewer ponies and they are all prancing through the front wheels via a CVT. When it comes to the 300 hp crowd, the Infiniti is $5,000 less than the ATS 3.6 and $2,000 less than even the Volvo S60 T6. Start adding options to your Q50 and some of the discount shrinks, but the Q50 remains the discount RWD alternative. The Q50 Hybrid is $4,400 more than a comparable gasoline Q50, but $10,000 less than a comparably equipped BMW ActiveHybrid 3.

If you know me, you know that I love a bargain. The very word “value” causes my loins to burn. The Q50 is the best RWD value in this luxury segment. Period. We get more standard power and performance, a well-appointed cabin, standard LED lamps and two screens for less with reasonable resale value expectations.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Q50 is Direct Adaptive Steering is not standard – you do have to select the $3,100 “Deluxe Touring Package” to get it. On the downside, that package includes real wood trim, auto dimming mirrors, power tilt/telescopic steering column, memory seats, parking sensors and the nifty 360 view camera. Not selecting that package gets you a steering rack that is still un-engaging but feels considerably more traditional. The rumor mill tells us that the G37’s hydraulic steering rack is likely to be resurrected and grafted into the S trims of the Q50 for 2016. Let’s hope that happens soon.

2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-003

While the ATS and IS 350 are more dynamic options, I suspect I’d buy the Q50 instead due to its interior, infotainment system, performance and price. I have to admit that I would also buy the model with DAS if I was unable to wait for 2016. No, I don’t actually “like” DAS, but I like the features bundled with it more than I dislike it. If there’s one thing that becomes obvious when you drive over a hundred cars a year, it’s that actual buyers adjust to the way a car feels much more readily than journalists do. Is the Q50’s steering odd feeling? Sure, in a comparative sense it is, but you’ll also get used to it after a few days and then it will feel perfectly normal to most shoppers. I wouldn’t call the Q50 the ultimate driving machine, but if my money were on the line, I’d get the Q50S AWD Hybrid.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.1 Seconds

0-60: 5.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.45 Seconds @ 104.2 MPH

2015 Infiniti Q50S Engine1 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior.CR2 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior.CR2-001 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior.CR2-002 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior.CR2-003 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-001 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior1 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-002 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior2 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-003 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-004 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-005 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-006 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-007 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-008 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-009 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-010 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-0011 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-011 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-0021 2015 Infiniti Q50S Exterior-0031 2015 Infiniti Q50S Gauges 2015 Infiniti Q50S Gauges-001 2015 Infiniti Q50S Infotainment 2015 Infiniti Q50S Infotainment-001 2015 Infiniti Q50S Infotainment-002 2015 Infiniti Q50S Infotainment-003 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-001 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior1 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-002 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-003 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-004 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-005 2015 Infiniti Q50S Interior-006 2015 Infiniti Q50S Trunk 2015 Infiniti Q50S Trunk-001 2015 Infiniti Q50S Engine 2015 Infiniti Q50S Engine-001

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2015 BMW M235i Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-bmw-m235i-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/2015-bmw-m235i-review-video/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 11:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1076194 We’ve talked about BMW’s portfolio expanding faster than an American on a midwest diet before, but I’m going to do it again because it’s the key to understanding the 2-series in general and the M235i in particular. The M235i is not an M2, it is not a 235i M Sport, and it is more than […]

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2015 BMW M235i Exterior1

We’ve talked about BMW’s portfolio expanding faster than an American on a midwest diet before, but I’m going to do it again because it’s the key to understanding the 2-series in general and the M235i in particular.

The M235i is not an M2, it is not a 235i M Sport, and it is more than the former 135is. Are you confused yet? The M235i is the first of BMW’s “M Performance” vehicles which are not to be confused with “M Sport.”

Here’s how BMW’s new four-tier system works:

Things start with M Sport which is a “looks fast/handles well” package, then we get “is” which adds a dollop of performance, followed by the new M Performance where we put M in front of a three digit model number (M235i) denoting increased power, improved handling, improved braking and suspension tweaks, before going full-on-M.

In theory, the full treatment includes body modifications like wheel well enlargements, carbon fiber bits and a dual-clutch transmission. If you’re not totally confused yet, continue reading.

OK, so we have an M that’s not an M, but there’s more you should know. The only “35” version of the 2-Series is the M235i. While the other sport variants exist in BMW’s lineup, they don’t all exist in the same model, so there is no 235i M Sport and no 235is. The other thing to know is the 2-Series is very closely related to the current generation BMW 3-Series and 4-Series, sharing crash structures, large portions of the engine bay, suspension design themes and even interior components. In some ways you could even say BMW now has two different coupé and two different convertible versions of the 3-Series. That last part is important because the M235i weighs 3,535 pounds, just 100 pounds less than the 435i. More amazing is the four-door 335i is just 60 pounds heavier.

2015 BMW M235i Exterior-005

The Competition
The 2-Series lacks natural competition, but this time it’s not part of BMW’s diabolical plan. By shrinking the 3-Series and removing two doors, the 2-Series is the only RWD entry in a sea of European front drivers. While that’s not too much of a problem if you are buying a car for weekend wine tasting, it is a big differentiator when we’re talking performance metal. Therefore, I put the CLA45 AMG, Audi S3 and Euro-only RS3 in a different category. The forthcoming Mercedes C-Class coupé will compete with the 4-Series and the Porsche Cayman and Cayman S lack rear seats. If you want a small RWD luxury coupé with a back seat, this is it.

If you don’t like my re-categorization of the CLA45, ponder this: it’s the same size as the Volvo S60 Polestar, delivers similar horsepower and is based on a FWD vehicle just like the Volvo. Would you stick the S60 in the M235i mash-up? I thought not.

2015 BMW M235i Exterior.CR2-003

Exterior
Although related to the 335i and weighing about the same, the M235i is notably more compact. At 175.9 inches long, our tester was nearly eight inches shorter than a 3-Series sedan or 4-Series coupé. Think of the 2-Series as the modern 318i. The lower, wider, longer look of the 2-Series certainly looks more elegant and refined than the older 1-Series, but I always thought the cartoonish proportions of the 1 were part of the charm.

Like the 318i, the 2-Series is the discount entry point for traditional BMW shoppers. We have the familiar kidney grille up front and the classic BMW side profile with a long hood and a perky trunk. The biggest clue to the 228i’s low starting price is out back where we get one-piece tail lamps that are part of the body instead of the split design where half of the lamp is on the trunk. This design change reduces costs while simultaneously reducing the dimensions of the trunk opening.

2015 BMW M235i Interior-001

Interior
At $32,100, the 2-Series is one of the least expensive BMWs in the USA, so you shouldn’t be surprised that it also has one of the least luxurious BMW interiors. That said, the 2-Series’ interior is closer to the 4-Series than you’d think in overall materials quality and fit-and-finish despite being $8,200 less expensive. (What does that say about the 4-Seires?) Compared to your average mass market vehicle around $30,000, the 2-Series’ interior looks better put together, but the luxury move toward pleather in base models still strikes me as a false economy.

M235i models get BMW’s comfortable sport seats as standard with power adjustable side bolsters, 4-way lumbar and a manually extending thigh cushion for both the driver and front passenger. Taller drivers will want to consider deleting the sunroof as seat comfort is epic but headroom is limited. Surprisingly, there’s almost as much space in the back seat as you’ll find in the 4-Series despite the wheelbase shrinking a few inches vs its bigger cousin. In fact, the 435i’s spec sheet claims just 7/10ths of an inch more room. Although the size difference between the 2 and the 4 can be explained by the smaller trunk, it’s only about one cube smaller leaving me to wonder where the eight-inch-stretch goes.

If the 2 and 4 are similarly sized inside, why get the 4? It’s all about features. BMW doesn’t offer heads up displays, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping systems or radar cruise control on the M235i for any price. 2-Series models also lack the range of color and trim options and the optional all-around camera you find on the 4. Also, while BMW describes the leather the same way on both models, the leather on a dealer provided 428i felt softer.

2015 BMW M235i Interior-005

Infotainment
The 2-Series gets essentially the same infotainment options as the 3-series and 4-series. Like the 3 and 4, basic Bluetooth and USB/iDevice support is standard. For $500 BMW adds the ability to pair two phones at the same time, browse your Bluetooth media library, voice command contacts and music, and use the BMW Mobile Office software. (Calendars, voice memos, emails, tasks, etc.) This “Enhanced USB” package used to be bundled with BMW’s navigation software, but not for 2015. If you want all that functionality and navigation, add that to the $2,150 navigation package that also adds smartphone app integration. The current app suite allows you to Facebook, tweet and stream internet radio from your iPhone to the car’s radio. Although iDrive is the most expensive infotainment system in this small segment, the tasteful high-res graphics, fast interface and superior phone integration also make this the system to beat – if you can afford it.

Because of the 2-Series’ entry-level position in the BMW line-up, the up-level sound system delivers 360-watts and 12-speakers instead of 600-watts and 16 speakers as in the 4-Series.

2015 BMW M235i Engine.CR2-001

Drivetrain
228i models use BMW’s familiar 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder tuned to 240 horsepower and 255 lb-ft while M235i models get a tweaked version of BMW’s single-turbo inline six. The 320 horsepower is the same as the outgoing 135is while torque bumps up to 330 lb-ft. If you opt for rear wheel drive, both engines are mated to your choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a ZF 8-speed automatic. Sadly, selecting BMW’s xDrive system nixes the manual.

The availability of xDrive in M Performance models can be seen as a way to placate all-wheel drive fans while keeping “true” M models pure. Purity aside, driving all four wheels is the fastest way to speed with the M235i xDrive scooting to 60 mph 2/10ths faster than the RWD model. Purists will likely want to wait for the M2 which should be tuned to between 360 and 370 ponies.

2015 BMW M235i Exterior.CR2-002

Drive
The M235i offers an interesting dilemma for the driving enthusiast. If you want the fastest model, that’s the one with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The slowest is the rear wheel drive model with the manual. My how times have changed. What hasn’t changed is the most fun is had in the row-it-yourself rear driver. Our tester scooted to 60 in 5.0 seconds, which is a hair behind BMW’s quoted 4.8 seconds, mainly because traction is an issue and I wasn’t as willing to roast the clutch as some. Get the 8-speed auto and the sprint drops to 4.6 seconds. The AWD M235i xDrive will accomplish the task in 4.4. That’s faster than the S3 and, depending on the transmission, a hair faster than Mercedes’ CLA45 AMG. Thanks to the 200 pounds gained compared to the outgoing 135is, the M235i’s extra twist doesn’t compensate and it’ll be a hair slower. Want a Cayman that fast? Be prepared to shell out for a Cayman S, GTS or GT4.

Although the M235i weighs about the same as the 335i and the 435i, BMW manages to make it feel different out on the road. The quick steering rack, slightly shorter wheelbase and tweaked suspension design make the M235i feel more nimble. You’ll notice I said feel. If you put the same rubber on a 435i that our M235i wore, it’d likely post identical skidpad numbers. Anyway you slice it, the old 1M will out-handle the M235i. The combination of electric power steering and BMW’s variable gear ratio steering rack (dubbed Variable Sport Steering) can make the M235i twitchy and a hair lifeless at highway speeds. That said, the RWD M235i has more steering feedback and better poise than the front-heavy CLA45 or S3 can ever hope for. Adding AWD to the M235i doesn’t make it feel like a CLA45 or S3. The CLA45 and S3 have to keep the center coupling locked most of the time in order to avoid FWD dynamics, while the M235i xDrive keeps the power to the rear unless its needed up front.

2015 BMW M235i Shifter

All M235i models get BMW’s adaptive M suspension tuned more towards the daily driver side of things than I expected. Drop the suspension into Sport mode and things firm up, but no mode in this suspension will make it as hard as the M4, something I’m grateful for. While this also means a hair more tip, dive and body roll than a “true M car,” it means the M235i xDrive is a 4.4 second daily driver – rain or shine.

Because BMW has been slowly morphing into the new Mercedes, none of what I have said so far surprised me. What did surprise me was the M235i’s price tag. Priced between $43,100 for a base RWD model with either transmission and $55,825 for a fully loaded AWD model, the BMW seriously undercuts the spendy CLA45 AMG and is just $2,000 more than the slower Audi S3. The Porsche Cayman is almost as different from the M235i as the CLA45 AMG is, but be prepared to spend at least $20,000 more on a Cayman if you want similar performance figures.

2015 BMW M235i Exterior

BMW has created one of the best performance buys around with the M235i. But, if you’re looking for a light, “chuckable” BMW, you will need to keep waiting. The M235i is a hoot, but like most modern BMWs, it’s more grand tourer than sports car.

After a week with the M235i, one thought came to my mind: this is the perfect Mercedes SLK. It’s faster and more fun than an SLK 350, significantly less expensive without feeling that much cheaper, and has a usable back seat. This isn’t the raw and direct coupé BMW enthusiasts are longing for, and that’s exactly why I like it. As much as I appreciated my time with the 6-speed rear wheel drive M235i, I have to admit if my money were on the line I would buy the M235i xDrive. I still think that the myriad of BMW performance trims is insane and confusing, yet I have to wonder what a 500 horsepower M550i xDrive would be like.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 5.0 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.8 Seconds @ 106 MPH

2015 BMW M235i Cargo Pass Thru 2015 BMW M235i Engine.CR2 2015 BMW M235i Engine.CR2-001 2015 BMW M235i Engine.CR2-002 2015 BMW M235i Exterior.CR2 2015 BMW M235i Exterior.CR2-001 2015 BMW M235i Exterior.CR2-002 2015 BMW M235i Exterior.CR2-003 2015 BMW M235i Exterior 2015 BMW M235i Exterior-001 2015 BMW M235i Exterior1 2015 BMW M235i Exterior-002 2015 BMW M235i Exterior-003 + 2015 BMW M235i Exterior-005 2015 BMW M235i Gauges 2015 BMW M235i Gauges-001 2015 BMW M235i Interior.CR2-001 2015 BMW M235i Interior 2015 BMW M235i Interior-001 2015 BMW M235i Interior-002 2015 BMW M235i Interior-003 2015 BMW M235i Interior-005 2015 BMW M235i Shifter 2015 BMW M235i Trunk 2015 BMW M235i Trunk-001

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2015 Dodge Charger R/T Road and Track Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-dodge-charger-rt-road-track-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-dodge-charger-rt-road-track-review-video/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 11:18:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1071058 The first car I bought new was a 2000 Chrysler LHS. (I single handedly lowered the model’s average age demographic.) It was the very pinnacle of Chrysler’s Iacocca turn-around. It was large, competitive and made from Chrysler’s universal parts bin. Then Mercedes came on the scene promising to “synergize” product development with their luxury brand. The […]

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21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior

The first car I bought new was a 2000 Chrysler LHS. (I single handedly lowered the model’s average age demographic.) It was the very pinnacle of Chrysler’s Iacocca turn-around. It was large, competitive and made from Chrysler’s universal parts bin. Then Mercedes came on the scene promising to “synergize” product development with their luxury brand. The plan had a promising start with the 300 HEMI C concept, but the production reality was a big sedan with a plastacular interior and Mercedes hand-me-down parts.

Now that Mercedes and Chrysler have divorced, we’re starting to see what a real German-American synergy looks like. For 2015, the Dodge Charger has gone under the knife to look leaner and meaner with a new German transmission. Like my 2000 LHS, this may just be the pinnacle of the Marchionne turn around. It’s big, it’s bold and it’ll make you forget why you stopped to look at that Toyota Avalon last week.

Identify the Competition
The Charger is a segment oddity because it’ll be the only four-door muscle car after the Chevrolet SS drives into the sunset. No, the Hyundai Genesis doesn’t really count – that’s a luxury entry and it’s American cross-shop would be the Chrysler 300. That leaves the Charger to battle the Avalon, Taurus, Impala, Cadenza, Maxima and Azera. (Or, if you buy the Hellcat, a ballistic missile.) Sure, you can compare anything to anything, but the Charger is tough to categorize, so I’ll just focus on this main segment.

Exterior
As the only RWD entry in this segment, the Charger has very different proportions than the rest of the crowd with its ever-so-long hood. Since 2015 is a refresh rather than a redesign, the hard points remain the same as before but the style has been significantly altered and essentially every panel has been changed. I’m not entirely sure that the “Daddy Dart” look up front is the style I would have chosen, but it looks far more grown up than the 2014 model. Out back we get better integrated exhaust tips and a refinement of the Dodge “race track” light strip.

21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-003

Interior
While the engineers touched every panel on the outside, interior changes are minor. The same 8.4-inch uConnect touchscreen is still nestled in the dash (SE models get a 5-inch screen) and the style is still decidedly retro. On the driver’s side we get a new 7-inch color LCD between the speedometer and tachometer in all models. There are still some hard plastics to be found and the dashboard is a little rubbery, but that places the Charger on equal footing with the Impala while the Avalon and Cadenza have slightly nicer interiors.

FCA reps said that no changes were made to the seat cushion design for 2015, but our tester lacked the pronounced hump found in the 2012 model we last tested, an issue that make me feel like I was sitting on a very large gumdrop.

In a car this big, you’d expect a big booty, but the smallish trunk lid foreshadows the decidedly mid-size trunk at 15.4 cu-ft, 7 percent smaller than a Ford Fusion’s cargo spot and only 15 percent bigger than that of the compact Ford Focus. In general, the full-size car label no longer guarantees large luggage capacity. So, on paper, the Charger’s smallish trunk is fairly competitive with the likes of the Toyota Avalon (14.4) but the Taurus’ ginormous booty will schlep 25 percent more warehouse store bagels. The rear seats fold down to reveal a large pass-thru and the wide and fairly flat rear seats make three baby seats across a tight but entirely doable adventure.

21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Engine

Drivetrain
SE and SXT models use the familiar 3.6L Pentastar V6 tuned to 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Adding the $1,495 Rallye Group on the SXT adds eight ponies and four lb-ft. This puts the Dodge right in line with the front wheel drive competition in terms of power.

Unlike the competition, the Charger offers some more powerful engines to choose from. Scroll down the spec sheet and you find not one, not two, but three different V8s on offer. R/T and R/T Road and Track trims get the popular 5.7L V8 good for 370 hp / 395 lb-ft, R/T Scat Pack and SRT 392 models make do with a 485 hp / 475 lb-ft 6.4L V8, and if you want to throw caution to the wind there’s a 6.2L supercharged V8 making a whopping 707 horsepower.

8HP

Last year most models had the old Mercedes 5-speed automatic with just some trims getting the new ZF-sourced 8-speed. This year every Charger gets the 8-speed and the difference is eye-opening.

For those of you unfamiliar with the transmission world, ZF is a German company that makes transmissions and licenses transmission designs for a wide variety of performance and luxury cars. You’ll find ZF transmissions lurking under the hoods of twin-turbo V12 Rolls Royces, inline-6 BMWs and AWD Audis, so the Charger is rubbing elbows with some classy company.

21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4.CR2-001

Performance
Not only does the new 8-speed have a lower first gear for improved acceleration, it also has a taller top gear for improved highway economy. If you ever wondered how much difference a transmission alone can make, the Charger is a perfect test case. Last year, the V6 with the 5-speed needed 8.5 seconds to run to 60, this year it’s 7.0 flat, making the V6 Charger competitive with the pack. The 5.7L V8 model was about as fast as the last Maxima at 6.1 seconds. This year, the same engine will do it in 5.0 seconds with the Road and Track rear axle ratio and 5.1 seconds without it. That means the Taurus SHO competitor is no longer the 6.4L V8 but the 5.7L model we’re testing.

Let’s tally this up so we keep this in perspective. The V6 is now competitive with the competition and the 5.7L V8 is now a hair faster than the SHO. What makes the Charger crazy is  we still have two engines left. Add the Scat Pack to the R/T, or choose the SRT 392 and acceleration drops to 4.2-4.3 seconds as long as the tires can find grip. The Hellcat, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is the fastest production sedan with a blistering 2.9 seconds to 60 if you are willing to wear racing slicks and put your life on the line.

An interesting note of trivia is that Charger Pursuit police cars still get ye olde 5-speed with both the 3.6L and 5.7L engines. The reason likely has more to do with the 5-speed automatic’s column mounted shifter in Pursuit guise than any durability benefit.

21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-001

Drive
In many of the trims the Charger comes across as “under-tired.” Before you get your flamethrowers out, allow me to explain. The Charger SE is a 4,000lb vehicle riding on low rolling resistance 215/65R17 tires; handling isn’t its forte. The SXT gets 235/55R18 all-season performance tires with a 245-width option. Handling is easily equal to the Avalon despite weighing 500lbs more due to the Charger’s near perfect weight balance. The R/T gets 245/45R20 rubber, which honestly feels a little skinny for 370 hp, especially if you get the Road and Track. On the flip side, it’s easy to smoke your tires if you’re into that. The Scat Pack feels as under-tired as the SE because it adds 115 horsepower, some curb weight and changes essentially nothing else. If you like a car that has a very lively rear end, this is your car. The SRT 392 significantly upgrades the brakes, tires (275/40R20), and suspension and I found it to be well balanced in terms of power vs grip. Then the Hellcat comes along with 222 extra horses and no extra grip. You get the picture.

Under-tired doesn’t translate to less fun – quite the opposite in my book. In fact, the Charger reminded me of the base Mustang and FR-S. Confused? Toyota’s mission with the FR-S was supposed to be a car to explore RWD dynamics without breaking the bank. Know what? That’s actually the Charger. Starting at $27,995, it’s only $1,000 more than an automatic FR-S and $2,000 more than a V6 Mustang with the auto. Unlike the FR-S, you get a power seat, dual-zone climate control, the 7-inch LCD in the gauge cluster, a much snazzier radio, three extra gears in your transmission and usable back seats. Will it dance around an autocross track like an FR-S? No, but you have almost as much fun and still use the car on the school run. Our R/T Road and Track tester was the same sort of thing taken to the next level.

21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-003

All versions of the Charger deliver a civilized ride thanks to the well designed suspension and a long wheelbase as much as the size and weight of the vehicle. As with all modern cars, electric power steering sucks some of the fun out of the RWD platform, but the boost is adjustable. And because the front wheels are only responsible for steering, you get considerably more feedback than in the FWD or AWD competition. Despite the heft, braking fade was well controlled, although distances are a little longer than I’d like due mostly to the tire sizes involved.

Compared to the SHO, the Charger has a more polished ride. The SHO has an enormous trunk and a more accommodating back seat. The SHO is all-wheel-drive which gives you better traction, but the Charger has better weight balance and more accurate feel on the road. Compared to the FWD competition, the Charger feels more substantial out on the road, more precise and certainly handles the corners with less drama. There’s no torque steer and surprisingly neutral handling even in the heavier 6.4L models.

21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior.CR2-005

At $42,265, our model as tested managed to be $1,000 less than a comparable Avalon Limited, $2,000 less than a Cadenza Limited and, although it was slightly more expensive than the Taurus SHO, it had about $1,800 more equipment. The Charger’s discount price tag honestly surprised me. I had expected our tester to be a few grand more than the SHO.

What should you buy?
I’m glad you asked. Skip the V6. What’s the point of going RWD if you’re going to get the V6? I wouldn’t get the 5.7L V8 either. If you like the 5.7, buy the Chrysler 300. It has a nicer interior, a few extra available features and I think the front end is more attractive. I wouldn’t buy the Hellcat either, because I know I’d be “that guy” who wrapped it around a tree 5 minutes after driving it off the dealer lot. I am, however, eternally grateful the engineers created the bat-shit-crazy 6.2L engine because it makes the 485 hp 6.4L HEMI seem like a rational and practical engine choice. When driven very gently on level highway at 65 mph, the 6.4L V8 can deliver 28 mpg thanks to cylinder deactivation. My fuel economy in the 6.4L engine hovered around 18, just 2 mpg shy of the last Avalon I tested (the 5.7L scored 19.5 over almost 700 miles). When driven like you stole it, massive wheel spin, effortless donuts and 4.1 second runs to 60 with one of the best soundtracks money can buy are the order of the day. When your maiden aunt asks why you needed nearly 500 horsepower, you can safely say you didn’t get the most powerful one. With logic like that, how can you go wrong?

FCA provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of fuel for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.05 Seconds

0-60: 5.0 Seconds

1/4 mile: 13.3 @ 114

Average fuel economy: 19.5 MPH over 678 miles

21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior.CR2 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior.CR2-001 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior.CR2-002 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior.CR2-003 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior.CR2-004 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-004 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior.CR2-005 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-001 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-002 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-003 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-005 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-006 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-007 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Engine 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Engine-001 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Engine-002 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-001 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior-002 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Exterior 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Gauges 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-001 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior1 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-002 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-003 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-004 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-005 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-006 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-007 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-008 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-009 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-010 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-011 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-012 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Interior-013 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4-002 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Wheels-001 IMG_0134 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4-003 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4.CR2 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4.CR2-001 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4-005 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4-004 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track uConnect 8.4-001 21015 Dodge Charger RT Road and Track Wheels

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Greetings From Belle Isle: Crashed Camaros and Brakeless Bimmers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/greetings-belle-isle-crashed-camaros-brakeless-bimmers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/greetings-belle-isle-crashed-camaros-brakeless-bimmers/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 15:06:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1073698 Chances are if you have an Internet connection and even a passing interest in automobiles, you’ve heard about the “Jalopnik Camaro crash.” If not, here’s a quick catch-up: Patrick George, who covers a variety of topics for Gawker’s cars-and-planes-and-wow-just-wow blog, managed to understeer his way out of a lead-follow pace lap at Detroit’s Belle Isle […]

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Chances are if you have an Internet connection and even a passing interest in automobiles, you’ve heard about the “Jalopnik Camaro crash.” If not, here’s a quick catch-up: Patrick George, who covers a variety of topics for Gawker’s cars-and-planes-and-wow-just-wow blog, managed to understeer his way out of a lead-follow pace lap at Detroit’s Belle Isle Grand Prix course and into a wall. Damage to the car was relatively minor. He was then removed from the event by GM security, in marked contrast to the kid-glove treatment given About.com writer and part-time The Onion-wannabe Aaron Gold after Mr. Gold managed to put a Camaro ZL1 in the tire wall at VIR for no reason whatsoever.

The veritable blizzard of publicity for both Jalopnik and GM in the week that followed has caused some of the more jaded observers of the autojourno game to wonder if perhaps the whole thing isn’t a masterstroke of guerilla marketing. I have to admit I had my own doubts as to the authenticity of the incident, doubts that have not been completely erased by discussions with Patrick and other members of the Jalop staff.

After watching the video a few times, however, I’ve come to believe that it’s probably genuine. I’ve also come to believe that many of Patrick’s harshest critics on YouTube and elsewhere might have found themselves “in the wall” given the same set of circumstances. So if you want to know what Patrick did wrong, why the incident unfolded as it did, and how it relates to an off-track incident I witnessed myself the day before Patrick’s crash, then click the jump and I’ll explain it all!

If you haven’t already watched the Jalopnik video, please do so now – and also, please watch the video above featuring a BMW driver who just can’t seem to remember to use his brakes. The second video was taken by the Performance Data Recorder (PDR) in a 2015 Corvette Z51 I was driving around Summit Point’s Shenandoah circuit last Saturday. In many ways, it’s the same incident seen two different ways. In both cases, the driver fails to slow down enough and then exits the track surface at an angle. The primary differences between Patrick’s video and mine are the Belle Isle circuit is surrounded by walls, and the M3 is going much faster.

What I’d like to suggest is that the cause for both incidents was the same. That cause was what I like to call the “out of bandwidth problem”. This is not to be confused with Iain Banks’ Outside Context Problem. Rather, it’s a product of the way the human mind works.

I frequently tell my driving students they can really only learn one thing per instructional session. They can also really only focus on one problem in any given session. To show you why, I’ll give you an exercise you can do at home, slightly modified from an exercise given to me by Ross Bentley in a driver-coaching class and also demonstrated in his book, Inner Speed Secrets.

Sitting at your desk, take your right hand and place it on your left knee briefly before removing it. At the same time, raise your left leg off the chair a few inches to meet your hand. Then do the same thing with your left hand and your right knee. Then return to the right hand and left knee. Try to do that in rhythm for a moment. Got it? Now, while continuing your alternating hand-and-knee motion, start counting backwards from 100 while you do it. Still good?

Now try counting backwards from 100 in increments of seven.

confused-man

I’ve never had a student who could do it on the first try without some problem. Usually, they say, “100… uh… 93… uh… um…” After they struggle for a few minutes, I show them I can do it effortlessly. I’m not the most graceful or elegant individual, so this is confusing. I then explain I’ve memorized the numbers. 100 – 93 – 86 – 79 – 72 – 65. I’m not doing the math in real time, I’m reciting a memorized series of numbers I already know.

The brain is very good at doing several things at once, as long as all those things are familiar to it. That’s why older drivers aren’t as likely to crash while texting or eating or operating the infotainment system. They have more experience with the primary task (driving) and therefore they have plenty of processing power for secondary tasks.

By contrast, how often have you been on the phone with someone who is driving somewhere and is lost? What does that conversation sound like? There are usually a lot of pauses as the person tries to compute new directions or evaluate their surroundings. “So, I was… uh… talking to Bob, and… uh… he said that the numbers look good but… uh, hold on, I just want to see if this is my turn.” Talking to someone during their daily commute is very different. We all know our daily commute very well, often to the point that we don’t quite remember how we got to the end of it. It’s all handled by subconscious routines.

Those of you who have been on a racetrack before probably remember just how confusing your first time was. There was so much to look at, so many new rules, and so many cars that seemed to appear out of nowhere behind you. To make things worse, your car didn’t behave the way you expected it to, because it was being operated at a much higher speed. This is why I make my novices stay in fourth gear for their first few sessions, and why I “take the mirror away” by adjusting all mirrors so that I, not the student, watch for traffic. Doing so reduces the number of things on which the student has to focus, and allows him to have more success doing the limited number of tasks remaining. When he can remember the layout of the track, and when he has learned the basics of looking around him in this new environment, I’ll let him start shifting before corners, and I’ll let him use his own mirrors – but not until he’s mastered those other tasks.

Sensory Overload

Human beings have a limited ability to process new information and perform new tasks in real time. It’s a bandwidth problem. You can only focus on a certain amount of sensory data. If a small part of that data is unfamiliar – say, a new car on a well-known track – you can deal with that new data. If you have more than that – a new car, on a new track, with traffic around you – then you have a problem. No matter how experienced you are. You still have a problem. Even Formula One drivers often experience difficulty performing at their best at a new track and developing new features of a car at the same time.

In the case of the BMW who went off-track ahead of me, it turns out that he was “driving his mirrors”. He’d been holding me up for nearly an entire lap and I’d been flashing my headlights at him. Instead of letting me by, his ego got involved – That’s some bearded hick in a Corvette! – and he decided to try to stay ahead of me and win the trackday. Therefore, his entire attention going into that hairpin turn was focused behind him, on me. How close was I? Was I going to try a pass? Was I going to tailgate him? He was so busy watching me that his mind had no bandwidth left. Therefore, faced with the necessity of slowing down for the corner, his mind chose the more familiar program – let’s call it Street Braking – instead of the unfamiliar program of Track Braking. In his effort to watch me, he underbraked and drove off the track into the dirt.

Had he been a more experienced driver, with some racing time under his belt, he would have been better able to multi-task between the challenges of operating the car at its limit and watching my position. But although he was a “black group” advanced driver, he still did not have a lot of experience running nose-to-tail at over 100 mph, so he ran out of processing power and had an incident. This sort of thing is monotonously common at open-lapping days, by the way.

What about Patrick? He’s an experienced track rat by media standards, with dozens of lapping days and events to his credit. But listen to his voice as he talks to the camera. Do you hear the bandwidth shortage? In the “uh” and the pauses? What’s going on? It’s as simple as this: he was trying to do all of the following:

  • Operate an unfamiliar car
  • On an unfamiliar course
  • While evaluating that car in the context of its predecessor
  • And describing it to the camera

That’s too much to ask out of nearly anyone. I’ve done it myself, and it’s mentally exhausting. To make things worse, our expectations for in-car videos are set by the scripted, high-budget Top Gear episodes where the actors recite a couple of well-rehearsed lines to their cameramen, interspersed with footage of professional drivers. So Patrick is under pressure to make a one-take video sound as polished and insightful as a million-dollar television episode.

No wonder he can’t focus on the proper line, or he fails to listen to what the car is trying to tell him about available grip. Those two tasks require bandwidth he doesn’t have. By the time the incident starts, he’s already mentally maxed-out.

The YouTube commenters on this particular video like to focus on the fact that Patrick has his arms crossed. That’s the one thing that he does right on his way to the wall. His consistent hand positioning is the sign of a driver who has received some training at least. But let’s analyze the final moments of the crash for a second. He could have avoided the incident by doing one of two things:

  • Reducing steering input and braking input, allowing the car to steer out of the situation
  • Unwinding the wheel to straight and engaging ABS at full strength.

Either would have been okay. The proximate cause of the accident is that Patrick reacted to a loss of steering traction by winding on more steering – first to the limits of his crossed arms, then further by shuffling – while also braking. This overloaded the front wheels. A more experienced driver would have reduced steering and brake pressure and searched for grip. That’s the process that a race driver goes through in every turn: trail-braking until the maximum cornering grip is achieved. When my students make Patrick’s mistake, I reach over and unwind their steering until the car grips and we make it through the turn correctly.

But Patrick had no instructor – he had a cameraman and an assignment to discuss the vehicle with that cameraman. That was the ultimate cause of the incident: bandwidth overload. Too many tasks. In a conversation with me, Patrick readily identified that as the problem, with no prompting from me. I doubt he’ll do it again.

And in the long run, it was harmless. Nobody was hurt. The car that received damage would have been crushed eventually anyway. There was plenty of publicity to go around and everybody will make money as a result. So if a car crash hurts nobody and benefits everyone involved, is it really a car crash? Process that for a moment, why don’t you?

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2016 Volvo XC90 First Drive (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2016-volvo-xc90-first-drive-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2016-volvo-xc90-first-drive-video/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:30:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1069282 Volvo seems to be on the long road to recovery. Although sales have continued to slip in the USA, the numbers were up worldwide last year. In an interesting twist, 2014 was also the first year more Volvos were sold in China than North America. That could be cause-and-effect since Volvo had been more focused on […]

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2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD

Volvo seems to be on the long road to recovery. Although sales have continued to slip in the USA, the numbers were up worldwide last year. In an interesting twist, 2014 was also the first year more Volvos were sold in China than North America. That could be cause-and-effect since Volvo had been more focused on their European-only new compact sedan and wagon. 2016 finally showers some Swedish love on America with a complete redesign of the XC90, the SUV originally designed for us. Because China is now a bigger market than we are, this XC90 isn’t just for us, but for China and the growing number of big crossovers clogging up Europe as well.

Exterior
The Volvo DNA is undeniable, but an Audi influence is also readily apparent. While I admit I like Audi’s design language, I am a little saddened the very distinct Volvo styling cues from the original S80, S60 and XC90 continue to get softened over time.

Up front is a bolder, flatter grille (thanks to pedestrian impact regulations), distinctive optional LED headlamps and a shorter front overhang than ever before. The shorter overhang is possible because this is the first Volvo in ages designed to accept only 4-cylinder or smaller engines under the hood. Out back, the distinctive Swedish hips are nearly gone, replaced by a more sloping profile that is more aggressive but less extraordinary. The Audi influence is most apparent out back where U.S.-bound models get red turn signals instead of the amber blinkers found on the European model. While Audi supposedly makes the amber-to-red change because the amber lamps from the EU don’t cover enough surface area, Volvo’s switch is purely aesthetic.

Interior
Until the new Q7 lands and we can look inside, the new XC90 has the best interior in the segment with no exceptions. After stepping into a Range Rover Sport after the event, I can safely say the Volvo compares well with the next category up. Momentum trims make do with injection moulded door and dash components, while Inscription models slather everything within reach in acres of cowhide, more wood trim than a modern Jaguar and a simple style that is distinctly Scandinavian. (Which is surprising since the lead interior designer is American.)

The new SUV gets Volvo’s first complete seat redesign in ages. The Swedish thrones have long had a reputation for impressive ergonomics, but a refresh was overdue. The new design allows for 4-way lumbar, adjusting side bolsters, extending thigh cushions and ventilation in addition to heating. I was unable to sample the less capable base seat, but 8 hours in the top-end model confirms Volvo has improved the adjustability without sacrificing their legendary comfort and support.

Hop in the back and you’ll notice the XC90’s length may have grown over time, but interior height is actually down in some measures. This makes the third row very unusual. The seats are some of the most comfortable mother-in-law-row seats I’ve had the pleasure to sit in, but the headroom limits their usefulness to those under 5’8. The cargo area is surprisingly generous behind the third row with enough room to stuff roller bags in the long way, but I suspect most folks will keep the way-back seats folded. If that describes your typical third row usage, you may want to lobby Volvo for the seating accoutrements in the picture below.

Volvo XC90 Excellence - interior

As we’ve all heard, chauffeurs are cheap in China and being driven is preferred to driving. To satisfy this growing segment of Chinese society, Volvo will build the XC90 Excellence, which can be had as either a 3 or 4 seat model. No, Volvo didn’t bring one to sample to the event, but I mention it because the concept sounded way out in left field when I first saw the blog posts about it a few weeks ago. After having experienced the new interior, however, I have to say it makes sense. All but the steering wheel airbag cover is Range Rover competitive and I wouldn’t mind seeing a 5-seat variant with a little extra “plush” in the back. Just call it something other than the “XC90 Excellence.” Please.

Infotainment
Volvo placed a 9.3-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash, which acts more like a tablet computer than a traditional infotainment system. The display actually works a little more smoothly than Tesla’s ginormous 17-inch model, although it’s much less snazzy. The overall concept allows four different data “zones” to coexist on-screen at the same time, customizable by the user. To interact with them, you touch the option and it expands while shrinking the others. This allows you to see the nav system’s map and your next turn directions while also seeing your media information, fuel economy, vehicle status and other pertinent bits. Touch responses were lightning fast, just like the latest tablet computers. The system offers iDrive-like levels of adjustment and vehicle customization.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD

Over on the driver’s side is an all-new and all-gigantic 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster. The gauge design is elegant and well-laid out using nearly 1/3 of the display for either your media functions or a navigation map, even when a destination is not set. I’d say the new Volvo display ranks on par with the new Mercedes S-Class and ahead of the Jaguars and Land Rovers with disco dashes in terms of design. Speaking of JLR products, I have one gripe: like the English disco dashes, Volvo has little ability to customize the LCD aside from colors and some minor gauge changes. Although GM has only four different layouts to chose from in Cadillac CUE, that’s three more than Volvo and the looks are all different.

Safety
For 2016, Volvo reprises most of its safety systems, updates several of them and adds some new ones for good measure. The usual suspects – like a plethora of airbags and anti-whiplash seats – are standard. Volvo’s City Safety autonomous braking system gets an under the covers overhaul. Previously, the system came in two different versions: the base version relied solely on a laser scanner and camera to detect traffic and the second version was bundled with the adaptive cruise control using a radar sensor to expand coverage to pedestrians and cyclists. This generation of City Safety doesn’t increase the speeds above 31 mph, but the radar sensor and expanded sensing is now standard, as is a software tweak to improve accident avoidance in intersections. The new radar sensor replaces the laser scanner and is located in the same housing behind the rear-view mirror. The new location is less susceptible to ice build-up or snow packing in cold weather and may reduce repair costs in minor accidents.

Safety seems to be a game of diminishing returns, so the new systems focus on higher hanging fruit. The run-off-road protection uses the City Safety camera to determine if you are leaving the road surface. If you do, new seatbelt tensioners will pull you into place and a deforming seat frame makes sure when you launch into the air and land, spinal forces are reduced by 1/3. There’s also a rear-end collision warning that lets you know a drunk is about to plow into your hind end. The system will tension the seat belts, flash the hazard lights to attract the attention of the other driver, and will use the brakes to keep the car under control during and after the collision.

Volvo 2.0L T6 Drive E Engine

Drivetrain
As advertised, Volvo has kicked their 5- and 6-cylinder engines to the curb with the new XC90. While there are a selection of engines available in the EU, the only one making it to the USA is the turbocharged and supercharged 2.0L direct-injection four-cylinder. In the SPA platform, there’s a little more room for the plumbing. So, power is up slightly from the XC60 Drive-E to 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, nearly the equal of the BMW N55 in most tunes. The only transmission is an 8-speed Aisin automatic. All T6 models get a standard Haldex AWD system that will send up to 50 percent of available power to the rear whenever it wants. And, depending on the situation, the system will send up to 80 percent of power to the rear axle if a front wheel slips. If you need more power, Volvo doesn’t give you a bigger engine; they add a hybrid system in addition to the turbo and the supercharger. Say what? You heard that right, the XC90 T8 is a plug-in turbocharged and supercharged 400 horsepower hybrid.

Volvo’s hybrid system is thematically similar to Acura’s RLX hybrid. Things start with the same 316 hp engine and 8-speed auto as the T6, but they jam a 46 hp, 103 lb-ft electric starter/motor/generator between the engine and torque converter. The engineers ditched the Haldex AWD so they could stuff a water-cooled 9.3 kWh lithium ion battery in the tunnel between the front seats. The mechanical AWD is replaced by a 87 hp, 177 lb-ft electric motor connected to the rear axle sending power through a fixed 10:1 reduction gear. With a maximum discharge rate of 87 hp from the battery, the power and torque curves combine to give the driver 400 ponies and 475 lb-ft of torque. (Official US numbers are not final.) If you live in the snow belt, you should know while the T6 can send 158 hp to the rear on a whim, 87 is the most you’ll ever get in the T8. If that sounds like the Lexus and Acura eAWD systems, you’re right, so expect similar snow and ice performance.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD

Drive
I was honestly a little surprised Volvo designed an entirely new suspension system for the SPA platform in addition to everything else. Instead of MacPherson struts, Volvo fits double wishbones up front producing a positive impact on handling. Out back, the XC90 sports a funky single composite leaf-spring in the independent multi-link suspension. The rear suspension design (except the leaf spring part) is quite similar to what Jaguar is using in the new XE. Logical, since both were started while Volvo and Jaguar were owned by Ford. The new design makes it easier to integrate the optional four-corner air suspension fitted to all XC90s at the testing event. The new suspension design, the lightened front end and the widest tires Volvo has ever put on a production car (275 width) improve handling just as you’d expect.

This puts the XC90 closer to the X5 than the MDX or QX60 in terms of grip. Configured comparably, the X5 will out handle the XC90 thanks to a RWD dynamic and better weight balance. But, the XC90 is less expensive. So, configured to a similar price, the Volvo will likely win. Speaking of price, the XC90 and the MDX price out almost identically. Although the XC90 starts higher at $48,900, it comes with standard AWD and the Acura doesn’t. Similarly configured an MDX Advance and a XC90 Momentum (with appropriate options) end up just $100 apart, a decent discount vs the other Euro options.

The all-new XC90 features a completely new chassis, front and rear, including a double wishbone front suspension.

The all-new XC90 features a completely new chassis, front and rear, including a double wishbone front suspension.

The engineers are claiming a 6.1 second 0-60 time – the same time advertised by BMW for the X5 in both RWD and AWD forms. Unfortunately, I was unable to 0-60 test the Volvo. Going back in our logs, I discovered that the 2015 X5 xDrive35i is the only BMW in recent memory to take longer to get to 60 than BMW’s claimed. The X5 hit 60 after 6.5 seconds, meaning the Volvo may be a hair faster. Check back for full specs when we get our hands on one for a full review. Add the hybrid hardware and Volvo says 0-60 drops to 5.7 seconds – notably faster than the QX60 hybrid (7.1) but a far cry from the 4.4L turbo X5 (4.7).

Numbers aside, the small engine in the XC90 certainly has a different feel than the 3.0L engine in the BMW. Low end torque from idle lags then comes on strong. Passing torque is excellent at most speeds, and at high RPMs the engine feels a hair more out of breath than the larger displacement options.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD

The XC90 isn’t a game changer for Volvo in America. It can’t be. A brand is more than one car. However, if the XC90 is a window into Volvo’s future, then I have high hopes. If the Swedes can make over their entire lineup fast enough, they may also salvage their American sales numbers. This kind of interior quality in a 3-series sized vehicle would give even the all-new and all-tasty C-Class a run for its money. Just two things stand in their way: a distinct lack of marketing to let Audi shoppers know there is a better crossover for sale and the worrying thought it may be another 12 years until this XC90 gets redesigned. If you’re shopping for a luxury 3-row and don’t give the XC90 a look, you’re missing out on one tasty meatball.

Volvo provided the vehicle at a lunch event.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD

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2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lincoln-mkc-2-3-ecoboost-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lincoln-mkc-2-3-ecoboost-review-video/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1065114 Lincoln has been working to get their luxury mojo back for a while, but up to this point it has tried to sell models a half-step larger to luxury shoppers. That meant a major value proposition, but engineers often skimped on luxury to keep prices low. The MKC is an entirely different animal however. This […]

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2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front Quarter-001

Lincoln has been working to get their luxury mojo back for a while, but up to this point it has tried to sell models a half-step larger to luxury shoppers. That meant a major value proposition, but engineers often skimped on luxury to keep prices low. The MKC is an entirely different animal however. This Lincoln is essentially the same size as the Lexus NX and Mercedes GLK. Although the MKC is finally the same size as its competition, it marches to a different drummer, and after a week I finally realized something. It’s refreshing to have something different.

Exterior

Let’s talk competition first. The MKC is Lincoln’s answer to the X3, Q5, NX, XC60, and GLK. This seems to confuse some folks who assume the MKC and the Lexus NX were designed to compete against the X1 and Evoque. Looking at the specs, the MKC sits right between the GLK and Q5 in overall dimensions.

By now you’ve probably heard the MKC is the “Lincoln Escape”, but what does that really mean? The MKC shares safety systems and body structure designs with the Escape. However, it shares no sheetmetal with the Ford. Lincoln didn’t just re-skin the Escape, either. They widened the body and the track while they were at it, resulting in a lower, wider stance that’s more appropriate in the luxury segment than the perky upright character of the Escape. This is essentially the same formula that Lexus used to make the Lexus NX, which is a cousin to the RAV4. Like the NX and RAV4, parts of the Escape lurk inside the MKC, but you have to look fairly hard to find them.

The MKC receives Lincoln’s latest grille design, which is more restrained than the MKT’s odd-looking schnoz. Although pictures of the MKC seem polarizing, passers-by thought the MKC was attractive in person. If you think something about the rear looks a hair unfinished, you’re not alone. It’s the lack of a protruding bumper of any sort. Aside from the unfinished aesthetic, lacking any real bumper means mishaps with taller vehicles are likely to damage the rear hatch in addition to the bumper cover, increasing repair costs.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior

Interior

The MKC wears the best interior Lincoln has ever created. Period. More than that, the model with real leather is arguably a nicer place to spend your time than the current Q5, GLK, QX50, RDX, or XC60. Opt for the Black Label package and things are taken to the next level. Lincoln shoppers have more ability to customize their crossover than most of the competition with four different upholstery colors that coordinate with three different dashboard and door colors and two wood veneer options (you can’t mix and match). Opting for the Black Label edition gives you an additional four “themes” to choose from. If you want this kind of selection, the MKC and Evoque are really your only options, and the Range Rover doesn’t allow as much customization on base models.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-003

Front seat comfort depends greatly on your body shape. I’m 6-feet tall and found the seat bottom cushions oddly short and lack thigh support. A 5-foot 4-inch tall person told me the seats fit like a glove. Despite being smaller than all but the Mercedes GLK, the rear seats proved comfortable and easily as accommodating as the XC60.

The cargo area is the biggest compromise in the MKC. It’s notably smaller than most of the competition with just 25 cubes of room behind the rear seats. You’ll find about 20 percent more room in the Volvo.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Center Console

Infotainment

MyLincoln Touch is oddly named for sure, and it’s received more than its share of bad press. Does it crash now and then? Sure. But I actually think MLT is a reason to put the MKC on your list, not take it off. Volvo’s Sensus Connect uses a smaller screen and, despite the new connected features, still lacks decent control of iOS/USB media devices. Audi’s MMI and Mercedes COMAND are attractive systems, but lack the voice command library you get in the Lincoln. iDrive is still my preferred infotainment option, but Lincoln may give it come competition with SYNC3, due out next year.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine-001

Drivetrain

Under the hood, the order sheet starts out with a 2.0L direct-injection turbo engine good for 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Instead of a 6-cylinder engine filling out the top of the range like the Europeans, Lincoln opted to borrow the 2.3L turbo from the new Mustang instead. Five years ago, that would have been derided as insane, but Lexus has gone 4-cylinder only in the new NX and Volvo has committed to the demise of their five and six cylinder turbos as well. Sadly, the 2.3L engine loses some grunt in the translation, dropping from 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft in the Mustang to 285 ponies and 305 lb-ft of twist. 2.0L shoppers can choose between front- or all-wheel drive while the 2.3L model gets all-wheel drive as standard.

Both engines are mated to the 6F35 6-speed automatic transaxle. The 6F35 transaxle is likely the reason for the power reduction from the tune used in the Mustang. Although Ford does not specifically list torque capabilities like General Motors, the Ford 6F35 is substantially similar to the GM 6T50 transaxle, topping out at 260 lb-ft. (GM and Ford designed their 6-speed transaxles together.) Since the engine cradle design in the MKC is largely unchanged from the Escape, the higher torque capacity 6F50 and 6F55 transaxles likely didn’t fit. In order to accommodate the 2.3L engine, Ford replaced the 6F35’s standard torque converter with a higher torque unit but no transmission internals were changed. This allowed the entire package to have approximately the same dimensions as the 2.0L drivetrain. I suspect this also explains why the maximum tow rating drops 1,000lbs when equipped with the 2.3L engine.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster.CR2

Drive

In an interesting twist, most MKCs on dealer lots will have a suspension with active dampers. This is a significant difference between the Lincoln and the competition which generally doesn’t have active dampers available at any price. This means we must have a quick suspension lesson since active dampers are a huge part of the MKC’s personality.

Springs and dampers work together to make a car ride and handle a certain way. Springs support the vehicle’s ride height and compress and rebound to conform to the road surface. Dampers control the movement of the spring in both directions. Spring and damping rates are carefully matched by vehicle engineers and in most cars they are fixed. In vehicles with dynamic dampers, the spring rate stays constant and the damping rate becomes a variable. In order for this to work, you have to start with a “soft” spring and when you want a firmer ride you attempt to compensate with “firmer” damping. While systems like this greatly improve the ride and allow the driver to customize the suspension within a particular range, they can feel quite different.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior -001

The first hint Lincoln had a different mission in mind for the MKC is obvious when you start driving. If the suspension is in comfort mode, you get the softest ride in this segment by a mile. The MKC is so soft in this mode that I initially assumed the baby Lincoln was 1,000lbs heavier. With the suspension in normal mode, the MKC feels more buttoned down, but there is still plenty of tip and dive and body roll. “Sport” firms things up but the feeling isn’t the same as you’d find in a traditionally sprung vehicle. The reason is that although the dampers can restrict motion, the springs are still pillowy soft.

Initially I was disconcerted by the soft suspension and assumed the athletic abilities would be harmed as a result. I was wrong. With a 0-60 sprint of 6.15 seconds, the MKC 2.3L beats most of the entries, matches the 325 hp XC60 R-Design and only lags the X3 xDrive35i and RDX in the non-performance category. It also stopped from 60 MPH in an impressive 112 feet in our tests and a respectable .83Gs in Edmund’s skidpad test. (TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad.) That’s all possible because the MKC is light for a luxury crossover, ranging from 3,791 in FWD 2.0L trim to to 3,989 lbs in the AWD 2.3L model.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-001

Pricing

As you’d expect from Lincoln, pricing starts low at $33,100, undercutting BMW by over $5,000, and we get about $500 of additional equipment in the base MKC. Adding AWD to the base model tacks on $2,495. That sounds steep but Lincoln bundles the dynamic suspension and a few other goodies with it. Our 2.3L AWD tester started at $40,145 and had $7,775 of options added to make an essentially fully loaded MKC.

The Black Label model is an interesting option. Black Label is about luxury and customization, not performance. This means you can get the 2.0L engine with front wheel drive in Black Label trim starting at $46,205. For the extra dosh, a “shopping assistant” will help you choose from four unique interior themes, five unique wood veneers and some extra paint options. The interior is further upgraded with faux-suede headliners and more standard features. In addition to the goodies, you get improved service with scheduled maintenance and wear item coverage (shocks, belts, etc), a loaner car when yours is in for service, lifetime car washes at a Lincoln dealer and annual detailing services.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear.CR2-001

I have to admit when I first took the MKC out on the road, I didn’t like it. The well-appointed interior is attractive, but the ultra-plush driving dynamics took some getting used to. Then an odd thing happened. A friend of mine who is in her early 30s said “I’m tired of the harsh ride in my X3 but I still want a crossover.” I had her drive the MKC and it was love at first tip and dive. I suddenly realized: from the Lexus NX to the Mercedes GLK, every one of the competition is trying to be the soft-roader that can lap the Nurburgring in under 9 minutes. Except the MKC.

The Lincoln can hang with the middle of the pack in terms of handling, but the handling feel is an entirely different matter. The soft suspension makes turn-in feel lazy, steering feel non-existent and the cabin hushed. The combination means the MKC is eminently capable with high limits, but the design of the vehicle makes it hard to determine where those limits are located. If that sounds like the kind of product Lexus used to be known for (before they too started chasing BMW), you’re right. Once I stopped chasing the X3, I realized how refreshing it was to have a competitive product without the “me-too.” Bravo Lincoln.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.26 Seconds

0-60: 6.15 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 92.5 MPH

Average economy: 20.3 MPG over 699 miles

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior -001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front .CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front -001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front Quarter 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front Quarter-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front_ 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Headlamp 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear.CR2-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Side 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior_ 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Cargo Area 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Cargo Area-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Cargo Area-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Center Console.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Center Console 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster.CR2-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Seat Controls.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Seats 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Seats-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Speaker 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Steering Wheel.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-003 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-003 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior-001

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2015 Volkswagen GTI 2-Door Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-volkswagen-gti-2-door-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-volkswagen-gti-2-door-review-video/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 12:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1061210 Although GTI sales are on an upward trend, the American hot hatch is a rare breed as there are just three options. We have the aging Ford Focus ST, and a new pair of hatches from Germany: the Volkswagen GTI and the MINI Cooper S. (Yes MINI fans, I’m calling the MINI German.) The last […]

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2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Front

Although GTI sales are on an upward trend, the American hot hatch is a rare breed as there are just three options. We have the aging Ford Focus ST, and a new pair of hatches from Germany: the Volkswagen GTI and the MINI Cooper S. (Yes MINI fans, I’m calling the MINI German.) The last time I reviewed the GTI and Focus ST, the Focus came out on top despite the greater refinement Volkswagen offered. This time we have an all new GTI while Subaru has kicked the 5-door WRX to the curb, BMW has redesigned the MINI Cooper JCW and Ford has “gone Euro” by jamming a 2.3L turbo in the Mustang. Where does that leave the GTI?

Exterior

Although the MK7 GTI looks nearly identical to the outgoing MK6 GTI, park them next to each other and you’ll start to see the differences. This GTI is longer, lower and wider with a significant stretch to the passenger compartment. VW pushed the front wheels 2-inches farther forward and gave the Golf a longer hood for better proportion. The headlamps get an angrier look and the tail lamps ditch the cute round theme for a more aggressive motif.

Sounds like a moderate refresh, right? Wrong. What VW did with the Golf is akin to swapping clothes with a stranger. It may look the same at first glance, but this stranger is different underneath and the clothes fit a little better as well. That’s all possible because this GTI rides on Volkswagen’s new MQB platform which also underpins the 2015 Audi A3. The promise of MQB is to deliver faster product development cycles, lower costs, improve parts sharing and achieve better fuel economy. Indeed, the GTI is lighter than before; however, the weight difference isn’t as dramatic as I was lead to believe at just under 100 pounds. Of course the GTI did get bigger and lighter at the same time, but the top-end 3,086 pound curb weight is about the same as a 2005 GTI.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Interior-004

Interior

VW was once known as the “discount Audi” in America. But as part of their mission to increase sales on our shores, VW divorced the Passat and Jetta from their Euro twins and started cutting back on their other models. Thankfully, a few models escaped this fate and are still pair-bonded to the model sold in the EU. The Golf is one of them and, as a result, feels a notch above the American Passat in interior quality. From the fabric-covered A-pillars to the soft-touch door panels and dashboard bits, the feel upon entering the Golf in any form is in some ways “more Audi” than the A3. Without a doubt, the Golf has the best interior in this category, which oddly enough applies as much to the $17,995 base Golf as to the $25,095 GTI or $36,595 Golf R. MINI’s recent redesign has seriously improved its interior, but the VW is arguably on par with the JCW model in terms of parts quality despite being $10,000 less in some configurations.

Perhaps the “price” for the interior refinement is a distinct lack of power seating in most models. If you want more adjustability up front, you have to step up to the Autobahn model, which means you also receive leather instead of the attractive GTI tartan fabric. A little known fact about the GTI (and the Golf in general): the three-door and five-door versions are the same length and deliver identical interior dimensions. This means that our seemingly small three-door GTI was able to swallow two 6-foot tall passengers and a skinny third in a pinch. More surprising was the ability to squeeze a rearward facing child seat behind a 6-foot tall passenger up front. That’s different than the MINI which has a cramped back seat and even more cramped cargo hold.

2015_golf_tsi_3989

Infotainment

The redesign of the GTI includes a refresh of VW’s infotainment system. Sadly, this is the one area where revolution would have been preferable to evolution. The VW software lags behind the competition and if you want navigation it is only available in the most expensive trim. All units feature expanded voice commands, finger gestures (like scrolling), and a proximity sensor to clean up the interface when your digits aren’t near the screen. Most of the system’s graphics have been improved and the media interface is more attractive than before (including the elusive navigation software). But, the system still lacks the ability to voice command your media library, and still uses a proprietary VW connector for media devices.

As much heat as MyFord Touch has received over the years, the system in the Focus ST is light-years ahead of this. Since MINI gets BMW’s iDrive on a MINI scale, it takes the top slot in this segment. However, you will have to pay some serious coin as MINI’s options list is long, confusing, and expensive. Volkswagen tells us to expect significant changes “soon” to address the deficiencies, including the VW/Audi proprietary cable.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Engine-001

Drivetrain

As you’d expect from a hot hatch, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine sits under the GTI’s hood. For 2015, the 2.0L engine has been reworked to deliver 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s a slight power bump but a fairly healthy torque increase over the last gen GTI. Thanks to the turbocharger and direct-injection, we get the expected “power plateau” rather than a curve with all 210 ponies pulling from 4,500-6,200 RPM and all the torque available from a low 1,500 RPM to 4,400. If you opt for the $1,495 performance package, peak power rises slightly to 220 hp from 4,700-6,200 while torque remains unchanged at 258 lb-ft but hangs out for 200 more RPM at the top end.

All GTIs start with a standard 6-speed manual transmission including the top end Autobahn trim. Shoppers can add a 6-speed DSG to any trim. In a nod to enthusiasts, the DSG and performance package are neither forcibly bundled nor mutually exclusive. Standard on all models is VW’s XDS system which has caused some confusion among potential shoppers so allow me to explain. XDS is not a true limited slip differential. Instead, it is an advanced software package added to the car’s ABS and Stability Control systems. The software reads yaw, steering angle, wheel slip, etc and uses the vehicle’s brakes to act as both a limited slip differential and a torque vectoring differential depending on the situation. The system will gently brake the inside wheel in a corner to help “vector” torque to the outside wheel and give a more balanced feel to the car. The system also responds to potential torque steer making all GTI models more civilized.

The performance package adds an electronically controlled limited slip differential; although the design is very different than the eLSDs you see in RWD applications, the function is similar. The VAQ system (Vorderachsquersperre in German) uses a multi-plate clutch pack to deliver limited slip, full locking and torque vectoring across the front axle. VAQ does not replace XDS, instead you get both systems working for you at the same time.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Manual Shifter-001

Drive

The GTI we got our hands on for a week was a four-door model without the performance package. I’m glad I was able to test a GTI in this configuration because it allows me to say: get the performance package. Not for the additional ponies, or even the trick eLSD, but for the upgraded brakes and the ability to get the $800 dynamic damper package (DDC). The previous generation GTI was so eager to please, it was easy to overwhelm the standard brakes. Although the new model appears to have improved this on base trims, the upgraded stoppers are worth every penny. The standard suspension can feel a little too firm over broken pavement and at times this causes the rear to get unsettled on a poorly paved corner. The DDC package allows the suspension to deliver a more compliant highway ride and a firmer autocross ride. It also helps settle the GTI’s rear end on rough pavement.

Our best 0-60 run rang in at a 5.75 seconds which is an improvement of nearly a half second over the last generation GTI, 2/10ths faster than the last Focus ST we tested and 4/10ths faster than a dealer provided MINI Cooper JCW. If you opt for the DSG, your 0-60 runs will be a hair slower but much more consistent. Interestingly enough, this is only a hair slower than the EcoBoost Mustang.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Gauges-002

The mission of the hot hatch could not be more different from the pony car. The Mustang is a large coupé with rear wheel drive, sexy lines and V6 and V8 engines that are shared with the F-150 pickup. The hot hatch formula starts with a practical compact hatchback, then you add stiff springs and bolt a turbo charger to a small displacement engine. For 2015, Ford added independent suspension and a 2.3L turbo to the Stang making comparisons more rational.

Obviously, driving dynamics are what separate the GTI from the Mustang, but it’s more about feel than speed around a track. As our friends over at MotorTrend recently discovered, the better balanced rear wheel drive Mustang was actually slower around a figure-eight than the GTI. Although that proclamation surprised some, it didn’t surprise me at all, given the VW weighs nearly 500lbs less. You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about steering feel. That’s because there isn’t any. A wise man once told me to never confuse steering weight with steering feel. The GTI’s tiller is well weighted but the FWD layout and the electric power steering suck all the life out of it.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear1

Part of the reason the GTI did so well is the standard XDS system which nearly eliminates torque steer. In concept it is quite similar to what Ford uses to control the Focus ST’s front end but in the real world the VW system is more effective. Trouble is, half the fun of having a hot hatch is “riding a bull” – where your foot is on the floor and your hands and mind are fully engaged trying to keep the car going in a straight line. (The old Mazdaspeed3 acted like its steering rack was possessed by demons from hell.) MINIs Cooper JCW slots between the GTI and the Focus ST in civility. Add the VAQ eLSD to the GTI and things go to the next level with very little drama when accelerating around sharp corners. While I found the feeling a little artificial at times, I can’t deny it is faster.

Pricing for 2015 starts at $25,095 for the 3-door GTI and tops out at $35,950 for the 5-door Autobahn edition with all the options. Although VW limits navigation to the top-trim, you can add the DSG to any trim for $1,100, Performance Package for $1,495, steering HID headlamps for $995 and for $695 they will tack on front/rear parking sensors and a radar based collision warning system. If you want the $800 DDC (dynamic dampers), you have to start with the SE trim with the Performance Package ($29,280 3-door, $29,880 5-door). In a nice change from the industry norm, the transmission selection doesn’t alter the availability of the other options and the top-end Autobahn doesn’t force you to get the DSG.

2015 VW GTI 2-Door Exterior Rear-002

Ford’s Ecoboost Mustang starts $300 higher than the GTI while the Focus ST starts nearly $2,000 lower. The MINI is in a universe all to its own with the JCW starting over $8,000 higher. The ‘Stang gets standard HID lamps in the turbo trim making both Ford models less expensive than the VW when comparably equipped. Unlike VW, Ford also allows you to add navigation to their less expensive trims and the ST gets some seriously comfortable Recaro seats in most trims.

At the end of the week, the GTI’s charms were clear: this is a hot hatch with few compromises. The MINI is cute but slower and much more expensive. The GTI has a more comfortable back seat than the Mustang and, although it’s less fun, it is faster in some situations. The WRX isn’t a hatch anymore and if you want an automatic your only option is a soul-sucking CVT. The Focus gives a more raw and direct experience, but the added weight means it’s no faster than the GTI in just about any situation. The final nail in the coffin for the competition is the GTI SE with the limited slip differential, dynamic suspension and the DSG. For $32,000, a GTI equipped in that way won’t be as much fun as others, but with all that and 28 MPG combined, it may be the best daily driver on sale. Sacrilege you say? Perhaps, but that configuration is the truest to the hot hatch concept: make a daily driver as much fun as possible.

Mission accomplished.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.5 Seconds

0-60:5.75 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.31 @ 98 MPH

Average Economy: 29.8 MPG over 675 miles

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2015 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lexus-350-f-sport-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lexus-350-f-sport-review-video/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 12:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1056498 BMW moved over 140,000 3-Series’ last year in America. They didn’t do this by being the most luxurious option or by being the best handling option. (The truth is hard to hear, I’m sorry.) Instead, BMW did this by doing exactly what shoppers asked for; luxury car buyers want a comfy ride with a luxury logo […]

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2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -002

BMW moved over 140,000 3-Series’ last year in America. They didn’t do this by being the most luxurious option or by being the best handling option. (The truth is hard to hear, I’m sorry.) Instead, BMW did this by doing exactly what shoppers asked for; luxury car buyers want a comfy ride with a luxury logo on the front, good fuel economy and to read reviews that extol the track-day virtues of their car of choice. The average buyer will never be on a track, but it’s critical to know your car belongs there.

What BMW dealers don’t want you to know: there are two sedans in this segment that are arguably better on the track than a 328i or 335i and we’re talking about one of them today, the IS 350 F Sport.

Exterior

Lexus’ exterior styling used to strike me as graceful, sophisticated and reserved. Apparently, however, the front end got no respect on the Autobahn, so the F Sport nose was created. While I can’t say if it commands more respect in Germany, the ginormous grille on our IS 350 F Sport looked ready to devour small children and subcompact cars alike. While some folks have said they dislike the gaping maw, I actually like it. What I’m not a fan of are the separate headlamp and “Nike-swoosh” daytime running lamp modules; I find the look a little discordant. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit this front end is more dramatic than anything on offer from BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Infiniti.

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Out back, less has changed, with the rear being more reserved than the front. But it’s the side profile where things really divert. The IS is 3.5 inches longer than the last generation model and most of the increase goes to the rear seat area – although, some of it also goes to the trunk, making the IS look more balanced than before. Thanks to pedestrian impact regulations in Europe, the front end has become blunter (just as we have seen from the Europeans lately), which actually helps the front 3/4 view. I think the Cadillac ATS is the most attractive sedan in this segment, but the IS in F Sport trim leaps up the scale to number 3, just behind the ATS and 3-Series.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -005

Interior

While BMW and Audi have opted for an open and expansive interior theme, the IS feels tight and close to the driver by design with a high beltline and tall center console. F Sport models get a configurable LCD disco dash instead of the white-on-black gauges we normally expect from the brand. Similar to Volvo’s new LCD instrument cluster, the display can seem a little lost in the binnacle as the binnacle normally houses a wider traditional dial cluster. Since Cadillac has yet to move their large LCD instrument cluster down-market to the ATS, there really isn’t any competition for this display at the moment.

As you’d expect from Lexus, one can still get acres of stained wood and soft leather, but neither are standard. Like most entries in this segment, leather is reserved for specific packages and wood is an optional upgrade. Front seat comfort proved excellent during my week. The sport seats easily bested the Audi A4, Cadillac ATS and the base seats in the BMW 328i or Mercedes C300. Wider folks should know that the bolstering is pronounced and the F Sport trim doesn’t have an option to delete the sport seats.

Thanks to the wheelbase stretch, combined legroom is up by 2.6 inches inside which places the IS towards the top of the group in total legrooom. Nobody expected the BMW 3-Series to grow as much as it did in its latest incarnation, which becomes quite obvious when you run the numbers. The 3-Series boasts the second best legroom figures behind the much larger Infiniti Q50. The Lexus offers a slightly larger trunk, but I found the overall trunk dimensions to be more advantageous in the BMW.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -003

Infotainment

The 2014 redesign of the IS brought a raft of new features from traffic maps on non-navigation equipped models to predictive traffic, improved voice recognition and smartphone integration. Alas, the lord giveth and he taketh away. Along with the new software comes Lexus’ Remote Touch input device, or as I prefer to call it: the Lexus joystick. I find little joy in the mouse-like controller, but it is better than the trackpad you find in the NX. The controller is the textbook example of the difference between an intuitive input method and one that is optimized for use in a car. The joystick is intuitive, it’s just not well suited to a vehicle as it requires much more eye-off-the-road time. I grabbed a few friends and had them perform a few identical functions in the Lexus and a BMW with iDrive while I watched their eyes. It simply takes longer for you to find what you need in the Lexus system. Oddly enough, the same Lexus software without a touchscreen is one of the least distracting available, but you can only get that in the GX and LX. If you don’t buy navigation, you still get the 7-inch screen but trade the joystick for a rotary knob.

Lexus doesn’t offer any sort of heads-up display a la BMW, but you can gadgets like radar cruise control, Mark Levinson branded audio system, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Engine-004

Engine

Standing somewhat alone in this segment is a 100-percent naturally-aspirated engine lineup. While everyone but Infiniti has moved to a turbo four to fill the bottom end, Lexus has stuck with their tiny V6. (I’m not counting the 2.5-liter four-banger in the base ATS. Why? Who would?) Displacing 2.5 liters and sporting direct injection, the IS 250 is good for 204 ponies and 185 lb-ft of torque. [It’s the least powerful V6 currently on sale. -Ed] While many in the industry would once have complained about a base luxury model without an inline-6 engine, this V6 now competes with four-cylinder engines. Although a V6 isn’t as balanced as an I6, it’s miles ahead of an I4. The model we tested is the 3.5-liter V6 IS 350. Adding a liter bumps power to 306 and torque to 277. For reasons known only to Lexus’ product planning team, the 220 horsepower IS 300h remains forbidden fruit on our shores.

Lexus tends to be a cautious company when it comes to adopting new technology and, as a result, the 2.5-liter V6 and AWD models of the 3.5-liter have to make do with ye olde 6-speed automatic from Aisin. If you get the RWD version of the IS 350 that we tested, you get Aisin’s new 8-speed auto, a variant of the transmission used in the Corvette and select Cadillacs.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Instrument Cluster_

Drive

The naturally aspirated engine lineup is the first thing you will notice about the IS out on the road. Much like the 3.6-liter V6 in the ATS and the 3.7-liter V6 in the Q50, power builds in a linear fashion. This is quite different from the C400, 335i and other turbo entries which typically have torque and horsepower “plateaus” with sharp drops on either end. 0-60 acceleration in our F Sport tester came in at 5.6 seconds – not a bad time by any stretch. However, Volvo’s front-wheel-drive S60 T6 Drive-e will do the same sprint in 5.4. The purist in me prefers the feel and unadulterated sound a naturally-aspirated engine delivers, but the pragmatist in me realizes the C400, 335i, S4 and S60 T6 will all beat the IS to the freeway ramp. Opting for Lexus’ AWD system improves grip, but the loss of two gears causes the 0-60 time to stretch to 5.7 seconds, getting close to the less powerful BMW 328xi. AWD shoppers also have to live with an odd hump in the front foot-well caused by the transfer case and driveshaft to the front axle.

The responsiveness of the IS in tight corners demonstrates how much time Lexus spent engineering the suspension. The old IS came across as isolated, perhaps even sloppy, while this chassis is sharp and crisp. Every system feels like a team player, from the suspension to the transmission shift logic and the revised double-wishbones up front. The IS quite simply delivers the best feel in the corners and out on the track with every system tuned to near perfection. (Bear in mind we still have electric power steering, so it’s all relative.) The IS actually manages to feel a hair more precise, although not as engaging, than the E90 3-Series (previous generation). The F30 (current generation) has traded handling prowess for a softer ride and a ginormous back seat. And therein lies the rub: the change has improved BMW’s sales rather than stopping the gravy train. Meanwhile, the Audi and Volvo plow like a John Deere when they encounter a corner and the Mercedes feels just as you would expect – heavy and soft. The purist in me prefers the crisp handling and impeccable feel of the IS on a track. The pragmatist in me is keenly aware that feel doesn’t actually get you around a track. That’s where power comes in. Because of the power deficit, the 335i, S60 T6 AWD, C400 and S4 are all faster around your average track. If you’re talking autocross, the IS has a chance, but even the Volvo will beat it around Laguna Seca.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Headlamps

Competition

Comparing the IS 350 with the 335i seems like the natural thing to do – after all, they both have “3” in the model number – but a more apt comparison is the 328i. The IS 350 slots between the 328i and the 335i in both price and performance, but price is critical. Meanwhile IS 250 performs more like the 320i than the 328i.

The IS 350 F Sport manages to be a hair less than a comparably equipped 328i M-Sport, which is an excellent start. Despite costing a fraction less, the Lexus delivers considerably more refinement under the hood, better acceleration and more driving feel in the twisties. Our F Sport was notably less expensive than a Mercedes C300, and even when you add AWD to the Lexus, it’s still the more willing partner on your favorite mountain highway.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -006

Audi’s A4 ends up being around the same price as the IS 350 while Volvo’s S60 is the discount option. Both the Audi and the Volvo start as FWD vehicles but add AWD to compensate for their front heavy designs. Unless you step up to the considerably more expensive S4, the Audi comes across as underpowered and all versions of the A4 feel nose heavy in comparison. The Volvo has a similar weight issue up front but the Swedes will happily drop a powerful turbo engine under the hood, mate it to AWD and sell it for less than the Lexus. The resulting S60 R-Design will out-pace the IS 350 F Sport but the experience will be much different. The Volvo will be understeering like mad in the corners; the IS will feel balanced and poised. Unfortunately, the Lexus’ driver will have to enjoy the feel while looking at the S60’s tail lamps.

The Infiniti Q50 is the often forgotten competitor. Nissan’s luxury arm has never quite reached the same status as Lexus as far as brand perception – perhaps that’s why. Never the less, the Infiniti has good looks and a low price tag on its side. Even the $37,150 base model starts with a 328 horsepower 3.7-liter V6. It’s still slower than BMW’s 335i, but at 5.2 seconds to 60, it is among the faster options. If you want more power and better economy, Infiniti will sell you their hybrid version that scoots to highway speed in 4.9. Comparably equipped, the Q50 is about $2,000 less than the F Sport we tested, making it the best RWD deal in this segment.

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -011

After a week with the IS 350, I’ll admit I was torn. The way the IS drives and feels on my mountain road commute is incredible. The way the IS feels on a track is alluring. And the value proposition is undeniable. Lexus’ well deserved reliability reputation and generally lower operating costs means the IS will cost less to own. All these things should mean my purist and pragmatic boxes will be well and truly checked. The Lexus has the luxury and track-day-diary cred to compete with the competition, but the infotainment system in the IS and slower 0-60 time keep the Lexus from being my choice in this segment. If my money were on the line, I’d live with Infiniti’s questionable steer-by-wire system and get the Q50S hybrid instead. You get more room inside, a 0-60 time matching the 335i and 31 MPG. While the IS 350 F Sport represents a good value against BMW’s volume 3-Series model, they still have nothing to compete properly with the 335i. Yes, the IS 350 F Sport feels better and road holds better than a comparably equipped 335i. But, as BMW has recently shown, perhaps going around a corner perfectly isn’t all that important after all.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.2 Seconds

0-60: 5.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds at 100 MPH

Average Observed Economy: 20 MPG over 674 miles

2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Engine 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Engine-001 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Engine-002 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Engine-003 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Engine-004 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -001 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -002 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -003 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -004 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -005 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -006 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -007 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -008 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -009 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -010 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -011 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -012 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior -013 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Exterior_ 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Headlamps 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Instrument Cluster -001 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Instrument Cluster_ 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior .CR2 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -001 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior 1 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -002 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -003 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -004 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -005 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -006 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -007 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -008 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -009 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -0011 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -0021 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior -0031 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior Drive Mode Selector 2015 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport Interior_

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2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4×4 Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/2015-nissan-pathfinder-4x4-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/2015-nissan-pathfinder-4x4-review-video/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1049737 Nissan’s path to the modern Pathfinder has been long and wandering. In 1985 the 2-door truck based Pathfinder was the answer to Chevy’s Blazer and Ford’s Bronco. In 1995 Nissan changed absolutely everything and made the Pathfinder a 5-door unibody SUV to compete head-on with Jeep’s successful Grand Cherokee. Nine years later, Nissan started over, […]

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2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior

Nissan’s path to the modern Pathfinder has been long and wandering. In 1985 the 2-door truck based Pathfinder was the answer to Chevy’s Blazer and Ford’s Bronco. In 1995 Nissan changed absolutely everything and made the Pathfinder a 5-door unibody SUV to compete head-on with Jeep’s successful Grand Cherokee. Nine years later, Nissan started over, yet again, with a body-on-frame design to do battle with the myriad of General Motors midsize SUVs choking up suburban expressways. Then, in 2013, Nissan went back to the drawing board for a fourth time with a new mission: build a spacious and well-priced soft-roader to battle the new Explorer and the GM Lambda platform triplets (Acadia, Traverse, Enclave).

Exterior

Before we dive deep into the Pathfinder, we have to identify this breed’s natural habitat, and that means forgetting every Pathfinder that came before. While you’ll still find WD21 Pathfinders climbing rocks, this Pathfinder is more at home on the school run. I mentioned GM’s Lambda CUVs earlier because this Pathfinder is big. Really big. That means the Pathfinder isn’t the most direct competitor to entries like the Kia Sorento that’s more than a foot smaller or even the Toyota Highlander that is 6 inches shorter. The mission of the Sorento and Highlander is to carry 4-5 adults in comfort while providing a third row for children, mothers-in-law or emergencies. The Pathfinder however was intended to carry 7 adults in relative comfort.

Because the new Pathfinder’s mission is people hauling, not rock climbing, you won’t find aggressive approach and departure angles on the nose and rump. Instead, we get slab sides, a variant of Nissan’s truck grille up front and a rather vertical hatch in the back. The overall look is simple and clean but lacks the excitement (yes, I used that word in a CUV review) you’d find in entries like the new Sorento.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Third Row Seat-001

Interior

The Pathfinder sports the most combined legroom in this segment (1st row + 2nd row + 3rd row) and combined legroom is important. Other entries claim to have more third row legroom (like the Traverse), but if the other two rows are cramped, you end up sliding those seats back cutting down on the room left in the mother-in-law-row. Looking deeper, the Traverse claims 3.4 inches more 3rd row room but you’ll find that the Chevy’s 1st row is 1 inch smaller and the middle row is 5 inches smaller. This means with the driver’s seat adjusted ideally for me at 6-feet tall (not giving a toss about the folks in the back) I can adjust the second row seat to have 2-3 inches of leg room and have a similar 2-3 inches of legroom in the third row of the Pathfinder as well. I’m a little surprised Nissan chose not to make an 8-passenger version of the Pathfinder because the 3rd row is as accommodating as the Highlander’s 3-seat rear bench. Speaking of the Highlander, you’ll notice upper trims come only with captains chairs in the middle row, meaning passenger number five has to sit in the cramped third row.

The second reason to buy a Pathfinder is for the trick second row seat. If you’re a parent with two or three child seats in the middle row, you’ll appreciate that Nissan designed the 40% section of the bench to contort in a way that allows adults to get in to the third row. While it is possible to get into the back in other 3-row vehicles with a child seat in the middle, it isn’t easy.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Folding Child Seat

Legroom isn’t everything, of course, so Nissan kept the roofline high at the rear of the Pathfinder giving a generous 37.8 inches of 3rd row headroom. If you want this kind of room without a Nissan logo on the hood, you’ll be looking at full-size SUVs. I am talking Suburban-sized since the Tahoe actually offers 6 inches less total legroom than the Pathfinder. If you need something bigger than that, you’re in Blue Bird bus territory.

The Pathfinder’s generous legroom comes at a price: the small cargo area. Admittedly, the 16 cubic feet of space behind the last row is 1 more than you get in the Tahoe, but it’s 8 less than the Traverse and 23 less than the Suburban. So, while the Pathfinder is as accommodating as a Suburban for 7 adults, you can’t fit 7 suitcases in the back.

Also on the down side is a cabin that’s starting to show its age. The seats are class leading in terms of comfort, but the cabin is full of hard plastics. I’m not one to bash hard plastics off-hand, but casting the primary dashboard touch points out of hard plastic is unusual in this segment and it makes entries like the Durango, Sorento and Enclave look and feel more premium.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Infotainment.CR2

Infotainment

Although the Pathfinder isn’t that old, the base “S” trim gets you a 6-speaker audio system and in-dash 6-CD changer … and that’s it. No Bluetooth, no AUX input and no USB/iPod interface. If you want those, you have to step up to the $32,990 SV trim which includes a 7-inch infotainment LCD. Although I dislike the stripper trim concept, you should know the SV is still about $2,000 less than a comparable Highlander. (Keep in mind Toyota’s base model lacks a V6.) SL Tech trims get an 8-inch infotainment display and the same 13-speaker Bose sound system as the Infiniti QX60. At $38,090, it’s also the cheapest way to get navigation. Any way you slice it, however, Nissan’s infotainment options are a step behind the new entries like the Sorento, Highlander, Durango and 2016 Pilot.

On the up-side, Nissan’s touchscreen infotainment system was one of my favorites last decade, so in terms of functionality it fares quite well. GM’s Lambda SUVs all get small infotainment screens set low in the dashboard due to the age of the platforms and, interestingly, a Traverse with navigation is just $250 less. On the down-side, the Pathfinder is at least five years behind the rest, especially compared to Toyota and Chrysler’s latest systems. GM’s refreshed infotainment options in the Lambda CUVs operate on a smaller 6.5-inch screen but look more modern.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 AWD control

Drivetrain

Under the hood lies Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 tuned to 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, 5 hp and 8 lb-ft less than the same engine in the QX60. In addition to being down a few ponies compared to its luxury cousin, it’s also the least powerful in its class. As you would expect from Nissan, power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT, but this one has been revised to handle a 5,000 lb tow rating. The new transmission uses a steel chain instead of a steel belt for durability, but importantly the ratios stay more-or-less unchanged. Nissan’s reps confirmed the transmission is the primary reason for the QX60 and Pathfinder’s different tow ratings.

If towing with a FWD crossover doesn’t sound like fun, $1,690 buys you AWD. The system normally defaults to FWD mode for improved fuel economy but as a (small) nod to the Pathfinder’s history, the system has a lock mode mechanically connecting the front and rear differentials so power flows 50:50 (front:rear). Unlike more traditional transfer case setups, the clutch-pack allows a small amount of slip so the system can be used on dry pavement without binding. Leaving the AWD system in “Auto” keeps power to the front unless fairly significant slippage occurs (in order to improve fuel economy).

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Gauges

Drive

The Pathfinder is loosely based on Nissan’s D-Platform which underpins the Altima, Murano and the last generation Maxima. One thing all those vehicles have in common is being light for their category and that’s true of the Pathfinder as well. At 4,317 lbs in FWD trim and topping out at 4,506 in AWD trim, that’s about the same weight as Toyota’s Highlander V6 and 300-500 lbs lighter than a comparable GM crossover. The weight reduction and other efficiency differences pay dividends with real world fuel economy in the AWD model coming in around 21.5 MPG in mixed driving. That’s around 11 percent better than the Traverse, 15 percent better than the Enclave and 18 percent better than the Tahoe on my same fuel economy route. While a few MPG doesn’t sound like much, at this end of the scale it equates to $450 lower annual fuel bills vs the Buick.

The comparatively light curb weight and CVT compensate for the lower torque numbers and allowed our tester to scoot to 60 in 7.1 seconds. While not the fastest in the pack, this is better than the majority of three row crossovers on the market. This is despite the CVT’s final drive ratio being tuned toward fuel economy. The CVT’s main benefit is it allows the engine to hang out at the peak of its power band for maximum acceleration. For 2015, Nissan programmed the CVT to imitate a traditional stepped automatic when in “D.” Not surprisingly this results in lower performance because it negates the major benefit of a CVT in the first place and actually causes a 2/10th longer run to 60 (7.3 seconds) than when the transmission is in “L” and ditches the imitation shifts.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior Hitch Receiver

Everything has a trade off and so it is with the Pathfinder. The CVT’s low ratio isn’t terribly low at 13.5:1 (low gear and final drive), this doesn’t compare all that well with the lower 15.2:1 that you find in the Ford Explorer and higher overall than basically all the competition. This tall starting ratio conspires with the soft springs and compliant sway bars to make the Pathfinder feel about 1,000 lbs heavier on the road. In the stop-light races, most of the competition will beat the Pathfinder to 30 mph because of that ratio choice. Past 30, the Pathfinder picks up steam and may win the race overall, but in the real world that 0-30 time is more important.

More than most new cars, we have to separate lateral grip from handling “feel” when discussing this Nissan. Why? Because the Pathfinder actually road-holds as well as a Mazda CX-9 according to most publications (TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad) but the feeling is night and day different. Steering turn-in is lazy. Soft springs that give one of the best rides in the segment make body roll excessive. There’s plenty of pitch and dive when accelerating and braking. This is the prefect example of numbers not giving you the complete picture. The Pathfinder is faster than almost all of the competition, it stops from 60 mph in a short 125 feet and pulls lateral Gs like a Mazda crossover. Get behind the wheel however and the Pathfinder feels enormous.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-007

Towing with a CVT is an unusual experience to say the least. I attached a 5,000 trailer and gave it a whirl. As expected, the tall starting ratio in the transmission makes for sluggish starts, but when I started climbing hills things went just fine. Like Chrysler’s 8-speed automatic, the ability to find an “ideal” ratio for the moment is what saves the Pathfinder here. Sure, you hear plenty of the 3.5-liter V6 in the cabin when the engine is revving its nuts off, but it feels peppier on a 15 percent grade than a GMC Acadia with the same trailer.

With the Pathfinder, Nissan has created one of the best crossovers on paper. It has legroom to spare, the highest fuel economy among its direct competition, and delivers great acceleration, braking and handling numbers, but it looses something by the time you add it all up and drive one yourself. Perhaps the toll to be paid for checking every box the crossover shopper wants is engagement. The Pathfinder is a crossover I have recommended and will continue to recommend if you want an honest to goodness usable third row and great fuel economy. It also remains one of the better buys in this segment thanks to its low starting price and aggressive equipment bundles. Unfortunately, if driving pleasure, interior refinement, or modern infotainment are higher on your shopping list, there are better options.

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

Specifications as testesd

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: 7.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.24 Seconds @ 93 MPH

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 AWD control 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area1 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Cargo Area-003 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Center Console 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Engine 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Engine-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior Hitch Receiver 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-003 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-004 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-005 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-006 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-007 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Gauges 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Instrument Cluster 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Dashboard 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Dashboard-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Dashboard-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Infotainment.CR2 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Infotainment 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Power Seat Controls 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Rear Air Vent 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Rear Air Vent1 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Seats 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Child Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Folding Child Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row-001 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row-002 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Start Stop Button 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Third Row Seat 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Third Row Seat-001

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Is This Cycle World Presenter Stoned? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/cycle-world-presenter-stoned/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/cycle-world-presenter-stoned/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 11:30:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1053065 Cycle World, regarded as one of the best motorcycle magazines despite its horrible print design, picks ten “bikes with character” for their latest video. This chum can only remember five of them. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Marc Cernicky and the guys at Cycle World are just having a laugh (after all, it was recorded on […]

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Cycle World, regarded as one of the best motorcycle magazines despite its horrible print design, picks ten “bikes with character” for their latest video. This chum can only remember five of them.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Marc Cernicky and the guys at Cycle World are just having a laugh (after all, it was recorded on 4/20). Or maybe Marc is just straight-up high out of his mind.

[Source: Boing Boing]

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2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044242 Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and […]

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Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and three sedans. If you asked nicely, they would cut the top off the 3-Series, add a hatchback, or stretch it into a wagon. If you look at the family tree today you’d see that the 2-series coupé and convertible, X1, X3, X4, 3-Series sedan, long wheelbase sedan, and wagon, 3-Series GT and 4-Series coupé, convertible and gran coupé are all cousins. (Note: I didn’t say sisters, but they are all ultimately related.) That’s a product explosion of 400 percent since 1993 and we’re talking solely about the compact end of their lineup. You could look at this two ways. This is insanity, or this is some diabolical plan. Since sales have increased more than 300% since 1993, I’m going with diabolical plan.

Exterior

The “same sausage in multiple lengths” concept has been a staple design philosophy of the luxury industry for decades, but BMW’s “something for everyone” mantra takes that to the next level. You see, the X4 and the 3-Series Gran Tourismo are two entirely different sausages that (although related) manage to look the same yet share very little. Stranger still, the same shape elicits two different responses from people. Some see the GT and think “that liftback looks practical and roomier than a trunk” and then they look at the X4 and say “that’s less practical than an X3, why would I want it?”

To create the X4, the X3’s rear was raked and the bumpers were tweaked but it still retains the same hood, headlamps and ride height. You’d think that would make it a crossover, but BMW prefers “Sports Activity Coupe.” Whatever. The GT is a 3-Series that has been stretched and a liftback grafted on. The GT is lower to the ground and actually longer than the X4, but the differences don’t stop there. The GT is built in Germany, the X4 is made in South Carolina. Like many Americans, the X4 is 2-inches wider, has a more aggressive look up front and weighs 200 lbs more. (Before you ask, I was born in Ohio and that describes me as well.)

The trouble with making so many models is that it makes comparisons difficult. (Or is that part of BMW’s diabolical plan?) Aside from the GT, the X4 lacks any natural competition, especially in our xDrive28i trim. The V60 Cross Country, Macan, allroad and Evoque all come to mind, but only the Macan uses a similar silhouette. The Volvo and Audi are lifted station wagons, the Evoque is much smaller and front wheel drive.

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Interior

The X4 shares the majority of its interior with the X3. Likely because the X3 and X4 are a little more recent than the current 3-Series, I found the interior to be more harmonious in terms of plastics quality. Instead of the iDrive screen perched atop the dash like in the 3-Series, it’s nestled into it. Perhaps because the X4 is made in America, the cup holders are larger, more functional and lack the funky lid 3-Series owners always lose track of.

Because the X3’s roofline was drastically altered to create the X4, BMW opted to drop the seat bottoms in order to preserve headroom. The difference isn’t too noticeable up front, but in the rear the X4’s seat bottom cushions ride much closer to the floor than in any of the competition. Despite lowering the seating height, headroom is still very limited in the back and best reserved for kids or shorter adults. This is a stark contrast to the 3-GT which has an inch more headroom in the rear, seat cushions that are higher off the floor, seat backs that recline and a whopping 7 inches more combined legroom.

At 17.7 cubic feet, the X4’s cargo area is about 33% smaller than the X3 [The Porsche Macan loses almost 40 percent of its cargo volume in comparison to its platform mate, the Audi Q5. -Ed.]. On the flip side, this is a hair larger than a 328i sedan and the cargo hatch is a more convenient shape. Once again, however, the 3-GT comes out more practical with a larger cargo hold and the same practical liftback for accessing it. Interestingly enough, the V60 CC and the Porsche Macan have cargo areas nearly identical in size.

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Infotainment

iDrive has long been one of my favorite infotainment systems and that continues with the latest version. Our tester included the full bevy of infotainment options including smartphone app integration ($500), navigation ($2,150) and the iPhone snap-in adapter ($250). If that sounds expensive, you’re right. However, it is less expensive than the options list on the Macan. Like Audi and Mercedes, BMW has inserted a cell modem into top end iDrive systems allowing online service access.

iDrive’s interface has received continual tweaks over the years to improve usability and I find the interface easy to navigate and intuitive. A little less intuitive is the finger-writing input method which allows you to “write” on the top of the controller knob to enter addresses. While that sounds like a good idea, I discovered it took 25% longer to enter a destination vs rotating the dial. All the latest in connected infotainment can be had in the X4 (for a price) including integrated Pandora, Stitcher, Audible, pass-thru voice commands for iOS and Android, and Wikipedia integration which will read Wiki articles to you via a built-in text-to-speech engine.

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Drivetrain

X4 xDrive28i models get a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder (N20) good for 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque at just 1,450 RPM while xDrive35i models get the 300 horsepower, 300 lb-ft 3.0L turbo (N55). Both engines are mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic and standard AWD. Sound familiar? That’s the same lineup in the 3-GT. Oddly enough you can get the X3 in RWD, but the X4 with its (in theory) sportier image is AWD only.

If you’re shopping for the X4 outside of the USA, you get more choice with an available 181 horse 2.0L gasoline turbo, a selection of diesel engines ranging from 187-309 ponies and a manual transmission on some engines.

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Drive

I’m no track junkie like Jack Baruth, but I do appreciate a well-balanced vehicle. That said, I am frequently distracted by straight line performance and “moar powah.” X4 shoppers will need to choose between these two. The 2.0L may be down on power vs the 3.0L , but it is also 33% shorter and 165 lbs lighter. In addition, the 2.0L sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious when you start pushing the X4 on your favorite mountain road. The lighter 2.0L model doesn’t feel as eager, but it does feel more composed and more willing to change direction. The 3.0L has more low-end grunt and a more refined sound, but because of the added weight, AWD and chassis tuning, it tends toward understeer more readily.

The key to understanding the X4 on the road is simple: it weighs only 20 lbs less than the X3 and despite the sheetmetal changes, the center of gravity isn’t all that much lower. As a result it drives almost exactly like an X3. Since the X3 is one of the most dynamic options in its class, that’s no dig. 0-60 happened in a quick 6.14 seconds in our tester(the 3.0L is a full second faster) and the lateral grip is impressive for a crossover. On the downside, the 3-Series sedan and GT will do everything a hair faster with better grip and better feel. BMW will swap out the 245 width tires our tester had for a staggered 245 / 275 tire package. I suspect that may give the X4 more of a performance edge on the less sporting trims of X3 or 3-GT, but fuel economy and your pocketbook will suffer. Thanks to the wide tires, the X4 took just 119 feet to stop from 60 MPH.

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The standard AWD system dulls what little feel you might otherwise get from the electric power steering system, but in return it allows drama-free launches on most road surfaces and plenty of fun on soft roads. Speaking of soft roads, the X4 reminded me a great deal of Volvo’s V60 Cross Country: both vehicles prioritize style over practicality and both are soft-road vehicles designed for folks that live down a short gravel road and commute on winding mountain highways. The suspension in all forms of the X4 is stiffer than I expected and the M-Sport is stiffer than I could live with long-term on the crappy roads in Northern California. If you’re contemplating the M-Sport, be sure to option up the adaptive suspension system. The $1,000 option doesn’t dull the X4’s responses, but when in the softer modes it may just save your kidneys.

Competition for the X4 is hard to define as I have said. On the surface of things, the styling premium over the X3 will set you back $6,200, but the X4 has around $4,200 more in standard equipment, like AWD and HID lamps, which drops the real difference to about $2,000. That may not sound like too much of a premium for the added style you get in the X4, but the 328i Gran Turismo, despite standard AWD and the panoramic sunroof, is about $2,500 less than the X4.

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Now we must cover the Porsche Macan. In the same way that the X4 is a less practical X3, the Macan is a less practical Audi Q5. If you look at the Macan closely, you’ll see almost the same profile as the X4. Dimensionally they are quite similar inside and out. However, the Macan’s conversion from the plebeian Q5 was much more involved. Porsche also starts their lineup with a 340 horsepower twin-turbo V6, 7-speed DCT, and made major changes to the structure of the Q5 platform. On top of that, they fit wider tires all around. Obviously our 2.0L X4 doesn’t compete with the Porsche, but the X4 with the turbo six is an interesting alternative. The X4 xDrive35i manages to be a hair faster to 60 in my limited tests (1/10th) thanks likely to the ZF 8-speed automatic. The BMW’s transmission is smoother, I think the exterior is more elegant and depending on how you configure your Porsche, the cost difference can exceed $10,000 in the X4’s favor. The Macan handles better and had a nicer and more customizable interior, but the options are so expensive that it’s easy to get a Macan S over $75,000 without really trying.

Although I like the X4’s interior more than the 3-GT, the  GT makes more sense to me. You get more room inside, it’s more nimble out on the road and the fuel economy in the real world is a hair better. The X3 is more practical and gives up little when it comes to performance and handling and the 3-Series sport wagon is probably the best blend of cargo practicality and performance handling. This brings me back to BMW’s diabolical plan: comparisons. No matter how I tried to define or categorize the X4, the competitive set was littered with BMWs. Aside from the xDrive35i being the value alternative to the Macan S, all that can be said of the X4 in the end is that it is a less practical X3 and a taller GT with a nicer dash.

Sound off in the comment section below: what would you cross shop with the X4?

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.14 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.83 Seconds @ 92.8 MPG

Average Economy: 23.8 MPG

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Review: 2015 Kia Soul EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042177   EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 […]

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EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 and B-Class Electric. Obviously a Kia Soul EV vs i3 vs B-Class comparison table is at the extreme end, but I am surprised how many folks wanted to hear that comparison. It isn’t just the luxury-cross shops that become possible however, comparisons normally considered to be “one-tier up” and “one-tier down” become more reasonable as well. For instance, the gasoline Soul isn’t a direct competitor to the Fiat 500 or the Ford Focus, but in EV form they are head to head.

Exterior

The Soul’s boxy profile causes shoppers to frequently overestimate its size. At 163 inches long, the Soul is 16-inches shorter than a Honda Civic and just three inches longer than a Honda Fit. The relative size and the low $15,190 starting price (in gasoline form) are the key to understanding the Soul in general terms. You must also keep that low starting price in mind when thinking of the Soul EV.

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Although the boxy Kia isn’t very long, it is fairly wide. At 70.9 inches wide, the Soul is three critical inches broader than a Honda Fit. This extra width helps keep the Soul from looking too upright (like the Honda Fit) and, from a practical standpoint, it gives rear passengers a wider bench seat than many compact vehicles on the market.

To set the EV apart, Kia crafted unique paint options which include the two-tone blue/white model we tested. Aside from the desire to differentiate the product, the white roof actually reduces heat loads in hotter climates. Kia is a brand known for cutting corners. Last century Kia famously cut all the wrong corners, but lately they started cutting all the right ones. In order to keep the EV’s price, low Kia skipped fancy LED or HID headlamps and used that cash to give upper level trims front and rear parking sensors and power folding mirrors. That’s a worthy trade in my book since many EVs end up being city commuter cars where parallel parking is a way of life.

I have to admit I find the Soul’s boxy form attractive. Maybe it’s my love of station wagons, but the practical profile made me smile. The tweaked front end which ditches a true grille due to reduced cooling requirements makes the Soul look more elegant than in base form as well. While I wouldn’t call it a luxury look, the Soul EV is certainly better looking than the Spark EV or LEAF and it’s a more traditional alternative to the BMW i3.

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Interior

I found the Soul’s interior to be more polarizing than the exterior, but style and not quality is where people were mixed in opinion. With the latest redesign, all Soul models get a soft-touch injection molded dashboard but the feel of the cabin does change from the base gasoline model to the top end trims. The difference seems to be that rather than swapping nicer bits into the higher end cabins, Kia designed a $25,000 cabin and then subtracted to create the base models. Things like the fabric headliner, stitched instrument cluster cover, sort touch door panels and leather wrapped wheel get swapped for lower rent parts in that base $15,190 model. The result is a high-end Soul interior that looks cohesive and a low end Soul interior where interior parts look out of place. Surprised? Then you haven’t driven mid-range or upper trim levels of the latest generation Soul. Kia brought the cheeky box notably up-market in this generation and all EV models use the nicer interior parts.

For EV duty the Soul is available in two trims with essentially no options to choose. The “Base” model is $33,700 (before tax incentives) and the “+” is $35,700. You should know that both trims actually fit into the Soul’s hierarchy between the gasoline + and ! models in terms of features. The $2,000 bump buys you leather seats that are heated/ventilated up front and heated in the rear, heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, fog lamps, power folding mirrors, auto-dimming rear view mirror and leatherette inserts in the doors. The ventilated seats are unique in the EV segment and they are more practical than you might think. We have all heard that it consumes less power to heat the seats and steering wheel than heat the air, but the same goes in hot weather: ventilating the seat consumes less energy than cooling the cabin to a lower temperature. Having the Soul EV back to back with the VW e-Golf made this more obvious than I had expected. Although the Soul EV isn’t as aerodynamic as the e-Golf I was able to get similar highway economy figures by using the ventilated seats instead of the A/C.

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Speaking of air conditioning, Kia decided to use a more expensive heat pump in the Soul EV instead of a standard air conditioning and resistive heater setup that you find in most EVs. Heat pumps are becoming more and more common because they drastically reduce the energy consumed in heating the cabin. If you live in a colder climate, the reduction in energy consumption can potentially mean 5-10 miles more EV range.

The Soul’s front seats are upright and comfortable, but not as adjustable as the gasoline Soul ! which has a 10-way power seat and adjustable lumbar support. This is a shame because it would have made the Soul’s cabin more welcoming than any of the other EVs on the market save Tesla’s new seat design. Headroom and legroom are surprisingly generous thanks to the upright seats and tall roofline. With the front seats adjusted for a 6-foot 5-inch friend, I had no troubles sitting in the back seat. Because the Soul is wider than your average subcompact it has three snug seats in the rear, one more than you’ll find in the 500e, Spark EV or i3. Because most EVs are weight conscious (read: full of hard plastics), only the Mercedes and Tesla offer interiors that feel overtly higher rent. The i3’s interior is difficult to compare as parts are high quality, but the kneaf/plastic blended door and dash panels don’t feel particularly expensive

Infotainment

Perhaps the most attractive feature in the Soul, aside from the ventilated seats, is the 8-inch UVO infotainment and navigation system that is standard on both trims. Kia builds on their easy-to-use software with perhaps the most EV specific information available in a car this side of a Model S. In addition to the standard fare of range and nearby charging stations, the UVO software will let you see where your power is going, score your driving, tell you how much farther you could go if you turned off the AC, and give you charging time estimates. None of these features are unique to the Soul, but not every EV out there gives you ALL of this information in one unit. In addition Kia has a smartphone connected app that will do much of this from afar.

On the downside, UVO still lacks voice command of your media library like you’ll find in most of the mass-market competition from Chrysler, GM, Toyota, Ford and to some extent Honda, but the is the only serious omission in this software. Again however the EV comparisons make even this contrast difficult since the EV’s from those companies don’t include this feature either. The UVO interface is snappy, supports scrolling/drag motions with your fingers, includes a built in cell modem for connectivity features and the voice recognition software is intuitive. The display is large and easy to read in strong daylight and the user interface is sleek and modern. BMW’s iDrive is still the most elegant entry, but only in top end trims as the base i3 gets a less elegant iDrive implementation. Mercedes COMAND is pretty, but lacks UVO’s feature set. Sadly EV owners cannot get Kia’s up-level Infiniti sound system with a center channel speaker, subwoofer and color-changing speaker grills that beat in time with the music. Rocking hamsters need not apply.

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Drivetrain

Powering the electrified Soul is a 109 horsepower AC electric motor capable of 210 lb-ft of torque.  The motor sends power to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transaxle. (Many of you asked why we call it a “transmission” when it is little more than a reduction gear set with a differential. I don’t have a good answer for you, I call it a transmission because the company that made it calls it a transmission.) Although the curb weight of the Soul EV is a hair lower than the e-Golf (3,286 vs 3,391) and the motor isn’t really much more powerful, 0-60 performance was inexplicably better at 8.5 seconds vs 10.03 seconds. Perplexed by the fast sprint to highway speed? So was I. Many publications have simply quoted Kia’s vague 10-11 second range for the acceleration run, but we tested it several times with the same 20Hz GPS based accelerometer and got the same numbers. The difference is likely due to the gearing and hopefully we’ll be able to get some 0-60 comparisons on other models soon to confirm this, or not.

BMW’s i3 is one of the lightest EVs, tipping the scales 751lbs lighter than the Soul. However, not all the weight difference is explained in the ultra-modern carbon fiber and aluminum BMW construction, the Soul EV carries a battery that is a whopping 44% larger in usable capacity. At 27kWh the Soul’s battery is (at the moment) only outclassed by the B-Class and Model S. Sadly, the laws of physics don’t allow the Kia to have 44% more range than the i3 thanks to considerably wider tires, the heftier curb weight and less aerodynamic profile. For 2015 the EPA says the Soul will cover 93 miles depending on your driving style, about 12 more than the i3. BMW’s numbers were about right, getting around 83 milesin my tests but the Soul EV is rated conservatively (likely due to the brick-like aerodynamics) but I averaged 4.2 miles per kWh which translates to a 113 mile range on my daily commute. Not willing to push things, I did manage a 90 mile trip with about 16% of the battery left.

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Kia’s balancing act between features and keeping costs in check can be seen in the drivetrain as well. The trade-off for the hefty battery capacity is a standard 6.6kW charger which is not slow, but it is slower than the 7.2kW in the e-Golf, 7.4kW in the i3 and 10kW in the Mercedes. Thankfully all Soul models come standard with the CHAdeMO DC fast charge connector up front (the large connector on the right in the picture above). The new SAE (aka CCS) connector may be slimmer and newer, but CHAdeMO outnumbers the newer stations by more than 4:1 in the SF Bay Area and the charging rate is essentially the same. Charging at 120V will take you over 24 hours, at 6.6kW 240V that drops to 4 hours and the little blue box will race from 5% to 80% in under 30 minutes at a coffee shop with a CHAdeMO station.

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Drive

The Soul has never been a driver’s car. The prime reason is Kia’s decision to use a semi-independent suspension in the rear to improve cargo room and load capacity. This means the rear of the gasoline Soul gets upset over heavily broken pavement when driving in a straight line, and in corners rough pavement leaves it unsettled. By adding 500lbs to the vehicle and shifting the weight balance nearer to 50/50 to the rear, the Soul EV delivers improved feel without any major mechanical changes. Because the Soul’s wheelbase is still fairly short the ride can feel slightly choppy on freeway expansion joints, but the added weight brings added polish with it and actually helps settle the rear in corners.

There isn’t an EV out there that excels at handling (even Model S tests on the skidpad yields lower numbers than the gasoline competition) and the Soul is no different. The EV Soul has unquestionably better balance than the gasoline model, and that is obvious on winding roads, but the 205-width low rolling resistance tires and extra weight mean that handling comes in just above the base Soul model (which wears even skinnier tires.) I found the Kia more engaging than the Nissan Leaf, but less engaging than the Focus Electric and e-Golf. In sheer road holding numbersm the Soul and i3 are quite close according to independent metrics, but the the i3’s RWD layout makes it more fun. The Soul’s steering wheel gives precious little feedback but the effort level is adjustable in three levels and no EV’s steering is a “team player” anyway.

Driving dynamics aren’t the Soul’s Forte (see what I did there?) but then again, no EV on the market today does terribly well in this area either. Instead, the Soul EV checks all the practicality and usability boxes from a large and practical cargo area to energy saving features like the standard heat pump and available ventilated leather seats which you don’t find on even the i3 or B-Class. Making the Soul EV perhaps more compelling is Kia’s long standard warranty and the bottom line. If you qualify for the maximum in incentives, the Soul EV ends up being only $1,000 more than a comparable gasoline Soul while costing $800 less to operate on a yearly basis. It may be a low bar, but the Soul EV is easily the best all-around EV on the market today. The more surprising takeaway however is how well the Soul actually stacks up against the high-end competition despite being based on a $15,190 econo-box.

Kia provide the vehicle, insurance and one battery charge for this review. Nissan provided a free charge via one of the Nissan CHAdeMO charging stations in Redwood City.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.3 Seconds

0-60: 8.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 82 MPH

 

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-volkswagen-e-golf-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-volkswagen-e-golf-video/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 19:24:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1037841 Because I live in California, it seemed only fitting that my first taste of the new Golf arrived in electric form: the 2015 VW e-Golf. (Why e-Golf? Because “Golfe” just sounded silly.) The Golf isn’t just the first Volkswagen EV in the US, it’s also the first VW built on the new MQB platform which […]

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2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-001

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

Exterior

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior.CR2

Interior

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

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

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Infotainment

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Motor-001

Drivetrain

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

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges-001Drive

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Charging Connector

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

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

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.44 Seconds

0-60: 10.03 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 82 MPH

Average Economy: 4.3 Mi/kWh

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

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Review: 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country (with video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-5-volvo-v60-cross-country-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-5-volvo-v60-cross-country-video/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 13:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1030617 Volvo may not have invented the wagon but no company has as much dedication to the practical cargo hauler as the Swedish brand. With the new V60 Cross Country they have expanded to six wagons world-wide (V40, V40 Cross Country, V60, V60 Cross Country, V70 and XC70). Wagon fans sad that Volvo isn’t bringing their […]

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2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-004

Volvo may not have invented the wagon but no company has as much dedication to the practical cargo hauler as the Swedish brand. With the new V60 Cross Country they have expanded to six wagons world-wide (V40, V40 Cross Country, V60, V60 Cross Country, V70 and XC70). Wagon fans sad that Volvo isn’t bringing their smaller boxes to the USA may be relieved to know the V60 Cross Country is not replacing the V60. This means that for the first time in a long time, we have access to three Swedish wagons on our shores.

Exterior

Volvo is a company normally associated with safety and practicality. They are the comfy penny loafer of the luxury segment if you will. This Volvo is different. Rather than the boxy form-follows-function style we’re used to from Sweden, the V60 is more about style than practicality. The change is most noticeable in the rear where we get a hatch that is raked forward and a greenhouse that plunges and pinches toward the back. e still have a subtle hint of the Volvo “hips”, but the design has been smoothed and simplified since the 1999 S80 that started Volvo’s modern style.

For off-paved-road duty, Volvo jacked up V60’s ride height by 2.6 inches, added some silver trim here and there, swapped out the grille for a honeycomb-themed version and added some black wheel arches. Thus the oddly named V60 Cross Country was born. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the CC gets larger wheels (18-inch) narrower 50-series rubber. This should be your first hint that the CC is more soft-road than off-road focused. As you might expect from a car maker located in the north, the CC can be had with an electric heated windscreen ala Range Rover that speeds ice removal when the snowpocalypse returns. Perhaps it’s my preference towards wagons in general, but I think the the tweaks work on the CC, it retains the crisp style I appreciate on the V60 but adds just enough “rugged” style to differentiate it on the road.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior.CR2

Interior

For those that haven’t shopped for a Volvo wagon in a while, the Swedes continue to shuffle model numbers around. Once upon a time the wagon variant of the S60 was the V70 and the off-road version was the XC70. Today however the V70 and XC70 are based on the S80 wagon. The V50 was once the wagon version of the smaller S40 leaving just V60 available. Sounds logical, right? So an off-road modified V60 would be a XC60. Oops, that already exists. So Volvo dusted off their older “Cross Country” nomenclature, the same trim that ostensibly got shortened to “XC” a while back. Confused yet?

The V60’s is on the small side for this segment and that’s most noticeable in the rear where we have less legroom than you’ll find in the A4 and BMW 3-Series wagons. This is the key reason that Volvo will be bringing their stretched S60 sedan to America next year, sadly there is no word of a matching V60L.  Front seat accommodations are spacious, but still offer a less room than the Germans. One thing Volvo has consistently excelled at however is seat comfort. Front and rear seats are well padded and extremely comfortable. All 2015.5 Volvo models finally ditch the lumbar support knob for a 2-way power variety which is welcome, but not as adjustable as the 4-way competition. In an interesting twist, all CC models get a variant of the S60 and V60’s sport seats which offer exaggerated bolstering on the back and bottom cushions. I like the feel, but if you’re a larger person you may find them a little narrow.

The cargo area is where we see the consequence of Volvo’s sexy side profile. Behind the curvaceous hatch sits half the cargo capacity of an XC60 at just 15.2 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded it expands to 43.5, about half of what you find in the XC70. The cargo space is small enough that even the questionably practical BMW X4 has a little more room in the back. Audi’s allroad slots between the XC70 and V60 Cross Country in overall dimensions and cargo capacity.

2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-004

Infotainment

2015.5 doesn’t bring a larger screen or major UI changes to Volvo’s Sensus Connect but it does add a cell modem. The new “Connected” Sensus gives the driver access to online business searches, streaming media without a smartphone, OnStar-like telematics services (Volvo On Call) and access to Wikipedia. The service requires a data subscription to use the full range of services, but wisely Volvo decided to toss in a WiFi chipset so you can share your cell plan with passengers or use a paired smartphone for Sensus’ data connection if you’d rather not have another cell phone bill. Also along for the ride is a smartphone app to let you see if you locked your car, remote start the engine, or honk the horn and flash the lights if you’ve lost your car in the IKEA parking lot.

Volvo’s Sensus system continues to keep up with most of the entries in this segment by adding features to their snappy interface. The system is well laid out, intuitive, and oddly Volvo allows access to essentially everything while the vehicle is in motion. This allows passengers to enter information using the on-dash control-wheel without stopping the car. The driver can use the same knob, or a control wheel on the steering wheel to control system functions. The graphics, maps and voice commands aren’t quite as well done as iDrive and you can’t voice command your media library as you can in an Acura or Lincoln, but it is competitive with A3’s and allroad’s MMI and COMAND in the CLA and GLA.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Engine 2.5L 5-Cylinder-002

Drivetrain

Volvo’s slick 300HP turbocharged/supercharged engine is sadly incompatible with the V60’s AWD system. (The output to the rear axle is located in a different spot and would require modifications to the chassis.)  As a result, all 2015.5 Volvos with AWD use the company’s trued and true 5 and 6-cylinder engines and older 6-speed automatic. For CC duty, Volvo limits your engine choice to just the 250 HP 2.5L 5-cylinder engine which can crank out up to 295 lb-ft in overboost for a limited time. If you’d like Volvo’s smooth inline-6 turbo, you’ll have to step over to the regular V60 or the XC70. Thankfully Volvo chose to leave the anaemic 3.2L engine out of the V60’s engine compartment.

2015.5 beings new shift logic to the transaxle that significantly reduces shift time (and sacrifices some shift quality) when in “sport” mode. Despite receiving some efficiency tweaks a few years ago, the 2.5L’s fuel economy still lags behind the 3-Series wagon at 23 MPG combined. Sending power to the rear is the latest Haldex AWD system which can send up to 50% of the power to the rear axles at any time, and if wheel slip up front occurs the power transfer can exceed 90%.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior 18-inch Wheel

Drive

The new programming of the AWD and transmission in sport mode was instantly obvious behind the wheel compared to 2014 S60 T5 AWD I benchmarked back-to-back. The new AWD software  sends noticeably more power to the rear when flogging the CC on winding roads and  transmission shifts are considerably faster and firmer. The change in programming isn’t just about feel, it also took a quarter second off the 0-60 time without an increase in power. The Aisin 6-speed transaxle in Volvo’s product-line has always felt soft compared to the ZF 6-speeds that BMW and Audi used, but this software narrows the gap. The improved bundle scoots to 60 in 6.41 seconds, just under 3/10ths slower than a X4 xDrive28i (that review is coming up soon.)

With the V70 to XC70 transition the engineers softened the suspension, but they took a different path with the CC making this one of the firmer almost-crossover vehicles around. The suspension is more forgiving than the V60 R-Design, but significantly stiffer than the larger XC70 or the Audi allroad. This leads to impressive handling when compared to the allroad, XC70 or even the distant Subaru competition. Something along the lines of a BMW X4 or BMW 328i GT will feel more nimble without a doubt, but they are also significantly more expensive.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior

On the surface of things it would seem that the $41,000 V60 Cross Country commands a $4,000 premium over the V60, XC60 or XC70. That sounded logical to me at first, since BMW charges roughly the same to make the X3 less practical create the X4 from the X3. However, when you adjust for the standard AWD, 18-inch wheels, navigation, sport seats, LDS gauges, etc the CC actually ends up being slightly less than a comparable V60 and $1,500 less than the XC70 3.2. (Speaking of the XC70 and the 3.2, Volvo’s big wagon has a confusing engine line-up. Opt for FWD and you get their sweet four-cylinder turbo and new 8-speed auto. Get the middle-trim and you’re saddled with a wheezy naturally aspirated 3.2L engine, but pony up a little extra and you can get the same BMW-fighting twin-scroll turbo 3.0L engine as the V60 R-Design.)

Audi’s allroad is several thousand dollars more than the CC when similarly equipped and is even a slight premium over the XC70 despite being smaller. The rugged Audi handles well, but the Volvo weighs several hundred pounds less and that more than compensates for the less advantageous weight balance in the corners. While the BMW X4 and 3-Series GT may deliver superior handling, they also come with a superior price tag. A comparable X4 xDrive28i will set you back at least $8,000 more.

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior-001

The Audi allroad and the Volvo XC70 are made for rural living with a Euro twist. The soft suspensions soak up poor pavement in the boonies, the AWD systems are sure-footed on dirt roads and you won’t bruise your kidneys if you decide to drive off the beaten path to check on your trendy alpaca herd. The V60 Cross Country has a different mission in mind. Like the X4 and 3-Series GT, this Volvo was made for folks that live down a short gravel road but drive on high-speed winding mountain roads for most of their commute. In other words, my demographic exactly.

Trouble is, as much fun as the Cross Country was to drive, and how perfectly it seemed tailored to my demographic, the XC60 or the XC70 make considerably more sense. Part of that has to do with the V60’s position as a “styling exercise” than a practical cargo hauler. The XC60 gives up less handling ability than you’d think with twice the cargo capacity and the XC70 gives you more thrust, more luxury, and, again: twice the cargo capacity. The 2015.5 V60 Cross Country is one of the best wagons ever sold in America, but I’d buy a XC70 T6 instead.

 

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.5 Seconds

0-60: 6.41 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 22 MPG

 

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