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, 04 Dec 2014 19:13:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Video http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Lexus GS 450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=750313 Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, […]

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2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, and both of us agreed the GS 450h would be the car we’d buy. Despite telling you all that we would have a full review in “a few months,” it has in fact been “a few years.” Since that pair of articles hit, the luxury hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001

The GS used to be the only hybrid game in town, but times have changed and nearly everyone has joined the party. BMW has their turbocharged ActiveHybrid 5, Mercedes just launched the E400 Hybrid, Infiniti has re-badged their M Hybrid the Q70 Hybrid, Acura is finally selling the all-wheel-drive RLX Hybrid and Audi has announced the A6 hybrid will come to America “soon” . This means that the S80 T6 and Genesis are no longer on my list, because we have head-to-head competition now.

Exterior

Lexus used to be known for restrained styling but the current generation GS marked a change for the Japanese luxury brand. In addition to taking on more aggressive front end styling, the GS was the first Lexus to wear the new “spindle” grille. The schnozz that seemed so controversial three years ago seems downright demure today, especially since this form has been adapted to the enormous (and some say questionable) LX 470. Perhaps because the GS was the first to wear the corporate grille, the styling seems slightly awkward from the front 3/4 shot (seen at the top) but looks better in person. Unlike the IS, which gets some sheetmetal swooshes on the side, the GS’s profile and rump are luxury car restrained. Overall I think the Infiniti Q70 hybrid, despite being a little long in the tooth, still wins the beauty contest. The Lexus and BMW are a bit too sedate for my tastes, and the RLX and A6 suffer from decidedly front-wheel-drive proportions when compared to the rest and the Mercedes lands smack in the middle.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior

Interior

The GS’ interior is dominated by a large and tall dashboard with a strong horizontal theme highlighting a large 12.3-inch LCD. The interior arrangement is certainly dramatic, but causes the cabin to have a slightly oppressive feel in the black shades our tester was cast in. While other car makers are moving to stitched leather dashed, Lexus seems content to blend stitched pleather and injection molded parts together. The combination of textures and  “un-lacquered” bamboo (exclusive to the hybrid) make the interior look Scandinavian. The light wood is more attractive in person than pictures might indicate, and while I question the “renewable resource” marketing on a large luxury sedan, like the hybrid drivetrain, I’m sure it will make shoppers feel special.

Base hybrid models get very comfortable 10-way power front seats, but most of the GS 450h sedans I saw on the lot were equipped with 18-way seats. The high-end throne sports the same types of articulation as BMW’s excellent “sport seats” with an articulating back, inflating bolsters, adjustable thigh support, four-way lumbar and  “butterfly” headrests. Needless to say, if you have trouble finding a comfortable seating position, you’re not human. This puts the GS hybrid at a distinct advantage in front comfort over the Mercedes, Audi and Infiniti models. Out back the GS’s rear seats are spacious, comfortable and optionally heated. While the Lexus and Infiniti fail to offer a folding rear seat, the Mercedes E400 hybrid has a generous cargo pass-through behind its optional 60/40 rear thrones.

Infotainment

Wide-screen infotainment systems are all the rage, so Lexus dropped a 12.3-inch LCD in the dash. The system ditches the intuitive touchscreen interface Lexus used for the better part of a decade for the Lexus joystick (it’s officially called Lexus Remote Touch) but importantly doesn’t alter the software to adapt to the input method. I hate it. It occupies a great deal of room on the center console, and it takes far more hand-eye-brain coördination than a touchscreen. Every time I am in a Lexus I find myself glancing at the screen and fiddling with the little control pad far more than when I’m in a competitor’s luxury sedan. This increased distraction hasn’t gone unnoticed by my better half who constantly nags me about keeping my eyes on the road. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion.

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

Perhaps reinforcing that Lexus focuses on the “meat” of the luxury segment and not the one-percent, you won’t find the same level of gee-wizardry in the GS as some of the Euro competitors, even in this top-end hybrid model. You won’t find night vision, a full-leather dashboard, expensive ceramic knobs, massaging front seats, or LCD instrument clusters. Instead, Lexus doubles down on perfect seams, quiet cabins, a high level of standard equipment and quantities of bamboo that would Lumber Liquidators make blush.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001

Drivetrain

While the GS 350 recently got an update in the form of a new Aisin 8-speed automatic, the GS 450h continues with just a minor software update. This means under the hood you will find the same direct-injection 3.5L Atkinson-cycle V6 engine and RWD hybrid transmission that launched in 2011. Combined with a 1.9 kWh NiMH battery pack in the trunk the system is good for 338 combined horsepower, 286 of which come from the gasoline engine. This is essentially the same engine found in the Highlander and RX hybrids, but the transmission is more similar to what Lexus uses in the LS 600hL. The unit combines the two motor/generator units with a 2-speed planetary gearset to improve efficiency at high speeds (as in on the Autobahn) but without the AWD system standard in the LS 600hL. The 2014 software update improves “sportiness” in sport mode and now imitates an 8-speed automatic instead of a 6-speed. While 338 horsepower compares well with the 6-cylinder competition, the GS 450h has the unenviable task of trying to be both the most efficient GS and the performance version as well. For reasons nobody knows, the more efficient GS 300h which uses a 2.5L four-cylinder engine is not sold in America.

By design, the Lexus hybrid system is very different from the competition. The two motor/generator units and the electrical circuitry combine with a single planetary gearsest to “act” as a continuously variable transmission. This setup allows the drivetrain to act as a serial hybrid (kind of), parallel hybrid, electric generator, or a pure EV at low speeds. In contrast Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti combine a traditional transmission with a single electric motor that replaces the torque converter. Transitions between electric and gasoline drive modes in these systems aren’t as smooth as the Lexus system because of the clutch packs involved in reconnecting the engine. Meanwhile Acura combines a dual-clutch robotic manual transmission with a twin-motor pack in the rear for the only AWD hybrid luxury sedan in this category.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002

Pricing

GS 450h pricing starts at  $60,430 which is a considerable jump from the $47,700 GS 350, but in true luxury car fashion, you may be disappointed with what $60,000 buys you. Unlike BMW and Mercedes which offer plenty of ala carte options, the GS hybrid comes in three feature levels.  Base models don’t get navigation or snazzy LED headlamps. If you want those toys plus the 18-way front seats, semi-aniline leather, steering headlamps, heated steering wheel, 3-zone climate control, black and white heads up display, blind spot monitoring and a trunk mat, be prepared to lay down $72,062. A fully loaded $76,726 example gets the buyer heated rear seats, headlamp washers, a “high intensity heater” (an electric heater that will heat the cabin faster in cold weather), a windshield de-icer, water-repellent glass, radar cruise control with pre-collision warning, lane keeping assistant, remote engine starter, glass breakage sensor and a rear spoiler.

76 large may sound like an expensive buy, but the ActiveHybrid 5 takes the cake with a starting price of $61,400 and a fully loaded price of $87,185. Acura has been cagey about RLX hybrid pricing but their presentation at the launch indicated they plan on following Lexus’s pricing structure quite closely. Meanwhile, the Mercedes E400 hybrid delivered an unexpected value proposition with a low $56,700 starting price and when fully equipped with features not available on the GS it manages to still be slightly cheaper at $76,095. The Infiniti hybrid hasn’t changed its value proposition despite the name change and the Q70’s $55,550-$67,605 is the lowest in the group. Audi hasn’t announced A6 hybrid pricing but I expect it to slot in around the E400.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003

Drive

To put things in the right perspective, I have to go back to the GS hybrid’s conflicted mission. Since Lexus decided to kill off the V8 GS sedan in this generation, Lexus doesn’t have a direct answer to the BMW 550i, Mercedes E550, Audi S6, or even the Infiniti Q70 5.6 (formerly known as the M56). This means the GS 450h has a secondary mission as the top-end GS trim while the other hybrids (except for the RLX) are middle-tier options and this puts the GS in an odd bind. Lexus tells us that the reason the GS lacks a V8 is that only 5% of the Germans are shipped with one. While that may be true in Europe, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in California.

The split mission is most obvious when it comes to the performance numbers. Despite having more power than the GS 350, the GS 450h is slower to 60 than its gasoline-only stable mate and considerably slower than the BMW, Infiniti, and even the Acura with the only the Mercedes being slower to highway speed. Still, 0-60 in 6-seconds is hardly slow and the GS performs the task with the silence and serenity you expect from a luxury sedan. Although Lexus describes the transmission as an eCVT, this isn’t a belt/pulley CVT like you find in economy cars. As a result, it feels more civilized and less “rubber-bandy.” I found the CVT manners throughly appropriate for a luxury car and the smooth acceleration befits a brand built on smooth drivetrains. Unlike a “real CVT,” engaging the eight imitation speeds is quick and easy with fast shifts from one “gear” to another. Unfortunately this does little for the GS hybrid’s sport credentials and in no way helps it compete with the V8s from the German competition.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009

Although the GS gives up plenty in the thrust-department, it really shines in the bends. The GS’s chassis is well sorted and nearly perfectly balanced. All GS hybrid models get a standard adaptive suspension system with several levels of damping, but unlike the air suspension in the Lexus LS, the GS’s adaptive suspension is based on electronically controlled struts much like the BMW system. This eliminates the “disconnected” and “floaty” feeling you get with air suspensions found on full-size luxo-barges. When pushed in the corners the GS quite simply feels better than the BMW. Yep. I said it. Today’s 5-series has a more luxurious mission in mind, so the little it gives up to the GS shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Mercedes and Infiniti feel very accurate, although heavy, and the Audi and RLX are a mixed bag. Unless Audi works some unexpected magic, the A6 hybrid will remain decidedly nose-heavy. The Acura RLX, although it has a similar weight distribution problem as the Audi, has a slick torque vectoring AWD system in the back. Not only can the RLX torque vector in power-on situations like a electronically controlled conventional rear axle, but it can torque vector in “neutral” and “power off” situations as well. Although the RLX feels by far the most “artificial” in the group on winding mountain roads, it is one of the better handling sedans and at the moment the only AWD hybrid in this category.

Of course the primary reason for buying a hybrid is to save on gas. Right? Maybe. With a 29 MPG City, 34 MPG Highway and 31 MPG combined rating there’s no doubt that the GS 450h is a fuel sipping 338 horsepower luxury sedan. However at more than $10,000 more expensive than a similarly equipped GS 350 it would take you more than 20 years to “save money.” We did average an excellent 31.5 MPG over 800 miles with the GS hybrid, a notable improvement over the Infiniti hybrid and the short time I spent in the RLX hybrid. Although we haven’t extensively tested the BMW and Mercedes hybrids yet, brief spins in both indicate they will slot in under the GS. There’s one more problem for the GS: Mercedes’ new E250 diesel. No, it’s not a speed daemon, but at 34 mpg combined it not only makes up for the higher cost of diesel with the higher fuel economy, it starts around $9,000 less than a GS 450h as well.

The GS 450h is without a doubt the best Lexus GS sedan available. It gives up little in terms of performance while delivering excellent fuel economy, a quiet and comfortable cabin and most of the gadgets and gizmos a luxury shopper could buy. Trouble is, unless the Lexus dealer is the only game in town, nearly every other alternative in this segment has a list of reasons to buy it over the GS. The RLX has a trendy AWD system despite the discount brand association, the Q70’s brand image isn’t quite as premium but it’s thousands less, the Mercedes takes the sweet spot in the middle known as “value” (how’s that for a surprise?) and the BMW offers the best performance and the biggest list of options if you can afford it. As the top end trim for the GS line the 450h also has troubles coming in just about as expensive as the competition’s V8 offerings but offering no better performance than the GS 350. The biggest problem for the GS however is the price. If the GS 450h was $5,000-$7,000 less expensive,  this would be an easy win. As it is, the GS manages to be the car I liked the most in this segment, but the one I’d be least likely to buy.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.88 Seconds

0-60: 6.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.49 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPH over 800 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 68 dB

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Review: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 4×4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-jeep-cherokee-limited-v6-4x4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-jeep-cherokee-limited-v6-4x4-with-video/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 14:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=739825 The folks at Jeep have known for some time that high volume on-road models have to be part of the mix to keep low volume off-road models viable. From the 1946 Willys Station Wagon and the original Wagoneer, to the Grand Cherokee and the Compass, Jeep has been on a steady march towards the word […]

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2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-002

The folks at Jeep have known for some time that high volume on-road models have to be part of the mix to keep low volume off-road models viable. From the 1946 Willys Station Wagon and the original Wagoneer, to the Grand Cherokee and the Compass, Jeep has been on a steady march towards the word no Wrangler owner wants to hear: “crossover”. Their plan is to replace the off-road capable Liberty and compete with the RAV4, CR-V and 20 other small crossovers with one vehicle: the 2014 Cherokee.

With two ambitious (and contradictory) missions and unconventional looks, the Cherokee has turned into one of the most polarizing cars in recent memory. It is therefore no surprise the Cherokee has been getting mixed reviews. USA Today called it “unstoppable fun” while Consumer Reports called it “half baked” with a “choppy ride and clumsy handling.” Our own Derek Kreindler came away disappointed with its on-road performance at the launch event, though he had praise for the Cherokee’s off-road capabilities. What should we make of the glowing reviews, and the equally loud dissenting voices?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I’ve always said styling is a personal preference and although the Cherokee is far from my cup of tea, I’m glad Chrysler decided to color outside the lines. The “bent” 7-slot grill still strikes me as peculiar, but what made me scratch my head more is the lighting. You’ll find the headlamps in the middle of the bumper cover behind a smoked plastic lens, while the daytime running lamps and turn signals live in a separate module high up on the front, Meanwhile, the fog lamps are nestled at the bottom of the bumper. Out back the Cherokee is far more mainstream with a fairly plain (and very vertical) rear hatch. Overall the looks are certainly striking and unmistakable, I’m just not sure if that’s a good thing.

The Cherokee is “kinda-sorta” based on the Dodge Dart which itself is more-or-less a stretched and widened Alfa Romeo Giulietta. While some Jeep fans call any car-based Jeep heresy, the Cherokee isn’t the first car/SUV hybrid at Jeep and it won’t be the last. The side profile, specifically the front overhang, is where the Cherokee’s dual mission starts to show. A transverse mounted engine creates a long overhang compared to a traditional RWD SUV. This isn’t a problem in the Patriot, which has much lower aspirations, but does pose a problem for “the off-road crowd.” To compensate, the Cherokee rides higher than the competition (7.8 to 8.8 inches) and uses two different bumper designs. Sport, Latitude and Limited trims get a more traditional (if you can call it that) bumper design with a fairly flat front while Trailhawk models pull the bottom of the bumper up to allow a 50% better approach angle and causing a “wedge-like” front profile. Out back similar changes to the rear bumper improve the Trailhawk’s departure angle.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-004

Interior

While the Grand Cherokee continues it’s mission as the “American Range Rover,” anyone looking for the Cherokee to be the “American Evoque” is going to be disappointed. Even so, I found the the interior to be class leading in many ways, with more soft touch plastics than you’ll find in the competition. Chrysler fitted the Grand Cherokee’s chunky steering wheel to the smaller Jeep which gives the cabin a more premium feel. Most Cherokees on dealer lots will have a leather wrapped wheel, but base models get a urethane tiller. The Cherokee retains the optional steering wheel heater from the Grand Cherokee, but ditches the paddle shifters.

The wide front seats are deeply padded, supportive and easily the best in the segment in terms of comfort. Thankfully, the engineers ditched the “dome-shaped” bottom cushion found in other Chrysler products allowing you to sit “in” the seats, not “on” the seats. Most models get a fold-flat front passenger seat improving cargo versatility, but that option is incompatible with the optional “ventilated front seats and multi-way with four-way power lumbar support” package for the front passenger.

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Although not as comfortable as the front, the second row is easily the most comfortable in the segment. Seat cushions are thickly padded, recline, and slide fore/aft to adjust the cargo area dimensions. (Or get a child seat closer.) The Cherokee offers two inches more rear legroom than CR-V, three more than RAV4 and nearly four inches more than Escape. The seat bottom cushions also ride higher off the ground so adults won’t feel like they have their knees in their chest.

Because of the need for off-road-capable departure angles and ground clearance, a compromise had to be made and I found it behind the [optional] power tailgate. The Cherokee suffers from the smallest cargo hold among its target cross-shops by a wide margin at 24.8 cubic feet. The next smallest entry (the CX-5) will hold over 40% more behind the second row (34 cubes) while the Rogue’s generous booty will swallow 40 cubic feet of whatever. Note: The Cherokee’s spec sheet lists cargo capacity at 29.7 cubic feet but that measurement is taken with the 2nd row adjusted all the way forward in its tracks which cuts rear legroom down to well below the competition.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior uConnect 8.4

Infotainment

Depending on trim level, you’ll find two different systems in the dash. Things start out with uConnect 5.0 in the Sport and Latitude. Running on a Microsoft OS (like Ford SYNC), this unit is more sluggish than the UNIX-based 8-inch system but offers many of the same features excluding navigation. While other Chrysler/Fiat models with uConnect 5.0 have the option to add TomTom navigation at a later date, that doesn’t seem to apply here. The touchscreen features full USB/iPod integration, optional XM satellite radio and a Bluetooth speakerphone in addition to acting as the climate control display and seat heater controls. Sound thumps out via 6-standard speakers, and you can pay $200 for an optional CD player if you haven’t joined the 2st century.

Optional on Latitude and standard on Limited/Trailhawk is the 8-inch QNX UNIX based “uConnect 8.4.” The system features polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. All the features you expect from a connected car are standard, from voice commands for USB/iDevice control to smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart or Slacker. You can have text messages read to you, dictate replies and search for restaurants or businesses via Yelp. In addition to the smartphone-tied features, it integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store.” Since there’s a cell modem on-board, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices. Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services from traffic updates to fuel prices. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports.

For an extra $795 you can add Garmin’s navigation software to the system and Chrysler tells us that the nav software can be added after purchase. Our tester had the $395 optional 9-speaker sound system with a subwoofer. Sound quality ranged from average with the standard 6-speaker setup to excellent with the optional speakers. Unfortunately, the up-level speaker package requires you have navigation as well, bringing the price bump to $1190 if you were only after the louder beats.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine-002

Drivetrain

All trims start with Chrysler’s 2.4L “Tigershark” four-cylinder engine delivering 184 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of twist. Optional on all but the Sport is a new 3.2L V6 good for 271 horses and 239 lb-ft. Sadly we won’t get the 2.0L Fiat diesel on our shores, but if you’re lucky enough to be able to burn oil in your country, that engine delivers 170 ponies and 258 lb-ft of twist. Power is sent to the ground via a controversial 9-speed automatic designed by ZF and built by Chrysler. The 9-speed is very similar to the one used in the Range Rover Evoque although few parts are directly interchangeable.

While most crossovers offer a single AWD system Jeep gives you three options. First up we have a traditional slip-and-grip AWD system with a multi-plate clutch pack (Active Drive) that sends power to the rear when required. Jeep combined this with a “rear axle disconnect” feature to improve fuel economy. This is the system you’ll find on most of the Sport, Latitude and Limited Cherokees on dealer lots.

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Available on Latitude and Limited is Active Drive II which adds a segment-exclusive rock crawl ratio. Because of the way transverse transaxles work, this system operates differently than a longitudinal (RWD) system in that there are actually two two-speed transfer cases. Power exits the transmission and enters a “PTU” where power is split front and rear. Up front, power flows from the PTU to a 2-speed planetary gearset and then back into the transmission’s case to the front differential. For the back wheels, power flows from the multi-plate clutch pack and rear axle disconnect clutch inside the PTU to an angle gear unit which rotates power 90-degrees and connects to the prop shaft. The prop shaft connects to another 2-speed planetary gearset and then finally to the rear axle.

Engaging 4-Low causes the PTU to engage the rear axle and engage the primary low ratio gearset.  At the same time, the low ratio gearset in the rear axle unit engages. Vehicle electronics confirm that the system has engaged both units before you can move forward. Should you need the ultimate in off-road ability, the Trailhawk throws in a locking rear differential (this is the third system, called Active Drive Lock), hill ascent/descent control and various stability control programs for off-road terrain. Before you ask “is this a real low-ratio?” 4-Low is 56:1 with the 2.4L engine and 47.8:1 with the 3.2L. That 56:1 ratio is lower than anything Jeep has sold, save the Wrangler Rubicon’s insane 73:1.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-004Modifications

Being the owner of a Jeep with a minor four-inch lift kit installed, after-market options are near and dear. Of course RAV4/CR-V/Escape shoppers aren’t your typical lift-kit demographic, so for many of you, this section isn’t germane. Because of the Cherokee’s design, ride height modifications are not going to be as easy as with solid-axle Jeeps of yore. With longitudinal engine mounting and solid axles, lifting is an easy task up to around four-inches, at which point you may need to start thinking about new driveshafts and possible U-joint replacements. With a design like the Cherokee’s, anything beyond an inch or two can result in serious suspension geometry changes that have a huge impact on handling and tire wear. While it would be possible to design kits with four new half-shafts, springs and suspension bits that would lift and correct the geometry change, I suspect the costs would be prohibitive, so don’t expect much more than a 2-3 inch spring-spacer kit for base models and 1-2 inches for the Trailhawk.

Pricing

Most shoppers will be deciding between the Sport, Latitude and Limited trims starting at $22,295, $24,495 and $27,995 respectively for FWD models. Adding AWD increases the price tag by $2,000 and on Latitude and Limited and you can get the low ratio gearbox with a 1-inch suspension bump for an additional $995. The Sport model comes well equipped compared to the competition with that 5-inch infotainment system, auto-down windows and most creature comforts you expect except for air conditioning. You’ll find A/C in the oddly named $795 “cold weather group” which also includes heated mirrors, a leather steering wheel, remote start, heated front seats and a windshield wiper de-icer. At the base level the Sport is roughly the same price as the Toyota and Honda but adding the $795 package pushes the price comparison in the Jeep’s favor by more than $1,000.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-008

Latitude adds a standard 115V outlet, leather wrapped steering wheel, auto up/down windows, fold flat front seat, ambient lighting, A/C, steering wheel audio controls and fog lamps in addition to allowing access to the more robust AWD system, V6 engine and navigation. Limited tosses in power front seats, the 7-inch LCD instrument cluster (seen above), an auto dimming mirror, heated steering wheel, soft touch plastics on the doors, automatic headlamps, one year of XM radio, turn signals on the side mirrors and the ability to option your Cherokee up to $40,890 by adding self-parking, cooled seats, HID headlamps and more options than I care to list.

Then there is the Trailhawk. As the only CUV with a 2-speed transfer case, locking differential, tow hooks, off-road oriented software programming and all-terrain rubber, this Cherokee is in a class by itself. It’s also priced in a class by itself. Starting at $29,495 and ending at $40,890, the Trailhawk has a similar MSRP spread as the Limited but it trades the optional luxury items for off-road hardware.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-014

Drive

Chrysler decided to make the Cherokee the first recipient of their new technology onslaught. If you’re willing to pay, you can option your Jeep up with a full-speed range radar cruise control, collision warning and collision prevention with automatic braking, cooled seats, lane departure warning and prevention and rear cross path collision detection. The Cherokee is also Chrysler’s first self-parking car, and like the new Mercedes S-Class, the Jeep will back itself into perpendicular spots in addition to parallel parking. The tech worked well and is as easy to use as Ford’s system, although I’m not sure I want to live in a world where folks can’t perpendicular park. (You know, in regular old parking spaces.) If you opt for the ultrasonic parking sensors, the Cherokee will also apply the brakes before you back into that shopping cart you didn’t see.

Most reviewers are so caught up in the way the 9-speed automatic shifts. The truth is, hybrids, dual clutch transmissions, robotized manuals, CVTs and automatics with new technologies are only going to become more common and it’s time we in the auto press adjusted. If you want to know more about why the 9-speed does what it does, check our our deep dive on dog clutches. All I’m going to say here is that I got used to the way the transmission shifts and it never really bothered me.

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At 4,100lbs the Cherokee is 600lbs heavier than a comparable RAV4 or CX-5. The extra weight is caused by the structural reinforcements required for off roading. Unfortunately it causes some on-road compromises. Acceleration with the 2.4L engine is adequate but sluggish compared to the lighter competition. The V6 on the other hand hits 60 MPH in 6.5 seconds which ties with the 2.0L Ecoboost Escape as the fastest in the class. Regardless of the engine you choose, the Cherokee has one of the quietest cabins in the segment thanks to extensive sound deadening. All the foam comes in handy on 2.4L models as the small engine spends more time in lower gears thanks to the Cherokee’s heft.

Once on the highway the 9-speed automatic helped the porky crossover average a respectable 23.7 MPG, just 1.3 MPG behind the much slower RAV4. The economy is all down to the rear axle disconnect feature and the 9-speed transmission. By completely disconnecting the rear axle via a clutch, parasitic losses drop to nearly zero when compared to other small crossovers. The downside to this is that when the system is in “Auto” power is sent 100% to the front axle until there is slip at which point the Cherokee must re-connect the rear axle then engage a secondary multi-plate clutch to move power. This system allows greater economy but is much slower to react and adds some weight to the mix. To compensate, the Cherokee allows you to fully lock the center coupling and engage the rear axle at any speed by engaging various drive modes. Thanks to an extremely tall 9th gear, the V6 spins at a lazy 1,500 RPM at 82 MPH allowing a reported 25 MPG on level ground.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Wheel

The heavy and substantial feel on winding roads and reminded me more of the Grand Cherokee than your average CUV. Soft springs and well-tuned dampers delivered a supple ride on a variety of surfaces and the Cherokee never felt unsettled. However, those same suspension choices allow plenty of body roll in the corners, tip when accelerating and dive when braking. As with most entries, the Cherokee uses electric power steering so there is precious little feel behind the wheel. When pushed near its limits, the Cherokee delivers reasonable grip thanks to wide tires and a 57/43 (F/R) weight balance which is essentially the same as the CX-5. If this sounds like the on-road description of a body-on-frame SUV from 10 years ago, you’re not far off base. But is that a bad thing? Not in my book. Why? It’s all about the other half of the Cherokee’s mission.

With more ground clearance, a rated water fording depth of 20 inches, 4,500lbs of towing capacity and a more robust AWD system, the Cherokee can follow the Grand Cherokee down any trail without fear. Of course both Jeeps should be careful not to follow a Wrangler, as neither is as off-road capable as they used to be, but the gist is that both are far more capable than the average crossover. Jeep’s traction and stability control systems are different than what you find in the on-road oriented competition in that the software’s objective is to move power from wheel to wheel rather than just limit wheel spin. Competitive systems reduce engine power first, then selectively brake wheels. The Jeep system in “Mud” mode is more interested with keeping the wheels all spinning the same than curbing engine power. The Cherokee also allows the center coupling to be locked at higher speeds than the competition, offering a 20-inch rated water fording depth, 7.9 to 8.8 inches of ground clearance and available skid plates. While the Cherokee will never be as much fun off-road as a 4Runner, Wrangler, or other serious off-road options, you can have a hoot and a half at the off-road park in stock Trailhawk trim.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-015

If a crossover is supposed to be a cross between a family sedan and an SUV, the Cherokee is the truest small crossover you can buy. Trouble is, most shoppers are really just looking for the modern station wagon: something with a big cargo hold and car-like manners. In this area the Cherokee comes up short. It’s big and heavy and it drives like it’s big and heavy. But it’s not without its charms, the Cherokee is the only compact crossover capable of the school run and the Rubicon trail. It’s also the quietest and most comfortable crossover going, even if it is short on trunk space. If you’re willing to pay, it’s also the one loaded with the most gadgets, goodies and luxury amenities.

Is the Cherokee half-baked like Consumer Reports said? Perhaps. The Cherokee’s off-roading mission results in limited cargo space and vague handling while the on-road mission demanded a FWD chassis with high fuel economy. But it faithfully manages to give 99% of Liberty shoppers and 80% of RAV4 shoppers a viable alternative. Is that half-baked or a successful compromise? If you’re after a soft-roader to get you from point A to point B with stellar fuel economy, great handling and a massive cargo area, there are better options than the Cherokee. If however you “need” a crossover but “want” a go-anywhere SUVlet, this is your only option.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.15 Seconds

0-60: 6.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.75 Seconds

Average observed fuel economy: 23.7 MPG over 453 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 67 dB

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine-001 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 3.2L V6 Engine-002 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-001 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-002 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-003 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-004 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-005 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-006 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-007 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-008 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-009 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Interior-010 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-001 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-002 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-003 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-004 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-005 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-006 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-007 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-008 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-009 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-010 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-011 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-012 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-013 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-014 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-015 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited Wheel IMG_1373 IMG_1374 IMG_1376

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Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 14:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=707986 Now and then you run into a car that just “fits”. It’s like finding a perfect shoe, or a comfy smoking jacket. Until now I have been keeping my secret love on the down-low for several reasons. First off, I’ve always thought having a “favorite car” tends to color one’s judgment when comparing cars, so […]

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2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001

Now and then you run into a car that just “fits”. It’s like finding a perfect shoe, or a comfy smoking jacket. Until now I have been keeping my secret love on the down-low for several reasons. First off, I’ve always thought having a “favorite car” tends to color one’s judgment when comparing cars, so I try to avoid such statements. Secondly, my dalliance with my automotive flame was fleeting. As most of us know, one-night-stands rarely hold up to the scrutiny of a long-term relationship. And lastly, coming out as a hybrid-lover has been difficult. When folks ask me “what was the best car you drove in 2013?” and my answer is “the 2014 Accord Hybrid,” they stare at me like I have three eyeballs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The Accord is the mid-size sedan least likely to offend. While some call the tall greenhouse and upright proportions boring, I found them to be elegant and restrained. Indeed the Accord’s side profile reminds me a great deal of former Lexus products, a similarity that was shared by passengers during the week. Several passers by even confused the Accord with a Lexus ES. This is good news for Honda but bad news for Lexus.

Up front the Accord Hybrid wears blue-tinted versions of the regular Accord’s grille and headlamps instead of the Plug-In Accord’s enormous maw. Our Limited trim model was equipped with LED headlamps but lesser trims have to get by with halogen bulbs. Out back the restrained styling continues with hidden exhaust tips, clean lines and plenty of LEDs in the tail lamps. While there are plenty of mid-size sedans out there, the hybrid market is limited to the Accord, Camry, Fusion, Optima and Sonata. In that lineup, I find the Fusion the best looking with the Accord in a solid second place and the refreshed Optima taking third.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002

Interior

Like the gas-only Accord, the hybrid sports a double-bump style dashboard. The first “bump” houses the same tweaked instrument cluster as the Accord plug-in with a large analog speedometer, no tachometer, LED gauges for battery/fuel and a power meter. Inside the speedo is a circular full-color LCD used for the trip computer, secondary nav instructions (if so equipped) and other vehicle information. Housed in the second “bump” is a standard 8-inch infotainment display.

Front seat comfort has long been a Honda strong suit and the Accord is no different with thickly padded and ergonomically designed thrones. The seats are lightly (and widely) bolstered so larger drivers and passengers shouldn’t have a problem finding a comfortable seating position. Because the EX trim of the gas Accord serves as the “feature donor car” for the Hybrid, all models get adjustable lumbar support, 10-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, standard Bluetooth, a backup camera, keyless entry/go and active noise cancellation.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster-001

Thanks to the tall green house and complete lack of “four-door-coupé” styling cues, the Accord’s rear seats are the best in the segment. On paper there’s nothing extraordinary about the rear cabin dimension. The truth is in the sitting. The Accord’s rear seats are more comfortable than a Camry and roomier than an Optima or Sonata. The seat back angle is also the most upright of the bunch allowing easier entry and exit when compared to the reclined Fusion. That reclined rear seat is how the Fusion manages to match the Accord when it comes to inches of head room, but the Accord’s rear compartment is far more accommodating.

As with most hybrids, there’s a trunk penalty to be paid. Thanks to energy dense Lithium-ion cells, the Accord only drops 3 cubic feet to 12.7 cubic feet, and I had no problem jamming six 24-inch roller bags in the trunk. The Li-ion cells mean the gas-only Accord’s smallish trunk translates in to a roomy storage area compared to the other hybrids. Sadly everyone else has managed to preserve some sort of cargo pass-through to the trunk while Honda decided to kill it. Honda wouldn’t say what the reason was, but judging by the battery position there was still room for a cargo slot capable of handling a surf board. Call that an opportunity lost.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-002

Infotainment

Base models use physical buttons to control the standard 8-inch LCD in the dash, while up-level Accords get the two-screen layout you see above. Bluetooth, SMS voice messaging, Pandora smartphone integration and USB/iDevice control are all standard on base models as is a 6-speaker, 160-watt sound system. The 8-inch LCD handles all infotainment interactions in this base system from playlist browsing to phone dialing. Honda integrates their active noise cancellation technology into the head unit, so keep that in mind if you plan to swap into an after-market unit.

I suspect that most shoppers will opt for the mid-level “EX-L” which adds a subwoofer, 360 watt amp, and a 6-inch touchscreen for audio system controls. For reasons I don’t understand, the touchscreen is surrounded by “sparkly” plastic that looks like someone tossed in some glitter in the last moments of the plastics process. In an otherwise expertly executed cabin this “easter egg” seems out-of-place. This dual-screen setup struck me as half-baked when I first sampled it, and although I think it could still use a few minutes in the oven, I have warmed up to it. Voice commands are easy to use, the system’s layout is intuitive and responsiveness to commands is excellent. However, I still don’t understand why you use the touchscreen for changing tracks and sources, but you have to use the knob and upper screen for changing playlists. I also think it’s a pity that navigation isn’t sold as a stand alone option as you have to pony up $34,905 for the Touring trim to get it.

Front Wheel Drive Biased

Drivetrain

In many ways the Accord Hybrid shares more design themes with the Fisker Karma than a Toyota Prius. Up till now, mainstream hybrids used one of two systems, either an electro/mechanical power split device designed around a planetary gearset like the Ford, Toyota and GM Voltec hybrids, or they sandwich an electric motor between the engine and transmission (Honda, Kia/Hyundai, Mercedes, VW and everyone else). Honda went back to the drawing board and designed a true serial hybrid – as long as you stay under 44 mph. Things start out on the drawing above with a 2.0L, 141 horsepower engine mated directly to a motor/generator that is capable of generating approximately 141 horsepower (Honda won’t release details on certain drivetrain internals so that’s an educated guess). Honda says this is the most thermodynamically efficient four-cylinder engine in production, a title I have no reason to doubt. Next we have a 166 horsepower, 226 lb-ft motor connected to the front wheels via a fixed gear ratio. Under 44 miles per hour, this is all you need to know about the system. The 166 horsepower motor powers the car alone, drawing power from either a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or the engine via the generator and the power control circuitry. Over 44 miles per hour, the system chooses one of two modes depending on which is most efficient at the time. The system can engage a clutch pack to directly connect the motor and generator units together allowing engine power to flow directly to the wheels via that fixed gear ratio, or it can keep operating in serial mode.

When the Accord Hybrid engages the clutch to allow the engine to power the wheels directly (mechanically), power is flowing via a single fixed ratio gear set. The fixed gear ratio is somewhere around a typical 6th gear in terms of gear ratio. This improves efficiency at highway speeds because there is always some loss in power conversion from the generator to the motor. The single ratio is the reason the system must use in serial hybrid mode below 44 mph. There is another side effect at play here as well: below 44 MPH, the system’s maximum power output is 166 horsepower and rises to 196 when the clutch is engaged.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005

Pricing

Starting at $29,155, the Accord Hybrid is nearly $4,000 more than the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. However, the Accord delivers a high level of standard equipment dropping the real margin to around $1,900. Instead of stand alone options, Honda offers just three trim levels. The next step is the $31,905 EX-L model which adds leather seats, a leather steering wheel, upgraded audio system with two LCD screens, memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, moonroof, a camera based collision warning system and lane departure warning. While the base model fares poorly in direct cross-shops, the EX-L is a decent value, coming in essentially the same price as a comparably equipped Sonata, Fusion or Optima.

Work your way up to the top-of-the-line $34,905 Touring and you get full LED headlamps, navigation, XM Radio, an adaptive cruise control system and a snazzier backup cam. Although that’s more than a top trim Camry ($32,015), Sonata ($32,395) or Optima ($31,950), the Honda packs more features and when you adjust for the features missing in the competition the difference drops to a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile the Fusion wins the award for the most expensive in this segment at $37,200 with only a few features not found on the Accord.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-004

Drive

The Accord Hybrid’s impressive 50/45/47 MPG EPA rating (City/Highway/Combined) is even more impressive when you look at some of Honda’s design choices. First off all hybrid trims get tires one size wider (225/50R17 vs 215/55R17) than the gas-only Accord to compensate for the 230 lb weight increase. Secondly Honda chose to trickle-down Acura’s two-mode damper technology into the Accord. These two choices define how the car feels out on the road with the Accord barely nudging the Fusion out of first place when it comes to overall on-road performance. The Fusion Hybrid Titanium provides better overall grip, but the Accord has better poise and the two-mode dampers operate as advertised yielding to highway imperfections but maintaining a crisp feel on winding back roads. The take away from this is that the hybrid version of the Accord provides the best balance of grip and poise in the Accord lineup while all other manufacturers make you pay a handling penalty (albeit slight in the Ford) for the improved mileage numbers. Meanwhile the Sonata, Optima and Camry designers swapped in 205 width tires for reduced rolling resistance resulting in those hybrid models handling more like value-priced base entries.

After driving Ford’s latest hybrids, I was skeptical of Honda’s fuel economy claims. The last 47MPG Ford we tested ran between 39.5 and 41 MPG over 560 gingerly-driven miles. Keeping in mind that my commute is hilly and highway heavy I had expected the Accord’s numbers to suffer in relation as the Accord’s highway figure is 2 MPG lower than the Ford. I was wrong. I actually averaged better economy during my week with the Accord than I did at the launch event set in the Texas flat-lands (47.8 vs 45.9.) I attribute some of the difference to final tweaking of the software by Honda and some of the difference to California’s milder climate. The numbers struck me as so good I spent three days driving, filling, driving, filling only to discover the fuel economy was spot on. It is at this point I am surprised that Honda chose not to offer some sort of “eco” trim with skinny low rolling resistance tires, grille shutters and a weight loss regime for more even impressive numbers.

Honda’s new hybrid system switches between modes more smoothly than the Sonata and Optima and on-par with the Toyota and Ford systems. The smooth transitions are a good thing since the Accord spends far more time switching between EV and gasoline operating modes on level highways between 55 and 65 MPH. The system will charge the battery up, turn off the engine and run EV until the battery drops to a point that it needs to be recharged. This is different from the others that generally run engine only once you’re on the highway. Honda swiped the Accord’s brake design from their hydrogen Clarity sedan and it is easily the best I have ever driven. Stops are linear without the “grabby” feel you get in Toyota hybrid models if you transition rapidly from mild to moderate braking. Downhill driving in the Accord is also a vast improvement. Most hybrids transition to engine or 100% friction braking when the battery is full but Honda has a trick up their sleeve. Because of the Accord’s design Honda is able to continue using the traction motor to provide braking assistance. Once the battery is full, the software shuttles this energy over to the generator unit and consumes it by spinning the engine. This results in the most consistent braking feel of any hybrid so far.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-010

The Accord Hybrid drives like an EV below 44 MPH, much like a charged Chevy Volt and in sharp contrast to the Ford and Toyota hybrids. This is of course because the Accord’s electric motor is the only thing that can motivate the car below this speed. Because of the nature of this drivetrain, there there is definite non-linear relationship between the engine and the wheels. Press the throttle down and the engine catches up in a while, climb a hill and the engine will vary between a wail and a dull roar. While I’m sure that will bother some folks, I don’t mind the noises cars with CVTs make and this Accord is no different. Likely due to come software tweaks since I first drove it, 0-60 times dropped a few tenths to 7.0 seconds flat putting the Accord near the top of the pack in acceleration.

The Touring model Honda lent me featured all of Honda’s latest safety gadgets from the Lane Watch system that displays your right-side blind spot on the car’s 8-inch LCD. I honestly found Lane Watch to be a little gimmicky, even after having experienced it several times before. In a car with limited visibility it might be more useful, but the Accord’s large greenhouse and low beltline give it the best visibility in the segment. Touring trim also gets you a full speed-range radar adaptive cruise control with pre-collision warning. Honda’s radar cruise control isn’t the worst on the market but neither is it the best. The system brakes sharply, reacts slowly to traffic speeding up ahead of you and when you set a speed the car dips 5-6 MPH before accelerating back up to the speed you were driving when you hit the button.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-008

With all the numbers tallied the Accord Hybrid is an easy winner. It is more expensive than the competition but that delta shrinks when you account for feature content. The delta becomes immaterial however when you look at our average fuel economy numbers of 47.8 MPG in the Accord and 30 to mid-30s in all of the competition (including that 47 MPG Fusion.) Honda’s hybrid has the best road manners in the pack, the most composed ride, a comfy back seat and a quiet cabin. On my tally list, the Accord’s driving dynamics, fuel economy, performance and comfort more than outweigh my complaints about the cruise control and dual-screen infotainment system.

Being on the down-low, my former last word on the Accord was “The Accord may not be the best looking hybrid on sale, (for me that’s still the Ford Fusion) but the Accord’s simple lines and unexpectedly high fuel economy make the Honda a solid option. Being the gadget hound I am, I think I would still buy the Fusion, but only in the more expensive Titanium trim. If you’re not looking that high up the food chain, the Accord Hybrid is quite simply the best fuel sipping mid-size anything. Prius included.” But now I’ve decided it’s time to come clean. I’d take the Hybrid Accord period. No exceptions, no hair splitting.

 

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.0 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 47.8 MPG over 835 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Drivetrain 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Drivetrain-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-004 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-008 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-009 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-010 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-011 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-012 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-013 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-004 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-008

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Review: 2014 Nissan Versa Note (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-nissan-versa-note-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-nissan-versa-note-with-video/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 14:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=728514 Making a “cheap” car is a tried and true formula for most auto makers. Making a car with a low sticker and a solid value proposition is tough. Not only do you have to keep the starting price low, but you have to worry about fuel economy, maintenance, insurance and everything that goes into an […]

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2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior

Making a “cheap” car is a tried and true formula for most auto makers. Making a car with a low sticker and a solid value proposition is tough. Not only do you have to keep the starting price low, but you have to worry about fuel economy, maintenance, insurance and everything that goes into an ownership experience. Reviewing cars that focus heavily on value is even trickier. Indeed a number of buff-book journalists were offended by the Versa Sedan’s plastics, lack of features and small engine. My response was simple: what do you expect of the cheapest car in America? Trouble is, the Versa Note isn’t the cheapest hatchback in America, so this review is about that elusive quality: value.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Let’s be frank, the last Versa hatchback to grace our shores was strange looking. This is because Nissan sent us the Japanese market “Tiida” hatchback, while Europeans got the related, but more attractive, Nissan Note. 2014 brings a change, with Nissan aligning America with the redesigned Note from Europe. Meanwhile China and other countries get a redesigned Tiida. (Check out the picture below.) Nissan decided that there was value in the Versa brand so the final product was dubbed the “Versa Note.”

2014 Nissan Tiida Hatchback, Picture Courtesy of NissanI must admit that the product shuffle strikes me as a mixed bag. While the outgoing Versa hatch was undeniably dowdy, I find the new Tiida (above) downright sexy for a small car. The Versa Note? “Note” so much. Nissan tells us the Note is all about practicality, and the math is simple: the squarer the hatch, the more stuff you can jam inside. Thankfully Nissan included a few swoopy door stampings to prevent any 1980s flashbacks, but the resulting design obviously prioritized function over form. At 66 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the Note looks doesn’t just look square from the side, but from the front and rear as well. Proportions like these are hard to avoid with a small hatchback but the Versa’s horizontal grille helps detract from it in a way that the Spark’s tall grille amplifies the effect. When it comes to looks, the Rio and the Fiesta win the beauty pageant.

While the Versa continues to hold the title of “least expensive car in America”, the Chevrolet Spark ($12,995), Smart ($13,240) and Mitsubishi Mirage ($13,790) and Kia Rio 5-door ($13,800)  all ring in below the Note’s $13,990 starting price. For those of you counting, that’s a whopping $2,000 (or 17%)  bump over the Versa sedan. I’m going to cross the Smart car off the list  because it’s a two-seat hatch, and we can call the Mirage and Rio near ties in starting price, but the Spark is a decent $1,000 discount. Since this review is all about value at the bottom of the automotive food chain, I’m not going to cover the more expensive options in this segment.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-001

Interior

Despite the price bump from the Versa Sedan, the Note’s interior is nearly identical. The same hard plastic dashboard, thin headliner and minimalist controls are all cast in the same shade of black. The only notable changes versus the sedan are a steering wheel lifted from the Sentra, and standard folding rear seats. Jumping up to the $15,990 SV trim buys you nicer seat and headliner fabric, but the rest of the interior remains the same. The discount interior is something that doesn’t bother me in the Versa sedan, but the Note is two-grand more. At this price the Rio is made from nicer materials for slightly less and the Fiesta’s classier cabin is a scant $110 more. Materials tie with the Chevy Spark which is great for the Chevy but not so good for the Nissan. Meanwhile the Mitsubishi looks dated both inside and out with the most discount cabin I have seen in a long time.

Base shoppers will find standard air conditioning, 60/40 folding rear seats and sun-visors that extend, but notably missing from the starting price are power windows, power door locks, vanity mirrors and rear cup holders. This is where I say: “what did you expect?” After all, the Spark and Rio don’t offer all the goodies in their base models either. Here comes that pesky “value” proposition again however: the Spark is cheaper so the lower level of equipment seems more appropriate. If that’s not enough of a value proposition, consider this, for $50 less than a base Versa you can get a Spark with all those missing features plus cruise control.

Nissan tells us the bulk of Note volume is the $15,990 SV model which adds a “2-speed CVT,” cruise control, armrest for the driver, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and some Bluetooth love. Trouble is, that Spark gives you all that and a 7-inch touchscreen nav system for less. $995 less to be exact.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-007

Front seat comfort proved good around town, but I found the lack of lumbar support a problem on longer trips. Cushioning is firm but comfortable and the range of motion in the 6-way manual seats is average for this segment. Sadly Nissan doesn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel in the Note like many of the competitors do. I didn’t notice this problem with the Versa sedan, but the Note I had for a week suffered from a footwell that barely fit my size 11 shoes. If you have bigger feet you may have difficulty wedging your footwear in.

The big selling point for this sub-compact is, oddly enough, the back seat. Although sitting three abreast in the rear is a cozy affair due to the car’s width, rear leg room is simply amazing. You’ll find 7 inches more rear legroom than the Rio making it possible, and relatively comfortable, for a quartet of six-foot-five guys on a road trip. No other hatch even comes close to the Note’s rear seat numbers which are just 1/10th lower than a Jaguar XJ. Because the Spark is the narrowest of the group by several inches, it only has two seats in the rear. The Mirage claims to seat five, but if the Note is “cozy,” the narrower Mitsubishi is downright cramped. Thanks to the tall body, the Versa also delivers more headroom than the competition without the rear seats riding on the ground. Cargo volume grows 30% from the Versa sedan to 21 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 38 with the rear seats folded.

2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -002

Infotainment

Base shoppers get a simple head unit with a CD-player, aux input and four speakers. Here again the Spark beats Nissan to the value game. The base Spark is just as basic, but for the same price as a base Note, Chevy sells you a 7-inch touchscreen, USB integration, 6 speakers, XM Satellite radio, smartphone integration with smartphone-based navigation and OnStar. Getting to this level of technology in the Note will set you back $18,140 and Nissan doesn’t have an OnStar alternative for the Note at any price.

The Note that Nissan lent me for a week was the fully-loaded SL model. This meant I had the NissanConnect system you see above along with an all-around camera system. This low-cost system, also found on Sentra and NV200, is one of my favorite systems on the market. The interface is simple, easy to navigate and intuitive. The latest software builds on their old “low-cost navigation” unit by adding streaming media, smartphone and Google data services. The touchscreen also integrates with the Note’s available around view camera which gives you a bird’s-eye view while parking. Although I found the low-res images lacked in detail, it did help keep the Note scratch-free in tricky parking situations. Now for the fly in the ointment. Nissan puts this head unit in an $800 bundle with the fancy camera system and requires that you also have the $540 package that includes rear seat cup holders and a two-stage load floor in the back. The total cost is $1,340 or a nearly 10% bump in MSRP.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L

Drivetrain

Like the sedan, the Note gets a 1.6L four-cylinder engine featuring variable valve timing and twin injectors per cylinder to deliver 109HP at 6,000 RPM and 107 lb-ft of twist at 4,400 RPM. This is a reduction of 13 horses compared to the 1.8L engine in the old Versa hatch which seems like a valid trade for improved efficiency. Base S models get a 5-speed manual, but if you want to make the most of the small engine, you’ll want Nissan’s CVT with a twist. The Versa CVT uses a two-speed planetary gearset after the CVT belt/cone unit. This extends the ratio spread to that of a conventional 7-speed auto. When starting out, the CVT is at its lowest ratio and the planetary is in “low.” Once the CVT reaches a high ratio, the planetary gearset switches to high allowing the CVT to reset to a lower ratio as you continue to accelerate. This improves low-end grunt, top-end fuel economy and allows the CVT to “downshift” faster than a traditional CVT by shifting the planetary gearset to “low” rather than adjusting the belt. Meanwhile the Spark and Mirage use a conventional “single range” CVT. (GM swapped out the old 4-speed for 2014.)

Thanks to a curb weight that is only 25 lbs heavier than the sedan (300lbs lighter than the 2012 hatch) and active grille shutters, fuel economy has jumped to a lofty 31/40/35 MPG  (city/highway/combined) with the CVT and a less spectacular 27/36 with the manual. While 109 horsepower sounds less than exciting, consider that the Spark’s 1.2L engine delivers just 84 and the Mirage’s rough 3-cylinder is down another 10 ponies.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-006

Drive

Thanks to a relatively long 102-inch wheelbase, the Note rides more like a mid-size sedan than the Spark or the Mirage. The difference is most notable out on the open highway where the Spark and Mirage “bob around” on washboard pavement. I wouldn’t describe the Note as “refined” in the general sense, but compared to the lower cost entries the Note holds its own. Even when compared with the Kia Rio and the Chevy Sonic, the Versa has a well-engineered feel out on the road. This is where I have to repeat: “keep your expectations priced at $13,990.”

Nissan decided to fit low rolling resistance tires to the Note which help bump fuel economy to a 35 MPG combined score. While the Note manages to out handle the Mirage, the Rio, Fiesta and Sonic whip the Note’s bottom on winding mountain roads. The Spark strikes a middle ground between the Rio and the Note. The electric power steering is accurate but numb. Acceleration is lazy but thanks to the deeper ratios in Nissan’s CVT it easily beats the Spark or the Mirage to highway speeds. Nissan spent considerable time injecting more sound insulating foam in every nook and cranny making this the quietest Versa ever at 70dB.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-008

The Note managed a surprising 38.8 MPG during my 761 mile week with the “wee hatch,” as my neighbor called it. The high mileage numbers are largely thanks to the light curb weight, low rolling resistance tires and Nissan’s CVT which allows the Note’s tiny engine to barely spin at highway speeds. Although the Spark has the same EPA rating, I averaged 2 MPG less the last time I was in one. TTAC has yet to test a Mirage, so I’ll have to defer to the EPA’s 40 MPG average.

Being the cheap guy that I am, the more I cross-shopped the Note and the Spark, the less “value” I found in the little Nissan. The Note isn’t without its charms. The huge back seat and enormous cargo hold make it by far the most practical small hatch in America, the problem is all down to value. If you want sporty or luxury, buy the Fiesta but the best value in this compact segment is the Spark. It’s low $12,170 price tag rivals Nissan’s Versa sedan for the least expensive car but the $14,765 “1LT” with the manual is where the value is to be had. Priced several grand less than a comparable Note, the Spark beats Nissan at their own game. Minus one seat.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.39 Seconds

0-60: 9.13 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.08 Seconds @ 81.4 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 38.8 MPG over 761 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 70 dB

2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L 2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-006 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Instrument Cluster 2014 Nissan Versa Note Instrument Cluster-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-006 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-009 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -001 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -002

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First Drive Review: 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/first-drive-review-2015-volvo-v60-t5-sport-wagon-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/first-drive-review-2015-volvo-v60-t5-sport-wagon-with-video/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 14:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=725274 There was a time when wagons roamed the interstates, ferrying families from one National Lampoon vacation to another. With the rise of the crossover, those looking for the original “looks practical but handles like a sedan” mode of transport have few options, and most of them live in the luxury segment. Let’s count them before […]

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2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior

There was a time when wagons roamed the interstates, ferrying families from one National Lampoon vacation to another. With the rise of the crossover, those looking for the original “looks practical but handles like a sedan” mode of transport have few options, and most of them live in the luxury segment. Let’s count them before we go too far. We have the soon-to-be-cancelled Acura TSX, the last-generation Cadillac CTS , the Volkswagen Jetta, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 3-Series and the Toyota Prius V. Even if you expand things to include “off-road wagons”the list only grows by three (Audi Allroad, Subaru Outback and Volvo XC70.) Despite the shrinking market, Volvo’s brand has long been associated with practical wagons. It’s almost hard to believe it has been three full years since Volvo sold one in America. That’s about to change with the 2015 V60.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Back in 2010 Volvo was selling two wagons in America. The V50 was based on the compact S40 sedan and the V70 shared its underpinings with Volvo’s 5-series competitor the S80. Although the V70 is still sold in Europe and the V40 (the replacement for the V50) splashed down in 2013, Americans will have to settle for Volvo’s middle child, the V60 wagon. Based on Volvo’s S60 sedan, the V60 competes internationally with wagon variants of the 3-Series, C-Class, Audi A4 and many others. But this is America and Volvo’s only direct competitor is the BWM 328i xDrive wagon. More on that later.

Despite ditching the boxy form years ago, Volvo’s style remains the automotive Birkenstock to BMW’s Prada. The entire Volvo lineup in America (except for the XC90) received a 2014 face lift with a more aggressive grille and more creases in the hood. Volvo has finally tucked their radar cruise control module behind a plastic panel that blends into the grille rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. Out back we get bumper cover integrated exhausts, a large black surround on the rear glass that made me wish it was separately hinged, and a continuation of those oh-so-sexy Swedish hips. Volvo’s engineers kept the V60’s roofline fairly high at the rear, but even the Swedes have given in to modern “coupé” styling cues, most notably in the greenhouse shape. The raked rear glass looks sexier, but takes a toll on cargo space.

2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-003

Interior

Birkenstocks are comfy. Prada? Hit and miss. (Or so I’m told.) And so it is with Volvo and BMW interiors. The S60 on which the V60 is based is now 5 years old.  Aside from massaging color and trim options, the only substantive changes to the interior since it was launched is Volvo’s LCD disco dash, a new steering wheel with shift paddles (optional) and a new gear shift knob. Despite its age, the Scandinavian chic cabin has what it takes to complete with BMW, especially now that the 3-Series has gone slightly down-market with more hard plastics in this generation. My only major gripe is the small 7-inch infotainment display that is clearly outclassed by BMW’s ginormous iDrive screen.

Despite lacking the range of motion that the competition affords, Volvo’s thrones continue to be the segment’s ergonomic benchmark. Volvo equips all V60 models headed to America with aggressively bolstered front seats and even more bolstering is available in a sport package.  If you’re a larger driver, you will find the sport seats confining and may even have issue with the standard seats as the bolstering seems to be designed for slim to average builds. Rear passengers are in for a mixed bag with less rear leg room than Acura’s TSX and quite a bit less than BMW’s 3-Series. Checking the numbers, the 2015 V60 actually slots in behind my old V70R, which wasn’t exactly spacious in the rear.

Wagons have long been about practicality and cargo capacity. The V60 scores points on the practicality front with a fold-flat front passenger seat and a standard 40/20/40 folding rear seat back. Volvo also tosses in a plethora of shopping bag holders, a built in cargo divider and additional cargo capacity below the load floor. Unfortunately the sexy profile cuts storage behind the rear seats to 43.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The pursuit of fuel economy has meant the loss of a spare tire which may be a tough pill for road trippers to swallow. Volvo says buyers can option up some form of spare tire but details were sketchy.

2015 Drive-E Engine, 2.0L Engine, Picture Courtesy of Volvo

Drivetrain

The V60 lands at the same time as Volvo’s new engine family. If you want to know more about Volvo’s four cylinder future, check out our deep dive from a few days ago. Volvo’s engine lineup is getting a bit confusing as they transition to their new engine family resulting in two totally different “T5″ models. Front wheel drive T5 models use a new four-cylinder direct-injection engine good for 240 HP and 258 lb-ft while T5 AWD models get the venerable 2.5L 5-cylinder engine making 250 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. This is the point where most companies would stop. Indeed, BMW is only offering the 3-Series with a 241 horsepower 2.0L turbo gas engine and a 180 horsepower diesel I4 in America. The TSX isn’t long for this world but is only available with the familiar 2.4L 4-cylider engine.

In an unexpected twist, Volvo confirmed that there  will be a third engine with two performance levels bound for America. The T6 AWD model will get a 3.0L twin-scroll turbo inline six cylinder engine cranking out 325 HP and 354 lb-ft. This engine takes the S60 sedan from 0-60 in 5.05 seconds and I expect the V60 to post similar numbers. If that isn’t enough, Volvo will go one step further and bring a 350 HP, 369 lb-ft Polestar tuned variant to America good for sub-5-second runs to Ikea.

The new 2.0L engine is mated exclusively to Aisin’s new 8-speed automatic transaxle, also found in the 2014 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport. The new cog swapper enables standard start/stop on the V60 along with a coasting mode (similar to ZF’s 8-speed) which essentially shifts into neutral when you let off the gas on a level road. Due to packaging constraints, 2.5 and 3.0 liter engines get an Aisin 6-speed automatic and standard Haldex AWD.

2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-012

Drive

The only V60 model Volvo had for us to play with was a front-wheel-drive T5 model with the new 2.0L turbo. Lacking the supercharger for low-end response (available in the S60), the T5 model felt very similar to BMW’s 2.0L N20 engine in the 3-Series with a hint of turbo lag to start and a broad power band. The German mill cranks out less torque, but is required to motivate less curb weight, so I suspect 0-60 times will be fairly similar. Because of the limited time I had behind the wheel we don’t have verified 0-60 numbers but Volvo says the V60 will do the sprint in 6.1 seconds, which is about 1.5 seconds faster than the TSX.

Despite the healthy torque numbers, the V60 presented relatively little torque steer. Volvo didn’t say what they had done to improve on things vs the last T5 FWD model I drove but they did say no suspension designs were changed. (This is a contrast to the S60 T6 FWD which had plenty of torque steer in first gear.) Volvo’s test fleet consisted of Sport Package models only, which are tuned toward the firmer side of the segment. The tuning is certainly firmer than BMW’s standard 3-Series suspension and on par with the Sport Line wagon.

The V60 handled winding roads with composure thanks to wide 235/45R19 (part of the sport package) tires all the way around but the lighter and better balanced 328 wagon feels more nimble out on the road. Meanwhile the TSX and Audi Allroad feel less connected. Since the BMW is only available in America in AWD trim, a comparison to the T5 AWD and T6 AWD may be more appropriate, so check back when we can get our hands on one.

2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-006

No Volvo would be complete without new safety tech and the V60 spearheads several improvements to existing systems. Volvo’s blind spot system has moved from a camera based system to radar. The switch improves accuracy, allows it to operate better in fog and inclement weather and increases the range. There’s also a new self parking system to parallel park the V60, but we didn’t have an opportunity to test it. City Safety, Volvo’s autonomous braking system, now operates at up to 31 MPH and can now detect cyclists in addition to cars and pedestrians (optional packages apply). Volvo tells us that they expect the system to provide autonomous braking for large animals like moose in the next 1-2 years.

The V60 has been priced aggressively for 2015 starting at $35,300,  an $800 upsell over then S60 and $6,150 less than a base 3-series wagon. Adjusting for feature content, the base V60 is still $5,000 less. If bargain wagons with premium badges are your thing, the TSX is king at $31,985, but the delta shrinks to less than two grand when you adjust for the V60’s feature set. The $36,800 might be the more appropriate competitor for the AWD-only 3-wagon, but a more interesting match up is the $44,300 V60 T6 AWD. Configuring a 3 or the CTS wagon with the same equipment you find on the Volvo will set you back at least $2,000 more. In addition to the value factor, the Volvo brings 35% more power to the fight. The extra power and AWD go a long way in compensating for the better weight balance in the BMW or the Caddy. Since GM hasn’t refreshed their wagon yet, the 3.0 and 3.6 liter V6 engined are outclassed in every metric by the Swede. Option your V60 with every conceivable option and you end up at $54,480.

As a former Volvo wagon owner, I’m probably biased, but all the reasons I opted for a Swedish cargo hauler in 2006 apply to the V60. Aside from the fact that “value” strikes a fire in my loins, the Volvo is the clear performance option in this segment. Want more shove than the $44,300 Volvo? Pony up $64,900 for the CTS-V wagon or $102,370 for an E63 AMG wagon. I’ll reserve my final judgement until I can get my hands on one for a more thorough evaluation, but in the mean time the V60 is quite simply the best performance and value option in this phone booth sized segment.

 

 Volvo provided travel, lodging, meals, the vehicle, insurance and gas for this review

2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-001 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-002 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-003 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-004 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-005 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-006 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-007 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-008 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-009 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-010 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-011 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Exterior-012 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-001 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-002 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-003 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-004 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-005 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-006 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-007 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-008 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-009 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-010 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Sport Wagon Interior-011 IMG_7343

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705962 Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the […]

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2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior

Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the Left Coast, I had to check it out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Spark EV starts its life in Changwon, South Korea where gasoline and electric sparks are built by GM Korea, which was once known as Daewoo. But the heart of the Spark comes from America. GM is building the permanent magnet motors in Maryland, and instead of LG batteries made in Korea (like the Volt) GM is using American-made batteries courtesy of B456 (formerly A123. I’m not making this up). For reasons we don’t understand, GM isn’t “doing a CODA” and shipping cars sans-drivetran to America for assembly. The plant in Maryland ships the batteries and drivetrain to Korea, GM Korea inserts it in the car and ships the completed unit back to the USA.

The Spark EV exists because of my home state of California. The California Air Resources Board has mandated that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM and Chrysler make a total of 7,500 zero emissions vehicles available for sale by 2014 and 25,000 by 2017. By 2025, this number is expected to rise tenfold.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006

Exterior

Overall length slots the Chevy between the two-door Fiat 500e and the four-door Honda Fit EV but the small Chevy is narrower than both by a decent amount. Like the Fiat and other small cars, there’s something “cartoonish” about the Spark that is endearing. It’s all about proportions. The headlamps, tail lamps and grille are all fairly standard in size, but they are large in relation to the overall vehicle. The Spark isn’t alone in this, the same thing can be said of the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Fiat 500L.

Because small cars tend to value practicality in design, the Spark has a tall roofline and the wheels have been pushed as close to the four corners as possible. This mechanical necessity pays dividends in handling and interior space but causes the Spark to look unusually tall when viewed head-on.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005

Interior

As with the gasoline version, the front seats are flat, firmly padded and offer little lumbar support. The hard plastics on the doors make for an uncomfortable place to rest your elbow, but there is a padded armrest in the center for the driver only. This isn’t unusual for compact cars, but electrification makes for strange bedfellows and the Leaf, Focus EV and Fiat 500e are direct competition that all offer more driver and passenger comfort.

Because of the Spark’s narrow width, the Chevy is a strict four-seater putting it on par with the 500e but one passenger behind the Fit, Leaf and Focus. It was surprisingly easy to put four tall adults in the Spark, a task that is more difficult in the considerably larger Focus because of its sloping roof-line. Still, passengers will be more comfortable in the Honda Fit which offers a bit more room for four, seating for five and more headroom all the way around. Despite the Leaf’s rear seat numbers being average, because of the way the seating position in the Leaf most people will find the Nissan roomier.

As with most gas to EV conversions, the Spark loses a bit of cargo volume in the process dropping 2 cubes to 9.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s slightly larger than the 500e, but a long way from the Leaf’s spacious 24 cubic foot booty. Unlike the Fiat 500e however, GM chose not sacrifice passenger footwell space for battery storage.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001

Infotainment

All Spark EVs get the same touchscreen head unit that is optional in the gasoline car. The system’s layout is simple, attractive and intuitive. Along the bottom of the screen sits a row of touch buttons for power, volume and a home button. After a week with Chevy’s entry-level system I was left wondering why every GM car can’t have this software. The system isn’t the height of modernity compared to uConnect or SYNC. It does not offer integrated voice commands, integrated navigation software or snazzy animations. This system’s claim to fame is in its simplicity and its integration with your smartphone.

Once you have an Android or iPhone paired with MyLink you can voice command your phone, your tunes, and anything on your device with the voice command button on the steering wheel. This means the mobile services provided my MyLink are limited to the app selection on your device. GM has taken another step that other manufacturers would do well to copy: integrated smartphone navigation. For $5 you can download the BringGo navigation app to your smartphone and the MyLink system will use the app as the processing engine and the car’s display as the user interface. This gives you a large, bright map with controls that look like a standard integrated navigation system coupled with the ability to pre-program addresses using the app before you get into the car.

In the Spark EV the MyLink system also handles vehicle charging control. You can choose to charge immediately, at a specific time, or you can program your electrical rates into the system and have the car charge when it is most economical. We of course get the typical power flow meter which is getting a little silly in the 21st century and a display that shows what percentage of your battery was used for driving, cabin heating/cooling and battery conditioning. Driving your Spark, or any EV, in a “polar vortex” will reduce battery life due to both cabin heating and battery heating.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain

Drivetrain

As with most EVs on the road power is delivered by a 3-phase AC motor connected to a fixed-speed reduction gear. EV’s don’t have a transmission in the traditional sense in order to reduce weight. If you want to go in reverse you spin the motor backwards and if you need neutral you simply disconnect the motor from the electrical path. Power output is rated at 140 horsepower and torque comes in at a whopping 400 lb-ft. (Most EV makers choose to electronically limit torque to reduce torque steer and improve battery life.)

Power is supplied by a 560lb, 21.3 kWh lithium battery pack located where the gas tank is in the gasoline Spark. As with the Chevy Volt, GM is taking the cautious path to battery preservation equipping the pack with an active heating and cooling system. That’s a stark contrast to the Nissan Leaf which uses a passive cooling system. Thanks to the lightest curb weight in the group (2,989lbs), the Spark scores 82 miles of EPA range and the highest efficiency rating of any EV to date. Depending on the weight of my right foot, my real world range varied from 70-100 miles.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port

For any battery, heat is the enemy. Especially when charging or discharging rapidly or when charging in hot desert climates. As a result I would anticipate that all things being equal, the Spark, 500e and Focus should suffer less capacity loss and battery degradation over time than the passively cooled Nissan Leaf.

The big news for 2014 is the world’s first implementation of the new SAE DC fast charging connector. I’m a bit torn on this twist in EV development. While I agree that the DC “combo connector” is more logical and compact than the competing CHAdeMO connector found on the Nissan Leaf and most EVs in Japan, there are already several hundred CHAdeMO stations in the USA and right now there is one SAE station. I’m told there is unlikely to be an adapter so this makes three charging standards on offer in the USA. One for Nissan and Mitsubishi, one for Tesla and one for GM and BMW (the i3 will use it as well.)

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

Drive

The biggest thing people forget about an EV isn’t charging related, it’s heat related. When you want to heat the cabin in a gasoline car you are using “waste” energy to do it. If you didn’t have the heater on, that heat would just end up dissipating via the engine’s radiator. Electric cars produce little heat when running and rely on resistive heating elements to heat the cabin and an electric air conditioning to cool the cabin. Heat pumps would be more efficient because they “move” heat rather than “creating” heat but so far the Nissan Leaf (SV and higher) are the only production cars to adopt this tech. In 50 degree weather on a 60 mile journey nearly 15% of the energy consumed went into heating the Spark’s cabin, while on my way home when it was 80 degrees only 8% of the energy was used to cool the cabin.

Thanks to a better weight balance vs the gasoline model and staggered tires, 185/55 front 195/55 rear, the Spark handles surprisingly well. Many have posited that this is simply a band-aid measure due to the weight shift in the car but all sources point to the Spark EV still being heavier in the front. This means the tire selection was likely done for handling reasons, which makes sense because the Spark beats the 500e in fun-to-corner metrics. The extra weight has also improved the ride in the small hatchback which, although still choppy on the freeway like many small hatches, it much smoother in EV trim. Steering is numb but accurate, a common complaint with EVs.

With 140 horsepower and 400lb0ft of twist routed through the front wheels, the Spark is probably the 2014 torque steer king. Is that bad? Not in my book. I found the effect amusing and perhaps even a challenge to control on winding mountain roads. The competition limits their torque output to reduce torque steer but in doing so they reduce the fun-factor as well as performance, something that really shows in the Spark’s 7.08 second run to 60, notably faster than the competition.

When it is time to stop the Spark comes up short. Stopping distances and fade aren’t the issue, it’s feel. The brake pedal is softer than average and the transition between regenerative and friction braking is probably the poorest, excluding the current generation Honda Civic Hybrid. When the system is entirely in friction braking mode (if the battery is full and you are going down hill) the brakes get even more vague, requiring more travel than when the system is regenerating to get the same effect.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010

Pricing

At $26,685, the least expensive EV on the market excluding the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. For $27,010 the 2LT trim swaps cloth seats for “leatherette” and adds a leather wrapped steering wheel. That’s about the fastest and cheapest model walk in the industry. GM tells us that the DC quick charge port is an independent $750 option and it cannot be retrofitted to a Spark shipped without it. The Spark undercuts Nissan’s Leaf by nearly $2,000 and the Fiat by more than $5,000. While I might argue that the Nissan Leaf is more practical than the Spark, GM’s aggressive pricing screams value at every turn, especially if you lease. At the time of our loan GM was offering a $199 lease deal on the Spark with $1,000 down plus the usual miscellaneous fees.

The Spark’s main sales proposition for many is as a commuter car. When you factor in everything the Spark is the cheapest way to drive in California’s carpool lanes (you know, other than actually carpooling.) Despite not being less attractive than a Fiat 500e, less practical than a Nissan Leaf and less luxurious than a Focus EV, I’d probably pick the Spark.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.72 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 15.78 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed economy: 4.3 miles/kWh

Sound level at 50 MPH: 70dB

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV LCD Gauge Cluster 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

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Review: 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-buick-regal-gs-awd-with-video/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 14:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=698417 In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW […]

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2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

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

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003

Interior

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

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

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link

Infotainment

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

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

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001

Drivetrain

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

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

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001

Drive

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

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

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007

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

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

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.67 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15.2 Seconds @ 93 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG over 611 miles

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

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-006 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-008 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-009 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-011 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-012 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-013 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk-001

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Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Limited V8 (with Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-dodge-durango-limited-v8-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-dodge-durango-limited-v8-with-video/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695921 Car shopping used to be so simple: you could buy a truck or a car. Then came the wagon, minivan, sport utility and the latest craze: the crossover. There’s just one problem with the crossover for me however: it’s not a crossover. With a name like that you’d assume that a modern crossover blended the […]

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2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-002

Car shopping used to be so simple: you could buy a truck or a car. Then came the wagon, minivan, sport utility and the latest craze: the crossover. There’s just one problem with the crossover for me however: it’s not a crossover. With a name like that you’d assume that a modern crossover blended the lines between a truck/SUV with a car/minivan. The reality of course is that the modern three-row crossover is just a front-driving minivan that doesn’t handle as well or haul as much stuff. In this sea of transverse minivans in SUV clothing lies just one mass-market vehicle that I can honestly call a three-row crossover: the Dodge Durango. Instead of a car that’s been turned into an AWD minivan with a longer hood, the Dodge uses drivetrains out of the RAM 1500 combined with a car-like unibody. While rumors swirled that the Durango would be canceled in favor of a 7-seat Jeep, Dodge was working a substantial makeover for 2014.

Click here to view the embedded video.

So what is the Durango? Is it an SUV? Is it a crossover? In my mind, both. If a Grand Cherokee can be a unibody SUV and not a crossover, the Durango must be an SUV. But if a crossover is a hybrid between a car and a truck, then the Durango is one as well. While the first and second generation Durangos were body-on-frame SUVs based on the Dakota pickup, this Durango is a three-row Grand Cherokee, which is a two-row Jeep version of the three-row Mercedes ML which is quasi related to the Mercedes E-Class, which is quasi related to the Chrysler 300. Lost yet?

Exterior

2014 brings few changes to the outside of the Durango. The design first released in 2011 still looks fresh to my eye but that could be because I don’t see many on the road. Up front we get a tweaked corporate grille and new lamps while out back we get “race track” inspired light pipes circling the rump. Aside from a lowered right height on certain models and new wheels, little has changed for the Durango’s slab-sided profile, which I think is one of the Dodge’s best features. No, I’m not talking about the plain-Jane acres of sheet metal, I’m talking about RWD proportions. Bucking the trend, this three-row sports a long (and tall) hood, blunt nose, short front overhang and high belt-line.

To create the Durango from the Grand Cherokee, Chrysler stretched the Jeep’s wheelbase by 5-inches to 119.8 inches and added three inches to the body. The result is four-inches longer than an Explorer but two inches shorter than the Traverse, Acadia and Enclave triplets. Thanks to the Durango’s short front overhand, the Dodge has the longest wheelbase by a long way, beating even the full-size Chevy Tahoe. Speaking of the body-on-frame competition, the Durango may have been a size too small in the past, but this generation is just 8/10ths of an inch shorter than that Tahoe.

DG014_043DU

Interior

Body-on-frame SUVs have a practicality problem when it comes to space efficiency. Because the frame sits between the body and the road, they tend to be taller than unibody crossovers despite having less interior volume. Like the rest of the crossover crowd, this allows the Durango to have a spacious interior with a comparatively low entry height. 2014 brings a raft of much-needed interior updates to the cabin including a new soft touch dashboard, Chrysler’s latest corporate steering wheel with shift paddles, revised climate controls, Chrysler’s latest uConnect 2 infotainment system and a standard 7-inch LCD instrument cluster. Like the other Chrysler products with this LCD, the screen is flanked by a traditional tachometer, fuel and temperature gauge. Oddly enough, the standard infotainment screen is a smallish (in comparison) 5-inches.

Front seat comfort proves excellent in the Durango which was something of a relief, as the last few Chrysler products I have driven had form and oddly shaped seat bottom cushions that make me feel as if I was “sitting on and not in the seat.” As with all three-row vehicles, the accommodations get less comfortable as you move toward the back. By default all Durango trims are 7-passenger vehicles with a three-across second row. For $895 Dodge will delete the middle seat and insert a pair of more comfortable captain’s chairs and a center console with cup holders and a storage compartment. The third row is a strictly two-person affair and, like most crossovers, is best left to children and your mother in law. Those who do find themselves in “the way back” will be comforted by above average headroom and soft touch plastic arm rests. With large exterior proportions you’d expect a big cargo hold like in the cavernous Traverse, alas the RWD layout that makes the Durango so unique renders the interior less practical. With more of the body used up for “hood,” we get just 17 cubes of space behind the third row. That’s three less than an Explorer, seven less than GM’s Lambda triplets and about the same as a Honda Pilot. On the bright side this is more than you will find in a Highlander or Sorento and shockingly enough, more than in the Tahoe as well.

DG014_030DU

Infotainment

uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version of this system the Durango has ever had. Based on a QNX UNIX operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. For the second edition of uConnect, Chrysler smoothed out the few rough edges in the first generation of this system and added a boat-load of trendy tech features you may or may not care about. In addition to improved voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem onboard, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well. Keep in mind speeds are 3G, not Sprint’s WiMAX or LTE network.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on (standard on Summit) and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your Cat Stevens CD by paying $190 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-001Drivetrain

Dodge shoppers will find two of the Grand Cherokee’s four engines under the hood. First up we have a 290HP/260lb-ft 3.6L V6 (295HP in certain trims) standard in all trims except the R/T. R/T models get a standard 360HP/390lb-ft 5.7L HEMI V8 which can be added to the other trims for $2,795. 2014 brings a beefed up cooling system and a number of minor tweaks in the name of fuel economy. Sadly Chrysler has decided to keep the V6 EcoDiesel engine and 6.4L SRT V8 Grand Cherokee only options, so if you hoped to sip diesel or burn rubber in your three row crossover, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Both engines are mated to a ZF-designed 8-speed automatic. V6 models use the low torque variety made by Chrysler while V8 models use a heavy-duty 8HP70 made in a ZF factory. If you’re up to date on Euro inbreeding, you know this is the same transmission used by BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls Royce. To say this is a step up from the vilified Mercedes 5-speed or the Chrysler 6 speed (the 65RFE featured some of the strangest ratio spacing ever) is putting it mildly. Fuel economy jumps 9% in the V6, 10% in the V8. No small feat in a 4,835lb SUV (as tested). All Durangos start out as rear wheel drive vehicles but you can add a two-speed four-wheel-drive system for $2,400. Although Dodge bills this as AWD, it is the same transfer case that Jeep calls 4×4 in Selec-Trac II equipped Grand Cherokees. Thanks to the heavy-duty drivetrain towing rings in at 6,200lbs for the V6 and 7,400lbs for the V8. Like the Jeeps the Durango has moved to more car-like 5-lug wheels which should widen after-market selection.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior

Drive

The engineers took the refresh opportunity to tweak the Durango toward the sportier side of the segment with stiffer springs and beefier sway bars. While far from a night-and-day transformation, the difference is noticeable and appreciated out on the roads. While never harsh, it is obvious the Durango is tuned towards the firm side of this segment. Thanks to the long wheelbase the Durango feels well composed on the highway or on broken pavement.

With a nearly 50/50 weight balance, wide 265-width tires, and a lower center of gravity than a “traditional SUV”, the Durango is easily the handling and road feeling champion. That’s not to say the Durango is some sort of sports car in disguise, but when you compare a well balanced 360 horsepower rear wheel drive elephant to a slightly lighter but much less balanced front driving elephant on skinny rubber, it’s easy to see which is more exciting. Thanks to the Mercedes roots there’s even a whiff of feedback in the steering, more than you can say for the average crossover. Despite the long wheelbase and wide tires, the Durango still cuts a fairly respectable 37-foot turning circle.

Those statement may have you scratching your head if you recall what I said about Jeep on which the Durango is based, I must admit I scratched my head as well. Although the Dodge and the Jeep share suspension design elements and a limited number of components, the tuning is quite different. The Grand Cherokee Summit rides 3.1-inchs higher and was equipped with the off-road oriented air suspension.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-005

When it comes to performance, the new 8-speed automatic makes a night and day difference shaving a whopping 1.4 seconds off the 0-60 time versus the last V8 Durango we tested. The reason is all in the gear ratios. While the 545RFE and 65RFE transmissions suffered from some truly odd ratios, the ZF unit’s ratios are more evenly spread and dig deeper in the low gears. The result is a 6.0 second sprint to highway speeds which finally nips on the tails of the Explorer Sport which we’re told will do the same in 5.9-6.0 (TTAC hasn’t tested one yet). This proves what extra gears can do for you because the Explorer is 200lbs lighter and has a far more advantageous torque curve thanks to the twin turbos.

You can also thank the ZF transmission for the Durango’s robust towing numbers. V6 models are now rated for 6,200lbs while the V8 can haul up to 7,400lbs when properly equipped. That’s nearly 50% more than you can tow in any of the crossover competition and just 1,000 lbs shy of the average full-size body-on-frame hauler.

The transmission is also responsible for a whopping 20% increase in fuel economy. The last V8 Durango I tested eked out a combined 14.8 MPG over a week while the 2014 managed 18.0 MPG. While 18 MPG isn’t impressive in wider terms, it is 1/2 an MPG better than GM’s Lambda crossovers or the Ford Explorer on my commute cycle. The V6 yields improved fuel economy at the expense of thrust, but you should know that although the acceleration provided by the V6 is competitive with the V6 three-row competition, the 20 MPG average falls short of the new Highlander, Pathfinder and the rest of the FWD eco-minded competition.

After a week with the Durango I was no closer to answering the biggest question car buffs have: is this Dodge a crossover or an SUV? One thing is sure however, the Durango is likely the most fun you can have with 6 of your friends for under $50,000.

 

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.4

0-60: 6.0

1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 96 MPH

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69dB @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 18 MPG over 811 miles

 

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-014 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-013 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-009 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-004 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-002 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-001 2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-003 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-002 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-001 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-005 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-006 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-007 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-008 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-012 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-011 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-010 DG014_058DU DG014_057DU DG014_051DU DG014_043DU DG014_030DU

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Review: 2014 Ford Focus ST (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-focus-st-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-focus-st-with-video/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=691530 Hot hatches are all the rage in Europe but represent a fairly small segment of American consumption. The formula is fairly simple, you take a compact hatchback, insert a turbocharged engine, stiffen the springs and add an anti-roll bar that can lift the inner rear wheel in corners if you really push it. The result […]

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2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior

Hot hatches are all the rage in Europe but represent a fairly small segment of American consumption. The formula is fairly simple, you take a compact hatchback, insert a turbocharged engine, stiffen the springs and add an anti-roll bar that can lift the inner rear wheel in corners if you really push it. The result is the polar opposite of a pony car.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

For 2014, the American hot hatch shopper is spoiled for choice. There are a whopping two options: the 2014 Ford Focus ST and the 2014 Volkswagen GTI. If you’re patient enough, VW plans on releasing a new GTI for the 2015 model year and the Mazda rumor mill is rife with 2015 Mazdaspeed3 assumptions. I must therefore rule the Focus ST the most attractive hot hatch in America and put the comparatively boring GTI in last place, or second. However you want to look at it. For performance duty Ford takes the already handsome Focus, lowers it by nearly half an inch and swaps in some new wheels, a front bumper, tweaked spoiler, rear valance and exhaust tips. If you haven’t noticed by now, there is no sedan variant of the Focus ST. Sorry America.

Although the parts list is short, I found the transformation impressive. I haven’t warmed to the Euro nose that the current generation Focus wears while the ST’s more conventional single grille look manages to be both more grown up and more aggressive when compared to the donor car. (Don’t worry, you can get your Focus in colors other than “Tangerine Scream”.) The ST shares hoods with the lesser Focuses (Foci?) there is an oddly large gap between the hood and front bumper that is so uniform (and is on every ST model I have seen) that it must be intentional, however distracting. The reason is that the regular model’s hood doesn’t mate directly with anything as it is styled to be the upper part of the front grille. I have a feeling that if and when the Mazdaspeed3 lands, it will take the crown as I find the Mazda3 the most attractive entry in the compact hatchback segment.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005

Interior

Like the Volkswagen GTI, the first thing you will notice about the Focus when you hop inside will be the very European color palate. In other words, black. The soft injection moulded dashboard combines with the black headliner, black carpets and predominantly black upholstery to create a very Germanic interior. All Focus models sport a double-bump style dashboard with the infotainment positioned in a prominent position and the ST trim tops off the binnacle with standard gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and turbo boost.  This is the same cabin that European shoppers get with one exception: the Recaro seats aren’t standard on our side of the pond. Neither is that 8-inch touchscreen.

Although the ST starts at $23,625 my realistic base price jumps to $25,845 by adding the “ST2″ package which I consider essential. This package adds the 8-inch screen, automatic climate control and the Recaro seats that you see in all the photos and reviews of the Focus ST. The base seats lack the aggressive bolstering or the exceptional comfort of the half-leather Recaro thrones. ST2 shoppers can opt for two-tone seats (as seen in our tester) in blue, yellow or black-on-black. Checking the ST3 box brings the ST up to $28,000 and adds completely leather faced seats (black only), seat heaters, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps and standard navigation software.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004

During my week with the ST I put over 1,100 miles on the Tangerine Scream including a 650 mile road trip. The Recaro thrones proved to be supportive, comfortable and superior to the GTI’s seats for long road trips. Unfortunately the rear passengers weren’t as happy since the Focus has a fairly cramped rear seat. Adding the Recaro seats to the Focus seems to drop the rear seat room by a hair as well making the Focus a great deal tighter than the GTI despite the Focus being the longer car by six inches. Where do those inches go? Some of them are consumed by the Ford’s longer nose, but plenty can be found in the ST’s 50% larger cargo hold.

Since I mentioned the Mustang earlier, that tight rear seat is one of the main reasons you’d select a Focus ST over a V6 ‘Stang. Despite being smaller than a GTI, the ST offers two extra doors, three more inches of leg room and a 5th seat belt. In addition to the added passenger room the Focus also boasts 10 more cubic feet of widget storage in the back.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002

Infotainment

Base ST shoppers get basic entertainment to go with their basic seating. All STs come standard with a 6-speaker audio system sporting a 4.2-inch color LCD, SYNC voice commands and a sea of buttons. The unit is housed in the same binnacle as the 8-inch system so there’s plenty of blank space to remind you that you didn’t pony up for the MyFord Touch system. The ST3 package that is my realistic base for the ST solves this by removing the button bank and inserting the screen you see above. Bundled with the resistive touchscreen is an upgraded 10-speaker Sony speaker system with a subwoofer and a center channel. Sound quality in the 6-speaker system was disappointing while the Sony system impressed. One thing to know if that the Sony system tends to have exaggerated treble and bass tuning by default but it is adjustable.

This is about the time when I usually comment on MyFord Touch being somewhat sluggish and suggest that the competition has an acceptable alternative. The alternative however is Volkswagen’s ancient infotainment lineup. All GTIs share the same 8-speaker sound system that slots between Ford’s base and up-level system in both speaker count and sound quality but everything else pales in comparison. The GTI has no SYNC-like voice command system in any model and the base GTI doesn’t even get a color LCD in the cabin. The Driver’s Edition GTI gets VW’s low-cost navigation unit which, when compared to MyFord Touch, is like taking a Palm Pilot to an iPad fight. Hopefully VW will up their game for 2015, but more than likely Ford’s only real infotainment competition will come from Mazda’s slick MazdaConnect system.

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002

Drivetrain

The last Focus ST was powered by Volvo, a logical choice since Volvo’s S40 and Ford’s Focus were cousins to begin with. This generation Focus is 100% Ford. Instead of the oddly-alluring 2.5L five-cylinder, we get a 252 horsepower tune of Ford’s 2.0L EcoBoost engine cranking out 270 lb-ft of torque. (There is a bit of confusion on the HP numbers, in the video I mention Ford’s initial numbers of 247 HP and 266 lb-ft which was later updated to 252/270. Apparently running 87 octane gasoline in your ST will yield 247 while 93 will get you 252.) This is the same four-cylinder turbo used in the Ford Edge and Taurus except that the boost has been cranked up and it is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. (As far as we can tell this is no longer the Volvo M66 transmission manufactured by Getrag.)

Drive

Compared to the VW, the Focus is 52 ponies more powerful and serves up 63 more lb-ft while the Mustang V6 beats the Focus by 48 horsepower and 10 lb-ft. As you would assume with numbers like that, the Mustang is faster t0 60, but thanks to the turbocharger on the Focus the difference in our testing was just 1/10th of a second and is more down to driver skill and traction than vehicle output. The VW on the other hand can’t makeup for the power deficit by being 100lbs lighter and was 3/10ths slower.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006

The big difference between a Mustang and a hot hatch is of course which wheels are getting the power. Because the ST funnels all its power through the front wheels, torque steer is a genuine concern. Rather than limit engine power in 1st and 2nd like Mazda did with the old Mazdaspeed3, or use a limited slip differential like Honda uses on occasion, Ford decided to program the electric power steering to compensate. Coupled with the EPAS system is a stability control system programmed to torque vector power across the front using the car’s large front brakes. The system works passably well but not as well as the Ford’s “Revo Kunckle” which they use on their larger cars. Due mostly to the greater output, torque steer in the ST is more pronounced than in the GTI, but much less noticeable than in the old Mazda. I’ve always found mild torque steer in a fast front-driver an entertaining phenomenon so it never bothered me.

Helping the steering tendencies is a variable ratio steering rack that uses a quick 1.8 turns lock to lock vs 2.1 in the GTI, 2.8 in the standard Focus and 3.1 in the V6 ‘Stang. Thanks to the ratio the ST feels very nimble and eager to change direction. Unless you need to U-turn of course which is when you will discover that this tiny hatch has a nearly 40-foot turning radius.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009

Thanks to a light 3,200 pound curb weight (100lbs heavier than the VW but 300lbs lighter than a V6 Mustang), 235-width Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires and a well tuned suspension, the Focus ST sticks to the road like glue. TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad to confirm or deny the Mustang trouncing Gs the plucky hatch can pull, but after a week making passengers sick on winging mountain roads I’m a believer. What makes the Focus more impressive is how neutral the car feels despite being a front-heavy front-driver. It’s more lively, less civilized but more rewarding to drive than the GTI. The V6 ‘Stang does give you rear-wheel- drive dynamics and more shove in a straight line, but I’d be willing to bet I’d be faster around a track in the Focus ST.

What surprised me about the Focus the most however was how livable it is. The suspension is firm but never harsh and my spine didn’t revolt on a 5 hour drive to Los Angeles. Cabin noise was high at 76 dB but that’s not far from the last Golf I measured and average for the economy car segment. Thanks to an active noise generator that opens a valve to pipe sound into the cabin from when at full throttle, normal driving happens without the incessant droning of a Fiat Abarth. While the Tangerine Scream paint job and yellow trimmed seats scream “boy racer”, the truth is the Focus is quite the grown up. With a starting price some $1,300 less than a GTI the Focus delivers a solid value proposition. Fully loaded the difference narrows to less than a grand in cash but more than $3,000 when you factor in the Ford’s greater feature content. While I’m sure that 2015 will bring a VW GTI with more refinement and an improved interior, VW has confirmed the ST will still be the horsepower champion and likely the value leader as well. Compared to that RWD Ford on the lot, the pony car is less expensive but less practical as well. For the cost difference between the Mustang and the ST, you could buy all manner of performance mods for your pony to compete with the ST, but I have a feeling I’d still buy the Focus. For 2014 Ford’s hot hatch is without a doubt the hottest hatch on sale in America, but with Volkswagen planning on sending their 290HP Golf R to the USA and Ford’s own high-power Focus RS rumored, things are just starting to warm up.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3

0-60: 5.95

1/4 Mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 98.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 25.7 MPG over 1210 Miles

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 76.4 dB

 

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-008 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-010 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-008

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683986 For many Americans, the words “Ford Fiesta” dredges up memories of a claustrophobic rattle-trap competing with “Geo Metro” for the title of Worst American Small Car. Personally, the only time I ever wanted a fiesta was during a drunken weekend in Cabo, and it had more to do with tequila than cars. But that was […]

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2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006

Interior

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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004

Infotainment

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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002

Drivetrain

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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002

Drive

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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008

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

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.4 Seconds

0-60:9.08 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 81.6 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPG over 561 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 72.5 db

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-011 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-012 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-013

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Review: 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-cadillac-cts-2-0t-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-cadillac-cts-2-0t-with-video/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=686066 It’s been decades since Cadillac produced the “Cadillac” of anything. However, when car buffs dismiss the only American luxury brand left, they fail to see Cadillac’s march forward. 2002 brought the first RWD Cadillac since the Fleetwoood. A year later the XLR roadster hit, followed in 2004 by Cadillac’s first 5-Series fighter, the STS. Not […]

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2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001

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

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006

Interior

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

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

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Cluster

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

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

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001

Infotainment

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

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

2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

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

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

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

Drivetrain

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014

Drive

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013

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

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

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3 Seconds

0-60: 5.9 Seconds

1/mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 97.5 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 24.8 MPG over 852 Miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 67 dB

2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-012 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-013 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-014 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Exterior-015 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-001 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-002 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-003 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-004 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-005 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-006 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-007 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-008 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-009 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-010 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-011 2014 Cadillac CTS 2.0T Interior-012 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-001 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-002 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-003 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-004 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-005 2014 Cadillac CUE - CTS 2.0T-006

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First Drive Video Review: 2014 Toyota Highlander http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/first-drive-video-review-2014-toyota-highlander/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/first-drive-video-review-2014-toyota-highlander/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 20:25:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=685274 TTAC had its first bite at the 2014 Highlander recently. Be sure to bookmark TheTruthAboutCars.com for the written review in the coming days and a full-on drive review based on a week in Toyota’s new crossover in a few months.

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Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC had its first bite at the 2014 Highlander recently. Be sure to bookmark TheTruthAboutCars.com for the written review in the coming days and a full-on drive review based on a week in Toyota’s new crossover in a few months.

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-volkswagen-passat-tdi-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-volkswagen-passat-tdi-with-video/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 14:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=679274 Once of the most frequent car advice emails I get is from consumers looking to cut down their fuel bills while still hanging on to a family sedan. Until recently, this question narrowed the field down to a few hybrid sedans and the Volkswagen Passat TDI. Today, there are more hybrid options than ever and soon […]

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2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Once of the most frequent car advice emails I get is from consumers looking to cut down their fuel bills while still hanging on to a family sedan. Until recently, this question narrowed the field down to a few hybrid sedans and the Volkswagen Passat TDI. Today, there are more hybrid options than ever and soon Mazda’s diesel powered Mazda6 will enter the fray. While we wait for the Mazda’s new SkyActiv diesel to ship, I picked up a Volkswagen Passat TDI to find out if a little diesel could bring some cost reduction to my commute.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

First off we have to dispense with the fallacy that buying a new commuter car will save you money. Of course we all know that is rarely true, especially if you are simply replacing one family sedan with another. (This disclaimer is just for the readers that may object to the forthcoming cost savings comparisons.) Second you must think about what kind of driving you do before you start looking at technologies to reduce your gas bill. If your commute is highway heavy, then a diesel or amvery efficient conventional vehicle may be the better choice for you. If your commute is balanced between highway and city or city heavy, then many hybrid technologies may be the winner.

Exterior

While other VWs get expressive fascias, VW’s sedan line is pure conservative German design. We have a three-slat horizontal grille up front, a flat character line and little detaining on the side and nothing terribly expressive out back. The adjectives that came to my mind were simple, elegant, and unemotional. No matter how you park it, the Passat never strikes a pose that would offend a conservative mid-size shopper.If you want Euro flair, VW would be happy to sell you a CC which sports more aggressive bumpers, more chrome and sexier tail lamps. However the Passat TDI is competing with the hybrid versions of the Fusion, Camry, Accord, Optima and Sonata, as well as the “we hope its not a mirage” Mazda6 diesel. While some in the press have called the Passat boring, I would posit the sedate lines will help the Passat age more gracefully than some of the competition, most notably the Sonata and Camry, however I think the Fusion and Mazda6 are more attractive and dramatic.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-012

Interior
Mid-size shoppers demand expansive rather than expensive cabins, and VW took note when they redesigned the sedan for the 2012 model year. Our Euro friends may notice that this doesn’t look quite like the Passat you know in Europe, and that’s because the American Passat isn’t the same car as the Euro Passat anymore. Although both Passats are related, the NMS Passat gets a 4-inch body stretch and a 3.7-inch wheelbase stretch, the beneficiary being the rear seat which goes from cozy in the Euro model to ginormous in the American model. Although the numbers would indicate that the Fusion and Passat’s rear legroom are similar, the devil is in the details of how car makers measure and the Passat is the clear winner here.

Sadly Camcord shoppers place fuel economy, electronic doodads and rear-seat leg room higher on their list than squishy dash bits and VW was happy to oblige. As a result the Passat’s plastics are attractive to look at but just as mainstream to feel as the competition slotting in below the new Accord and well ahead of the aging Korean competition. Speaking of attractive, I find the traditional “single bump” dashboard layout to be a refreshing change from the massive dashboards that are creeping into every mis-sized sedan lately. Front seat comfort proved excellent for long car trips, tying with the Accord and Fusion while the rear seats, although large, weren’t as comfortable as Honda’s sedan.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-015

Infotainment

Because there is no “S” trim Passat TDI, base diesel lovers get a slight feature bump compared in the infotainment department. The base 6.5-inch touchscreen system is joined by 8-speakers, HD Radio and standard Bluetooth for a decent base package. The systems iDevice and USB integration offers no voice commands like you find in most of the competition, but it is reliable and intuitive. VW offers two different navigation systems depending on how far up the trim ladder you want to walk. SE models with the sunroof can get the “RNS-315″ which uses a 5-inch touchscreen and very basic navigation software.

Jumping up to the SEL model adds a Fender branded speaker package and a 6.5-inch high resolution navigation system with satellite radio and Sirius Travel Link live traffic and information services.  While most of the information is superfluous, the fuel pricing and locations proved handy as locating a diesel station can be tricky. The traffic and Travel Link features require a Sirius subscription and VW tosses in a 6-month trial for free. Sadly VW’s navigation systems predate the 2012 Passat refresh by a decent window and are among the oldest and least feature rich in the mid-size sedan segment barely scoring a win over the ancient system in the Chrysler 200. You won’t find smartphone apps, slick graphics and VW has even reduced the number of voice commands the system can recognize because the hardware was unable to handle it with reasonable performance. With Toyota and Honda recently launching their new infotainment systems and Ford’s MyFordTouch system getting a much needed refresh, this puts VW in next to last place, just in front of the dreadful navigation system lurking in the Mazda6. 

Passat TDI  engine, Picture Courtesy of Volkswagen

Drivetrain & Pricing

Powering the Passat is the same 2.0L turbodiesel found under the hood of every diesel VW in America except the Touareg. The small diesel engine features twin cams, 16 valves, aluminum head, iron block and a variable geometry turbocharger to deliver 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Funneling the power to the front wheels via a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, the Passat doesn’t feel as slow as 140 ponies might suggest. The gasoline electric hybrids on the market are peppier, with the Camry delivering 200 ponies, with the Optima and Sonata nearly tying at 199, while we get 188 from the Fusion and 166 from the Accord. Normally, the high torque is a bonus when you compare a TDI to a small gasoline engine. However, modern hybrids deliver diesel-like torque with flat torque curves thanks to their electrification. The Koreans serve up 235 lb-ft and the Accord cranks out 226 with both curves being more advantageous than the TDI. Ford and Toyota do not release official torque numbers, but I suspect they are both in the 220-230 lb-ft range.

Because of tightening emissions regulations in California, the Passat now comes with a urea injection system also known as “diesel exhaust fluid” or DEF to reduce NOx emissions. This is a significant difference from Mazda’s new SkyActiv diesel engine which they claim does not require this additive to achieve the same emissions compliance. This is significant not only because owners won’t have to buy DEF every few thousand miles, but also because VW decided to put the DEF filler port in the trunk rather than by the fuel filler on the side of the car (like other manufacturers do.) The result is an inconvenience on the VW side and, according to Mazda, a power bump on the SkyActiv diesel which they expect to come in around 170 ponies (if we get the high-output version) and 300 lb-ft of torque which should put the Mazda neck-and-neck with the hybrids.

The Passat TDI starts at $26,295 for the SE trim and tops out at $32,995 for the loaded SE. This price walk essentially mirrors the Passat V6 and feature for feature is substantially similar to the Camry, Optima, Sonata and Fusion hybrid sedans meaning the TDI doesn’t have a price advantage initially compared to the gas-electric competition. Honda’s Accord Hybrid starts at $29,155 making it the highest base price in this bunch, but the top-level Accord at $34,905 seems reasonable compared to a fully-loaded Fusion Titanium Hybrid at $38,870.

Because the mid-size sedan segment is so competitive, when you calculate the value of standard feature content, most of the pack ends up within a few hundred bucks of one another except for the Optima which undercuts the pack by nearly a grand. The higher top-end pricing on the hybrid competition is largely due to the availability of more features like radar cruise control, self parking, lane departure prevention that you won’t find on the Passat.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-007Drive

The Americanization of the Passat has had an effect on the way VW’s large sedan drives. The difference is most obvious if you drive the VW CC and the Passat back-to-back. The CC has a more solid and connected feel and the handling limits are higher. That’s not to say the Passat will let down the VW faithful with Camry-levels of grip, but in the pursuit of higher fuel economy narrower tires we required. In the pursuit of rear leg room, the wheelbase and chassis had to get longer making the American sedan drive larger than the European model. The result is a Passat that slots below the Mazda6, Accord Sport and some levels of Fusion in terms of handling, but notably above the Camry and Korean competition  which have less refined suspension manners.

Diesels have never been known for spirited performance despite the modern crop of torque-strong turbocharged designs. Our TDI tester clocked 60 MPH in just over 8 seconds which is on the long end of the green pack with most of the hybrid competition in the low to mid 7 second range. Diesels have a dedicated following largely due to their high fuel economy, high torque numbers and the plateau like horsepower and torque curves. Today’s hybrids however deliver much the same experience thanks to electric motors that deliver their maximum torque at low speeds without the turbo lag experienced in turbo Diesel engines. This negates many of the claims popular in the TDI forums.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-011

Once upon a time when Toyota’s unique planetary gearset power-splitting hybrid system was the only game in town, many shoppers and reviewers disliked CVT-like feel of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Despite the fact that CVTs are more efficient, I’ll admit that there’s something about gear changes that I find satisfying. If that describes you, then there are now hybrid options, like the Sonata and Optima, that combine electric motors with traditional automatics for a more “normal” feel.

This now brings us to fuel economy. During a week and 732 miles, I averaged 36.5 MPG, slightly higher than the EPA number and on a one-way level highway journey I managed 47 MPG on  a 50 mile trip with the cruise control set to 68 and the AC on. The more time you spend in stop and go traffic or on city streets, the lower your number will be. That’s a sharp contrast to most hybrids that excel in city and heavy traffic because they can keep the engine off for most low speed maneuvers. This segment is the poster child of “your mileage may vary.” If your commute is characterized by long highway stretches cruising at 70MPH, the Passat will be the mileage winner. If however you drive in moderate to heavy traffic or find yourself running around town on the city streets, a gasoline hybrid is going to be the mileage champ.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-009

A few short years ago the Passat TDI was the clear choice for high mileage cruisers that didn’t want a softly sprung Camry hybrid. Unfortunately today’s Passat has some serious competition from the handsome Fusion hybrid which posted similar economy numbers while being faster and costing less to operate. We also have the new Accord hybrid. The Accord may cost $2,850 more than the Passat TDI, but it delivers more feature content in the base model and an incredible (and personally verified) 50 MPG in the city with a combined 47 MPG score and road manners that equal or exceed the Passat. When you factor in the higher cost of diesel and the diesel exhaust fluid the VW requires, the Accord “breaks even” vs the TDI at 60,000 miles. Perhaps the biggest problem for the Passat TDI’s proposition as a thrifty commuter is the Kia Optima delivered the same mileage while drinking cheaper fuel, is less expensive to purchase and has a longer warranty. My experience with the Passat TDI left me wondering if I should really be as excited about the Mazda6 diesel as I am, or should I instead be hoping VW jams the Jetta’s hybrid system into the Passat? The Passat TDI isn’t without its charms, but after a week burning the midnight oil, my heart and my pocket book were dreaming gasoline hybrid dreams.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.0 Seconds

0-60: 8.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.4 Seconds @84 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 36.5 MPG over 721 miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 71 dB

 

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-021 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-020 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-019 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-018 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-009 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-010 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-001 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-002 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-011 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-012 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-003 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-004 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-013 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-014 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-005 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-006 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-015 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-016 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-007 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-008 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-017

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First Drive Review: 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrd (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/first-drive-review-2014-acura-rlx-sport-hybrd-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/first-drive-review-2014-acura-rlx-sport-hybrd-with-video/#comments Fri, 13 Dec 2013 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=675970 It wasn’t that long ago I had an Acura RLX for a week. If you recall that review, I came away liking the car but found little joy in the price tag. Despite wearing a fantastic stitched leather interior, there was just no way I could justify the $10,000 premium over the AWD turbocharged competition […]

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2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior

It wasn’t that long ago I had an Acura RLX for a week. If you recall that review, I came away liking the car but found little joy in the price tag. Despite wearing a fantastic stitched leather interior, there was just no way I could justify the $10,000 premium over the AWD turbocharged competition from Lincoln, Volvo and others. Can a new dual clutch transmission and three electric motors turn the RLX from being a good car with the wrong price tag to a value proposition?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Because of the RLX’s FWD drivetrain, I was forced to view the RLX with an eye towards the Volvo S80, Lincoln MKS and the Lexus ES. With the Sport Hybrid model, Acura has done two things to take the RLX out of that pool and dive into another: AWD and a hybrid system. On paper a 377 horsepower hybrid system should put the RLX head to head with the Lexus GS 350, Infiniti M35h, and BMW AciveHybrid 5.

On the outside, the RLX cuts an elegant and restrained pose. Although the cars Acura allowed us to drive at a regional event were pre-produciton, fit and finish was excellent. Lincoln has certainly made strides in recent years, but there is a difference in build quality between the MKS and the RLX that didn’t go unnoticed. Acura attempts to further distinguish the RLX from the other near-luxury brands by going aluminum intensive with the hood, quarter panels and all four doors courtesy of Alcoa. I find the RLX unquestionably attractive but the overall form fails to beat the Cadillac CTS or BMW 5-Series in my book. I place the RLX’s exterior form a tie with the Infiniti M and a hair behind the Lexus GS, especially if the GS is wearing that funky F-Sport nose.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Interior

Interior

While German interiors continue to be somewhat spartan and cold, the RLX feels open and inviting. Stitched dash and door panels elevate the cabin well above what you will find in a Lexus ES Hybrid or Lincoln MKS. The same is true for the rear of the cabin. Constructed out of the same high quality materials as the front, this is a definite departure from the hard plastics found in the ES and MKS. Most of my day was spent in an RLX with a grey and ivory motif that played to my personal tastes. On the down side, Acura continues to woo luxury shoppers with obviously fake looking faux-wood. This decision is doubly perplexing, as the new MDX is available in Canada with real wood trim, but not in America. Why don’t they offer it in America on either car?

Front seat comfort is among the best in the luxury set, beating the Mercedes E350, Lexus GS 450h and Infiniti M35h that I drove that day, but falling short of the million-way BMW M-Sport seats. Because the RLX rides on a transverse engine platform, there is an inherent space efficiency and the direct beneficiary is the rear cabin where you’ll find 2-3 inches more rear leg room than any of the other hybrids. I had hoped the Sport Hybrid design would allow a low “hump” since there isn’t a driveshaft going rearward, but unfortunately Acura decided to use this space for hybrid drivetrain components. It’s probably just as well, since the middle seat is considerably higher than the outboard rear seats making it impossible for a six-foot passenger to ride in the middle. Thanks to lithium-ion batteries(rather than the nickel-based packs Toyota and Lexus use), the RLX maintains a decently sized trunk capable of swallowing four golf bags.

For reasons unknown, Acura decided to use the Sport Hybrid to re-invent the shifter control. I know that everyone else is doing this, but Acura’s 4-button arrangement strikes me as one of the most unusual. Instead of a flat button bank ala-Lincoln, Acura uses a bank that is designed to have some meaning. Park is a button, Drive is a differently shaped button, Neutral is yet another shape of button and Reverse is a button on its side that you push toward the rear of the vehicle. While that sounds logical, it was far from elegant when we had to make several four-point turns in San Francisco. Anyone else prefer a regular old console shifter?

2014 RLX Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Acura

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

Like the regular RLX, the Sport Hybrid combines a 7-inch haptic feedback touchscreen with an 8-inch display only screen set higher in the dash. The engineers say the concept is as follows: the lower touchscreen handles the audio, freeing the upper screen for navigation and other tasks. My opinion of the system has improved since I first encountered it on the MDX but I still think the casserole needs more time in the oven. You can change tracks and albums using the touchscreen but changing playlists or genres requires you to use the rotary/joystick lower in the dash to control the 8-inch screen. In my mind this sort of kills the dual-screen sales proposition. On the positive side the system is very responsive and the graphics are all high-resolution and attractive. iDrive is still my favorite in the mid-size luxury segment, but AcuraLink ties with MMI in second.

Base Sport Hybrid models get a speaker bump from the gas-only RLX’s 10-speaker sound system to the mid-range Acura ELS system. As you would assume, the Sport Hybrid model is well equipped versus the gasoline model and all models come with navigation, tri-zone GPS-linked climate control and keyless go. Keeping things simple there is only one option, the “Advance package” (no, Advance is not a typo), which adds Krell speakers, ventilated front seats, sunshades and seat warmers for the rear passengers, front parking sensors, power folding mirrors, radar cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, a pre-collision warning system and electric front seat belt tensioners.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Acura

Drivetrain

Now for what makes the RLX a Sport Hybrid. First up, we a direct-injection 3.5L V6 producing 310 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of twist that now sports start/stop technology. This engine is mated to a brand-new 7-speed transaxle developed specifically for the RLX. The new transaxle is a hybrid of sorts (and I’m not talking about the motors yet) blending a 2-speed planetary gearset with a 6-speed dual-clutch robotic manual transmission. The two technologies allow the entire unit to be as compact as possible. First gear is obtained by setting the dual clutch gearbox to 5th gear and the planetary gearset to low while “second” through “seventh” use DCT gears 1-6 in order with the planetary set to high. I found this solution particularly interesting because it would, in theory, allow Acura to obtain more than 7 ratios from the same unit with some software programming. 12-speed anyone? After the transmission is the first (and largest) motor/generator, rated for 47 horsepower/109 lb-ft. Thanks to the dual-clutch transmission, the engine can be decoupled from the drivetrain, making this different from Honda’s IMA system where the engine is always spinning.

Linked by a high-voltage electrical system is a rear mounted two-motor drive unit. The single inboard housing incorporates twin 36 horsepower /54 lb-ft motors and a clutch pack. The clutch pack is used to connect the motors together when the system needs to deliver equal power to each rear wheel. Combined with the lithium-ion battery pack in the trunk (the same one used in the Accord Hybrid), you get 377 total horsepower and 377 lb-ft of combined torque. Until you reach approximately 75 MPH at which point you have around 310 horsepower because the rear motors gradually disengage and completely disconnect over 80 MPH. The whole shebang is good for 28/32/30 MPG (City/Highway/Combined).

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-006

Drive

Why bother with two motors in the rear? Torque vectoring. The dual rear motor arrangement separates Acrua’s system from the e-AWD systems in the Lexus RX 400h and Highlander Hybrid, or the mechanical systems in the Infiniti Q50 Hybrid or Lexus LS 600hL. Although it produces about the same amount of power as Toyota’s rear hybrid motor and likely weighs more, splitting things in two allows it to vector torque all the time, power on or off. Say what? Yep, you read that correctly, this is the first production system that torque vectors when your foot isn’t on the gas. Think of it like a canoe. If you’re moving forward and you plant an oar in the water, the canoe will rotate around that axis. Instead of oars, the RLX uses motors.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now – this isn’t a replacement in my mind for Acura’s mechanical SH-AWD system. The mechanical AWD system uses an overdrive module to make the rear wheels almost a full percent faster than the front wheels causing the vehicle to behave like a RWD biased vehicle. In that setup, the front wheels are being “pushed” by the rears and the result is steering feel that is very much like a RWD sedan when under power. When the power was off in the old RL, the car would plow into the bushes like a front-heavy Audi. The RLX Sport Hybrid is completely different.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-007

Under full acceleration, the rear motors in the RLX contribute 72 ponies while the engine serves up 310 to the front wheels. The numerical imbalance between that total and the 377 “system horsepower” is consumed in the power curve of the motors and engine and the use of the front motor to draw a little power off to send to the rear. This means that while the old RL could effectively shuttle the majority of the power to the rear wheels, the RLX hybrid is at best an 80/20 split (front/rear). As a result, flooring the RLX from a stop elicits one-wheel peel, a vague hint of wheel hop and a smidge of torque steer. Once the road starts to bend, the hybrid system starts to shine. By not only accelerating the outside rear wheel in a corner but essentially braking the inside one (and using the energy to power the outside wheel), the RLX cuts a near perfect line in the corners. Point the RLX somewhere, and the car responds crisply and instantly. And without much feel.

The downside to the rear wheels contributing so much to the RLX’s direction changes is that the steering is next to lifeless. The analogy that kept coming to mind was a video game. The RLX changes direction more readily and easily than a front heavy sedan should, yet there is little feedback about the process. When the power is off, things stay the same, with the RLX dutifully following the line you have charted in a way the FWD RLX or the old RL never could.

Acura was confident enough in the RLX to provide a GS 450h for us to play with and the difference was enlightening. The GS is less engaging from a drivetrain perspective thanks to the “eCVT” planetary hybrid system, something the RLX’s dual-clutch box excels at, but the well-balanced GS platform is by far the driver’s car on the road. The Lexus feels less artificial, more nimble, and more connected to the driver. The RLX is not far behind in terms of raw numbers, and is faster off the line, but the RLX feels less connected and more artificial in the process. It is also important to note that the RLX is the only AWD hybrid in this class since the Infiniti Q50 hybrid is Acura TL sized and the Lexus LS 600hL is considerably larger and more expensive. That feature alone makes the RLX attractive to anyone living in areas where winter traction is a consideration.

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-002

The 2014 RLX Sport Hybrid is an amazing bundle of technology. Combining a dual clutch transmission, a torque vectoring AWD system and three hybrid motors, the RLX is the gadget lover’s dream car. As a technology geek, the system is an intriguing solution to two problems plaguing near luxury brands like Acura, Volvo and Lincoln: How do we make our FWD platforms compete with RWD competitors, and how do we put a green foot forward. In doing so the RLX Hybrid may have also solved the value proposition I complained about with the FWD model. According to Acura”s thinly veiled charts, we can expect the RLX to be priced the same as the Lexus GS 450h which is $5,000 more than the M35h and about $1,000 less than BMW’s ActiveHybrid 5.

Factoring in the AWD system’s $2,000-$2,500 value and standard features on the RLX and the value proposition gets better. At the high end, the “Advance” package is likely to represent a $10,000 discount vs a similarly configured Lexus or BMW. The RLX Sport Hybrid has caused me to look at the RLX in a different light. Instead of thinking the FWD RLX should be $10,000 cheaper, I now think it is irrelevant. The Sport Hybrid has what it takes to compete with the Lexus and Infiniti hybrids head on and the value proposition to tempt potential BMW shoppers, but that turns the front-drive base model into a potential image liability. I’ll reserve my final judgment until we can get our hands on one for more than a few hours, but until then, it appears Acura has crafted a compelling hybrid system that should be on any snow-belt shopper’s list and may provide enough value to sway RWD luxury hybrid shoppers. Stay tuned for more pricing information in the Spring.

 

Acura provided the vehicle at a regional launch event and one night’s stay at a hotel.

 

2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Trunk 2014 RLX Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Acura 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Acura 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-002 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-004 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Interior 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Exterior-007

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Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-jeep-grand-cherokee-srt-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-jeep-grand-cherokee-srt-with-video/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 13:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=666978 If you want a high performance SUV today, you’re left with relatively little choice. GM hasn’t dabbled in the market since their Trailblazer SS / Saab 9-7 Aero and Ford never even gave it a try with the old Explorer. That means your only options for ridiculously fast boxes on wheels come from BMW, Porsche, […]

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2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-004

If you want a high performance SUV today, you’re left with relatively little choice. GM hasn’t dabbled in the market since their Trailblazer SS / Saab 9-7 Aero and Ford never even gave it a try with the old Explorer. That means your only options for ridiculously fast boxes on wheels come from BMW, Porsche, Mercedes… and Jeep. Is it possible that the “bat-shit-crazy” Chrysler that I remember and love is back?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

This isn’t the first Grand Cherokee with sporting pretensions, as 1998 Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited was arguably the first fast Grand Cherokee. Despite the RWD layout making a performance version “easy to do” (in a relative sense), we wouldn’t see another until the third generation “WK” SRT8 in 2006. With a 425 horsepower 6.1L engine, it was the most powerful Jeep ever built. Sadly, a Cerberus-era interior kept it off my wanted list. After a hiatus, another SRT landed in 2012, this time with 470 horses under the hood. Although improved, the interior still underwhelmed and the Mercedes sourced 5-speed transmission was hardly a team player.

While the basic vehicle remains unchanged, 2014 brings more changes than your typical refresh. Up front we have a new nose featuring LED daytime running lamps, headlamp washers and standard HID headlamps.  Out back we get a refreshed rump with twin exhaust tips, which are far more practical than the central tips on first Jeep SRT,e because it allows a standard hitch receiver to be mounted behind a trim panel in the bumper. It’s worth noting that Chrysler rates the Grand Cherokee SRT for 7,200lbs of towing.

Now it’s time to talk about competition. When it comes to high horsepower SUVs, you don’t have many options. Sure, we have that new Porsche Macan, but it’s smaller than the Jeep and less powerful. When you do the numbers, the only 470+ horsepower beasts on the market are the closely related Mercedes ML63 AMG, the new supercharged Range Rovers, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo/Turbo S. And… That’s it. BMW has taken a break from X5M for 2014, likely to return as a 2015 model. Audi Q7? Too wimpy. Acura MDX? Weaksauce. That means that while the Grand Cherokee plays with the Explorer, GMC Terrain, Toyota 4Runner, VW Touareg and others, the Grand Cherokee SRT appeals to two different sorts of buyers. The performance enthusiast that wants an AWD Chrysler 300 SRT, and the luxury SUV shopper on a value hunt.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-002

Interior

As with the exterior, 2014 brings more interior changes than your typical refresh. The Jeep gets Chrysler’s chunky new SRT steering wheel complete with metal shift paddles, a heated soft leather rim, a flat bottom, and more buttons than Apollo mission control. The refresh also brings an entirely new stitched leather dashboard, leather coated doors, carbon fiber trim, and improved plastics all around. Below the carbon fiber, little has changed. This means we still have hard plastics which belie the SRT’s luxury credentials.

Dominating the dash is the latest 8.4-inch uConnect infotainment system joined by a 7-inch LCD disco dash.  The LCD gauges put the Jeep well ahead of BMW and Mercedes and, interestingly, only a notch below the full 11-inch LCD used in Range Rovers. Finishing the transformation is an Audi-like shifter in the center console. Sadly the SRT doesn’t get the Alcantara headliner that the Grand Cherokee Summit gets. Combined with the easily scratched plastic shifter surround, the SRT is obviously not running with the luxury pack but it is a notch above the crossover rabble and feels  worth the $63,995 base price. More on that later.

The  front seats are modified versions of regular Jeep thrones with more bolstering and are available in your choice of “baseball glove” brown or black with Alcantara inserts. (The full-leather seats will run you $1,995 more.) Although the seats are less comfortable than those found in the Merc, Rover or Bimmer, I had no problem finding a comfortable position on multi-hour drives. Unlike less expensive versions of the Grand Cherokee, the SRT’s seats seem to be designed for you to sit “in” the seat rather than “on” the seat, something that I was pleased to note.  Rear seat passengers will have little to complain about with reclining rear seat backs, air vents and the same soft-touch leather door treatment as the front. New for 2014 are two high-current USB power ports in the center console so your kids can charge their iWidget without cigarette adapters.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-005Infotainment

In addition to improved voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new Chrysler “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem onboard, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well. Keep in mind speeds are 3G, not Sprint’s WiMAX or LTE network.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. The navigation interface is easy to use, but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. The SRT trim gets Chrysler’s home brew 9-speaker sound system with a 506-watt amplifier. The sound is acceptable for the price tag but I’d buy the 19-speaker, $1,995 Harmon Kardon Logic7 system if I were you. Quite similar in timbre to the Logic7 systems BMW uses, the system holds its own compared to the up-level audio packages in the luxury set. Because BMW’s X5M is on hiatus, the infotainment win in this segment has to go to the SRT. COMAND is well past its prime and Porsche and Land Rover’s infotainment systems are unintuitive and lag in terms of feature functionality.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-001

Drivetrain

The first Jeep to wear the SRT badge used a 6.1L V8 that was accused of having a narrow power band, a “peaky” torque curve and poor fuel economy. To address this, Chrysler released a new 6.4L V8 in 2012. Instead of revising the 6.1, the engineers went back to the drawing board and created a new engine based off the second-generation 5.7L Hemi. This means that unlike the luxury competition, you won’t find overhead cams, direct injection or 32 valves. Don’t let Top Gear or the iron block fool you, this engine is a modern design with some tricks up its sleeve. Despite the push rods, Chrysler managed to fit variable valve timing, a variable length intake manifold, cylinder deactivation, alloy pistons and 16 spark plugs. The combination is good for 470HP and 465 lb-ft of torque.

Thanks to the “Mercedes years”, Chrysler was still using a Mercedes 5-speed transmission behind the 3.6L V6 and the 6.4L V8 in 2012 and 2013. While not a bad transmission, the 5-speed’s ratios were not well mated to the 6.4L V8. In order to get SRT levels of performance, a different final drive was fitted making the engine spin over 2,400RPM at 70 MPH. The new ZF 8-speed automatic allows a lower effective first gear, a more balanced ratio spread and a taller final gear so the engine can at 1,900 RPM at 70. Directing power to all four wheels is an MP 3010 electronic proportioning transfer case. The driver can select from five drive modes that control the torque split, shift pattern and the dynamic suspension system. Auto gives the softest suspension, slowest shifts and sends 40% of the engine power to the front for balanced handling. Sport stiffens and makes the shifts crisper, while sending only 35% of the power to the front for more rear bias. Track provides the stiffest dampening and sends 70% of the power to the rear for even more of a RWD feel (2012 and 2013 models topped out at a 35/65 split). Should you like things 50/50, Sport and Tow modes provide balanced power front and rear. One thing you still won’t find however is a torque vectoring rear axle, Jeep retains the electronic limited slip unit found in other Grand Cherokee models.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-016Drive

The Grand Cherokee SRT has all the right numbers for bat-shit-crazy status, but can it deliver? In a word: Yes. Backing that answer up is a blistering 4.1 second run to 60 and an eye-popping 1.37 second 0-30 time. But can it truly compete with the Germans? Despite the new interior and 8-speed automatic (basically the same transmission Porsche, BMW and Range Rover use) the SRT isn’t as refined, inside or on the road. Driven back to back with the competition, the SRT feels more like the Range Rover or the Mercedes than the tighter BMW or Porsche. The Merc comparisons are especially interesting since the ML and the Grand Cherokee share plenty of design DNA.

Although Mercedes has fitted a more powerful twin-turbo V8 (515 HP / 516 lb0-ft or 550 HP / 560 lb-ft), the Merc feels less connected to the road than the Jeep. Part of this is due top the air ride suspension Mercedes uses and part of it is due to the narrow 265 width standard tires. While you can get 295s all the way around, it’ll cost you dearly as the ML63 is easy to option over $100,000. Factor in the dated COMAND system and the 7-speed auto that is 1 gear shy of everyone else and the ML comes in last.

Land Rover’s Ranger Rover Sport continues to march to a different drummer. Although the 5.0L V8 produces 510 HP and 461 lb-ft of twist, the Rover’s mission is more luxury than sport. The English mountain climber retains all the off road hardware of the lesser models, all season tires and a high ground clearance. Thanks to the supercharged engine’s lack of torque compared to the rest, the Range Rover is also the slowest to highway speeds. While the Range Rover would be my choice if I had the cash, the fact that it isn’t really the same kind of animal puts it in fourth place.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-008

Porsche’s Cayenne is, without question, a beast. With sharp handling, an excellent weight balance and a well-trimmed interior you’d logically expect the Touareg’s rich cousin to take top billing. However, there’s a big value problem. In order to get 4-second 0-60 performance like the rest, you have to throw down at least $146,000 for the Turbo S model and getting crazy with the option sheet can bump your out the door by more than $25,000 without trying very hard.

BMW’s X5M would take top billing if it was still made, but, for the moment at least, there is no X5M for shoppers to contemplate. The outgoing X5M model’s torque vectoring axle, insanely wide tires, low stance and underrated twin-turbo V8 are a lethal combination. The fact that the outgoing X5M was also cheaper than the ML63 and the Cayenne certainly helps the value proposition as well. That is, if you can call a six figure vehicle a “value.”

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-015

That means that the $70,135 Jeep (as tested) is my pick for 2014. And now let’s talk about why. The fact that you could literally get two for the price of a Cayenne is huge, and that’s because I’m all about value. Value isn’t being the cheapest (although the Jeep wins that award by over $30,000 in this mash-up) it’s about delivering the same or similar experience for less, and that’s something the SRT has down. But there’s also something rough and rugged about the Jeep that elicits more charm. The Jeep’s interior is more utilitarian, the throttle blips on down shift lack the fanfare and overrun “pops” you get with the competition and there’s still that Jeep logo on the hood. More skill is required to pilot the SRT around a canyon road making it more engaging than the Teutonic competition. (It isn’t just the product that’s a little crazy, Chrysler allowed folks to drive the Jeep on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, other manufacturers kept their toys out of harm’s way.)

The lack of a torque vectoring rear axle means you have to be in control of the Jeep, while more refined nannies and vectoring systems in the Porsche and BMW can make anyone feel like a pro. The Cayenne and X5M are also better balanced than the Jeep which wears 54% of its weight up front thanks to that cast iron engine, but when pressed hard the Jeep gives up little to the Germans. Even in a straight line the Jeep’s numbers stack up well. Thanks to the 8-speed auto in the Jeep, and the old 6-speed ZF unit in the 2013 X5M we tested, the Jeep’s power deficit resulted in a scant 1/100th 0-30 penalty, 1/10th 0-60 penalty and by the 1/4 mile the Jeep was still neck and neck at 1/10th and 6 MPH slower.

After a week with the Grand Cherokee SRT I was sad to see it go, even after I noted my 15.5 MPG fuel economy average. Perhaps it is because I recently bought a Saab 9-7 Aer0 with GM’s 390 horse LS2, so I seem to be the target market for a value performance SUV. Perhaps it is because I’ll nver be able to afford the SRT’s German competition but the Jeep is within reach if I sell a kidney. Or, perhaps the real reason is that a 5,150lb Jeep with a 6.4L push-rod V8 engine making 470 horsepower that ticks off a 0-30 time faster than a BMW M6 rain or shine is bat-shit-crazy. Anyone know the going rate for a kidney?

Chrysler provides the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review. Chrysler provided an SRT Grand Cherokee at a Mazda Raceway event for local press.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 1.37 Seconds

0-60: 4.1 Seconds

0-100: 11.33 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.7 Seconds @ 107 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 15.5 over 989 miles

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-001 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-002 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4L HEMI V8 Engine-003 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-001 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-002 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-003 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-004 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-005 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-006 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-007 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-008 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-009 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-010 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-011 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-012 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-013 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-014 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-015 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-016 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-017 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-001 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-002 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-003 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-004 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-005 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-006 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-007 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-008 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-009 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-010 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-011 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-012 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Interior-013 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee LCD Instrument Cluster

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-chevrolet-silverado-1500-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-chevrolet-silverado-1500-with-video/#comments Tue, 19 Nov 2013 15:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=649338 I’ve never cared for the phrase “as American as apple pie” as apple pie is far from an American invention. Instead, we should say as “American as the pickup truck.” In 1925 Ford crafted the “Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body” and America’s love affair began. The Chevrolet Silverado, and its mechanical twin the […]

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2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’ve never cared for the phrase “as American as apple pie” as apple pie is far from an American invention. Instead, we should say as “American as the pickup truck.” In 1925 Ford crafted the “Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body” and America’s love affair began. The Chevrolet Silverado, and its mechanical twin the GMC Sierra, may not be the best-selling vehicle in America (that award goes to the aging Ford F-150) but the Chevy alone has outsold the Toyota Camry by 55,000 units this year. Toss in the Sierra and there are more GM trucks sold on our shores in a year than all the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche products put together. The high sales number and high profit margins explain the intense Ford vs Chevy vs RAM rivalry. With a new RAM in 2013 and a light refresh only a year later, GM is firing back with an all-new Silverado and Sierra. Does Chevy’s new half-ton have what it takes to be king of the hill?

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Outside, the 2014 Silverado retains Chevy’s classic styling cues with stacked headlamps and plenty of straight lines. Although I didn’t think it possible, the wheel wells have become even more square for 2014.  GM’s trucks have long been the sedate option in the half ton market, but Chevy has decided to inject a more passion for 2014. Up front we get a bolder grille, and following in Ford and Chrysler’s footsteps, there’s the vaguest hint of “big rig” styling in the hood stamping. New projector headlamps and an enormous chrome bumper round out the transformation.

Although the Silverado has grown slightly over the last generation, the difference isn’t huge. One major change for 2014 that does increase the truck’s size is the availability of the standard bed (6′ 6″) and crew cab combination making this combo 10 inches longer than the 2013 crew cab model and just shy of 20-feet. Also increasing in size for 2014 are the enormous square wheel wells. Square wells with round wheels have always looked a little peculiar to my eye. Be sure to sound off in the comment section. Although it’s a GM design cue that’s lived on for years, I think the square wheel wells would look better with a square-themed wheel. The ginormous openings will likely make aftermarket tuners happy since it’s easier to stuff bigger rubber on the Silverado without modification, but it made out tester’s enormous 20-inch wheels look small. Despite the squareness, and my family’s allegiance to the RAM brand, I think the Silverado manages to be the best looking half ton on the market by a hair.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes
Interior

While the outside impressed me with bold, aggressive styling and impressive fit and finish for a pickup truck, I was honestly disappointed by the interior. I found the Silverado a better place to spend my time than the Ford, but the 2014 RAM is not only more pleasing in style, but also more functional and Chrysler offers an extensive upgrade list including real wood trim and leather door panels. Practical features have long been a selling point and that continues for the Silverado. We get two glove boxes, large door storage pockets and a new center console in 5-passenger models. The wide console sports a whopping five USB ports, two of which are linked to the infotainment system while the others are charge only. There are multiple 12V DC outlets and an optional 120V inverter if you click the right option box. The console storage has been improved for 2014 but I found it to be slightly less useful than Ford or RAM’s stashes due to the cup holder module which “kinda-sorta” covers the front of the console. (Check out the picture above.)

Front seat comfort is easily the best in the half-ton market regardless of trim level. RAM’s front seats suffer from the same ergonomic flaw as many of Chrysler’s latest products: seats you sit on, not in. The Chevy’s seats on the other hand seemed perfectly shaped while the foam ranged from plush in our LTZ tester, to moderately firm in the base models. Likewise the rear seats scored top in the class with soft padding and seat bottom cushions that provided more thigh support than the competition.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Infotainment

If you’re a regular reader, you will know that I have praised GM’s low and mid-range touchscreen systems as some of the best in the business. Sadly the Silverado does not use that system. Instead, the Silverado joins the Impala and Buick LaCrosse in using a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE. So as not to step directly on their luxury brand’s toes, there are a few changes made to the system for truck duty. The expensive glass capacitive touchscreen (looks like a modern smartphone) is swapped for a resistive unit that isn’t as crisp or as glare reducing. The Chevy and Buick systems also get physical buttons for some system features, a marked improvement over Cadillac’s touchscreen only interface. Aside from these charges, the majority of CUE remains.

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

Overall this implementation of MyLink ties with Toyota’s Entune system in the Tundra for third, with MyFord Touch coming in second and Chrysler’s uConnect taking the lead. uConnect is far more intuitive, the graphics are more pleasing to the eye and the system is generally more responsive. Thanks to a 2014 software update the RAM now offers OnStar like emergency services as well as app integration in the head unit.  The last thing you should know about MyLink is that it is hard to avoid. Most models of the Silverado on the lot have either the large screen or small screen version with only the most basic trim levels getting a standard radio/CD player unit.

2014 5.3L V-8 EcoTec3 AFM VVT DI (L83) for Chevrolet Silverado aDrivetrain

Instead of aping and releasing a new model with old engines, GM packs in three brand-new engines for 2014. Dubbed the EcoTec3 engine family, the Silverado comes standard with a 4.3L V6, an optional 5.3L V8 and soon there will be a 6.2L V8. All three engines share design elements, push rods and direct-injection. The 4.3L V6 is exclusive to GM’s trucks, not shared with cars and crossovers like Ford and Chrysler, the reason is obvious when you look at the power numbers. At 285 HP and 305 lb-ft of torque, the large V6 produced less power but considerably more torque than Ford’s 3.7 or or RAM’s 3.6. Thanks to variable valve timing and the direct-injection sauce, the V6 Silverado manages 18/24 MPG (City/Highway) without any special fuel economy trim parts added. While it doesn’t beat the RAM SFE’s 25 MPG highway number, it beats everything else.

Our tester had GM’s volume engine option, the 355 HP and 383 lb-ft 5.3L V8. In addition to the same variable valve timing and direct-injection systems the V6 gets, both V8 engines feature cylinder deactivation to improve highway MPGs. The 5.3L engine cranks out less power and twist than RAM’s 5.7L HEMI, but is competitive against Ford’s 5.0L V8. Those interested in V8 bragging rights will want to jump up to the 6.2L V8 which produces a class leading 420 ponies and 440 lb-ft of torque.

Regardless of the engine you choose, a GM 6-speed automatic will be sending power to the ground. The rumor mill is alive and well that an 8-speed automatic is in the works but GM has no official line on that. That puts GM on par with the 6-speed F-150 and two cogs behind the 2014 RAM 1500. You’ll find the usual part-time four-wheel drive systems and an off-road package in the Silverado but you won’t find the 2014 half-ton game changer under any Silverado’s hood: a small diesel. If your interest is piqued, come back for our review of the 2014 RAM 1500 diesel in a few weeks.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Towing and Payload

Trucks are all about hauling and towing and GM came to this fight to win. While most pickup trucks advertise high payloads yet only deliver those payload numbers in very specific model/trim combinations, the Silverado boasts large numbers across the board. Ranging from 1,875 to 2,100 pounds, the Silverado easily bests the RAM’s 1,340-1,620 pound payload range (now that the RAM 1500 “Heavy Duty” has been axed) and likewise is more impressive than the F-150’s 1,510-2,090 range. (The F-150 is available in a heavy-duty frame model which uses F-250 frame and suspension parts and F-150 sheet metal, I don’t consider that a half-ton truck.) The big thing to know about the Silverado’s payload numbers however is how simple the payload chart is and how little it varies from one model to the next unlike Ford’s payload chart that is pages long.

When it comes to towing, Toyota would like us all to know that they are the only one with a SAE certification when it comes to towing. Does that matter? Probably not. With the 4.3L six-banger the Silverado is good for 5,900-7,200lbs of conventional trailering, 1,100 more than Ford’s base V6 but lower than the RAM V6 thanks to their new ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic. 5.3L models jump to 6,800-11,400, ahead of the RAM and Ford and if serious towing is your bag, the 6.2L V8 can haul a 12,000lb trailer. Of course anything over 10,000lbs is probably academic for half-ton owners, since most states require you to have a commercial license to haul that kind of weight. When it comes to towing capacity, the Silverado V8s are king, but how about towing feel? That’s a different story.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesDrive

With my 7,500lbs trailer attached, the Silverado and the RAM’s towing abilities are defined by their transmission. With two fewer gears to choose from, the Silverado felt less capable despite the stouter numbers on paper. It’s all about the feel, especially when hill climbing. The Silverado’s V6 may put out more torque than Chrysler’s 3.6L car engine, but as Archimedes said “give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” ZF’s 8-speed automatic seemed to always have the right gear for every situation with the V6. Things get even better in RAM-land when you hitch the sheep up to Chrysler’s more powerful 5.7L HEMI. And that’s before we even talk about RAM’s new 3.0L diesel engine with 420 lb-ft of twist mated to the same transmission. This places the Silverd0, yet again, second in the class behind the RAM but ahead of the Ford.

The RAM beats the Silverado when it comes to ride quality as well.  Whether the RAM is loaded or empty, equipped with the standard coil springs or the optional air suspension, the ride is both softer and more composed than the Chevy. The RAM’s ability to load-level with that optional suspension puts even more daylight between the RAM and the GM pickups. I have to temper that with the reality that the RAM can’t tow or haul as much as the Silverado. Shoppers will need to decide if payload and towing limits are more important than ride quality since needs will vary. Likely due to the F-150’s age, the Ford feels more disconnected than the Silverado both on and off the road.
2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Gauges-001

Although a 16.8 MPG average might sound bad to Camcord shoppers, that’s not a bad number for a V8 pickup truck on a daily commute cycle with 120 miles of weekend trailer towing. GMç 6-speed transmission has a fairly tall 6th gear and the Ecotec3 family of V8 engines has an aggressive cylinder deactivation program. Combined they allow the Silverado with the 5.3L V8 to get 23 highway MPGs in 2WD trim and 22 MPG in 4WD trim according to the EPA. On a level highway with the cruise control set to 68 I had no troubles averaging 26-27 MPG when the ending was in 4-cylinder mode. Despite the RAM’s 8-speed transmission, the Silverado delivers superior EPA and real world MPG numbers while sipping on regular gasoline (RAM recommends mid-grade in HEMI models.)

Our Silverado Z71 LTZ 4WD tester rang in at $50,475 thanks to a bevy of options from park assist to a heated steering wheel and 20-inch chrome wheels. However you configure your Silverado, the 2014 model will be asking a $1,500 premium over the 2013 model thanks to a late price hike from the general. Although there are still plenty of cash on the hood offers, many dealers are complaining that the price tags are scaring away potential shoppers. This means the MSRP for our Silverado was between $1,500 and $2,500 higher than competitive Ford or RAM trucks with the difference widening slightly when you adjust for feature content. When you factor in GM’s deeper discounts the difference becomes negligible but the crazy logic remains the same.

At the end of a week, I was sorry to see the Silverado go but I was also sad GM didn’t delay the Silverado for a year. With the 2013 RAM meeting press and sales success, I think there was a missed opportunity to put the Silverado on hold, toss in a new transmission and an optional self leveling coil spring rear suspension. Doing so would have made the Silverado more competitive in this high volume, high profit segment. Still, the Silverado has a great deal going for it. With the highest payload and towing capacities in the market combined with the best real world fuel economy numbers there are some good reasons to put the Silverado at the top of your list. For the rest of us, the RAM’s better road manners, snazzier feature list, top-notch infotainment system and excellent 8-speed automatic will seal the deal.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.13 Seconds

0-60: 8.17 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 16.5 Seconds @ 87.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 16.8 MPG over 784 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 67 dB

 

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-011 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-012 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior-013 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Gauges 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Gauges-001 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Infotainment-001 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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Review: 2014 Buick Enclave (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-buick-enclave-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-buick-enclave-with-video/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2013 14:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=642841 I’ve dished out plenty of Buick love lately. The Verano beats Acura and Lexus at the entry-luxury game and the tiny Encore is an oddly attractive (albeit underpowered) crossover that is outselling the Mini Countryman and Range Rover Evoque by a wide margin. What can we attribute this sales success to? I posit that the […]

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2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’ve dished out plenty of Buick love lately. The Verano beats Acura and Lexus at the entry-luxury game and the tiny Encore is an oddly attractive (albeit underpowered) crossover that is outselling the Mini Countryman and Range Rover Evoque by a wide margin. What can we attribute this sales success to? I posit that the original Buick Enclave is the impetus. Landing in 2007 as a 2008 model, it was the poster child of the “new Buick.” On the surface, the Enclave was the replacement for the Buick Rainier, the only GMT360 SUV I haven’t owned. (Just kidding, I’ve only owned 2 of the 11 varieties.) But that’s a simplistic view. In reality the Enclave was intended to elevate the brand enough to compete with three row luxury crossovers from Germany and Japan. This brings us to today’s question: six years and a mild face-lift later, does the Buick still have the goods?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Like Rainier, the Enclave is closely related to a GMC and Chevy version. Unlike the Rainier, the Enclave has only two doppelgängers instead of the 6-11 stablemates the Rainier contended with (depending on how you count your GMT360 and related SUVs.) The Chevy Traverse tackles the bottom of the market, the GMC Acadia handles the middle, and Buick occupies the top rung. That means the $38,740 to $52,925 Buick is targeted at the same shoppers as the Acura MDX, Infinti JX35/QX60, Lincoln MKT, the aging Volvo XC90 and if you believe GM, the Audi Q7.

Exterior

Although there is a strong family resemblance, GM managed to style the closely priced Acadia and Enclave differently enough that the Buick looks more expensive when parked next to the GMC. The Traverse, on the other hand, shares very similar styling cues and the family resemblance is more pronounced. This could be a problem for potential shoppers as the only other entry in this segment that shares heavily with a mass-market variant is the Infiniti. (The Nissan Pathfinder’s twin.)

Despite the parts sharing, the Buick cuts an elegant form that my eye hasn’t tired of. The mid-cycle refresh brings new front and rear end styling to bring the Enclave up to date with the rest of the Buick lineup. Although I like the look of the Enclave, I don’t find it as appealing as the new MDX or Q7. In terms of style, I’d call it a tie between the Buick, Infniti and Volvo. Even though Buick’s questionable “ventiports” are continuing to grow and migrate to the top of the hood, the engineers made sure you can’t see them from inside the car.

The other thing the engineers managed to hide is the sheer size of the Enclave. Buick’s curvaceous design language managed to fool a friend of mine who said he was looking at an Enclave because he thought his Escalade was too big and too hard to park. Let’s look at the numbers. The Enclave is exactly 6/10ths of an inch shorter than the big Caddy and rides on a wheelbase nearly three inches longer. The Buick is 5 inches shorter than the Cadillac making it easier to get in a short garage, but it’s just as wide at 79 inches. Don’t assume it’s easier to park wither since it cuts a turning circle one and a half feet bigger. This is the kind of Buick I remember: ginormous.

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior

I consider myself something of a dashboard connoisseur. I like my dashboards elegant, tasteful, squishy and preferably made from cow. I was therefore surprised to find the Enclave has best injection molded dashboard available. GM starts out with a single piece molded dashboard designed to look like leather with different textures pieced together. The molded product is then stitched with a sewing machine to insert thread along the injection molded faux-seams.

The result is impressive. Unfortunately the rest of the Enclave’s interior didn’t receive this level of attention. This means the old Enclave’s thin steering wheel is still shared with the defunct Buick Lucerne and the only real wood you’ll find is on that optional half-wood tiller. Odder still is the fact that no attempt is made to have the real wood look like the face wood in the car with the fake wood having a grey hue and the steering wheel veneer being nutty brown. I know I’m going to get complaints from this statement, but here I go. In a market where everyone but Acura is doing real wood, the aces of forest-substitute stick out like a sore thumb. (Note: the Canadian MDX can have real tree as an option.)

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Enclave counters these interior mis-steps with large and comfortable front seats and the only 8-seat configuration in this class. That 8th seat is important because it allows the Enclave to compete not only with the competition we have mentioned so far, but also with large body-on-frame SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX 570, Infiniti QX56/QX80. In this context the Buick has a significant price advantage over the larger competition starting $25,000 lower than the Cadillac. Because those large competitors are aging and often draw heavily from their mass-market donor trucks, the Buick represents a decent value without looking like a cheap alternative.

As with all three-row SUVs, seats get less comfortable as you move towards the back. The middle captain’s chairs in the 7-seat Enclave are the most comfortable among the 3-row crossover segment while the optional three-seat middle bench drops  to class average. Due to the Buick’s age, you won’t find power flip/fold seats like the Acura or kid-friendly second row seats that can move forward with a child seat strapped in place. The Enclave regains its class leading comfort status in the third row with the most head room and cushiest thrones.

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment
Being a refresh and not a redesign, 2014 doesn’t being an infotainment revolution to the Enclave. As it turns out this is a good thing. GM created a new integrated navigation and entertainment system that could be fitted to all their older vehicles to make them competitive with the systems coming out of Ford, Chrysler and BMW. This “stop-gap system” (my words, not GM’s) is one of my favorites on the market regardless of class. Although it is sold under the same Intellilink brand name as the Cadillac CUE derived system in the new LaCrosse, this system is totally different and in my eyes, superior.

Shared with the Encore, Verano and a few other GM products, the software is responsive, intuitive, and makes use of a bank of physical buttons that make navigating the system easy. As with other systems that I lean towards, Buick’s allows you to use either a control knob, the touchscreen or an extensive voice command library to interact with the system. Although a 7-inch screen is smaller than many of the competitors, I’d rather interact with Buick’s interface on a daily basis than Audi’s MMI. For a complete dive into the touchscreen interface, check out the video at the top of the review.

2013 GM 3.6L V-6 VVT DI (LLT) for Buick Enclave

Drivetrain

GM’s ubiquitous 3.6L direct-injection V6 is the only engine on offer in the Enclave cranking out the same 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque as in the other Lambda crossovers. (The Traverse also uses a 281 horsepower variant on base models.) Those power numbers put the Encore in the middle of the pack with the 240 HP Volvo being the least powerful and the Lincoln MKT being the most powerful at 303 ponies from its 3.7L V6. Having the HP crown wasn’t enough for Ford, so they also make their 365 HP twin-turbo V6  available.

Sending power to the front wheels is a 6-speed transaxle that has been reprogrammed for more civilized shifts and less lag when downshifting. Like last year, you can add AWD for $2,000 more. I should point out now that although the Audi Q7 is still a front heavy crossover, it is the only rear-wheel biased crossover in this segment and as such uses ZF’s silky-smooth 8-speed automatic.

2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The Verano may be an Opel in American clothing, but the Enclave is traditional Buick out on the road. The enormous and high-profile tires (255/65R18), soft suspension and quiet cabin soak up the road around you allowing you to comfortably rack up the highway miles. When the road starts winding, the same tires and springs that allow for a compliant ride conspire with the nearly 5,000lb curb weight to take a toll on handling. That heavy curb weight also has an effect on performance, with the Enclave talking 7.3 seconds to hit 60, nearly a full second behind the Acura. Why? It’s all about the weight with the Acura being 700lbs lighter and even the cast-iron Volvo is 400lbs slimmer. Although I can’t say that 7.3 seconds to get to 60mph is excruciating, even the Infiniti JX35 with a tall first gear and the least torque in the group manages the task before the Buick. Only the ancient Volvo XC90 and the diesel Q7 slot in after the Enclave.

If you’re the kind of shopper that wants to hit the back country roads after dropping the kids off at preschool, the MDX is the clear winner in the segment. Surprisingly, the Enclave didn’t end up at the bottom of the segment when it comes to road manners. That’s where you’ll find the soft, CVT equipped Infiniti and the Volvo. Middle of the road manners and segment average pricing means the Enclave manages a “decidedly Toyota” middle of the pack finish. Unless you select that eight-seat option.

Now I must come back to that full-size SUV digression. If you’re looking for a three row vehicle that seats eight, you don’t have many options. If you want something that seats 8 and had some luxury pretense you have even less choice. It also means you’re going to end up with either a GM Lambda platform crossover, or a luxury body-on-frame product that dates back to the 1990s when “tarted up Tahoes” were all the rage. When pitted against this competition, the Enclave’s handling, steering feel and fuel economy go from class middling to class leading. While the Enclave isn’t as fast as the Escalade or the QX56/QX80, it beats the Lexus to freeway speeds. The Buick is also easier to park, easier on the eyes and easier on the wallet.

After six years on the market, the Buick that started the brand’s resurrection is starting to show its age. The Enclave is crossover in the truest sense of the world straddling the middle ground between the minivan like entries like the Infiniti and the large and thirsty truck-based options like the Cadillac Escalade. My final word is that if you’re looking for a 7-seat three row utility vehicle, there are plenty of better options out there, but if you’re looking for an 8-seat utility vehicle then the Enclave should be on the top of your list. In the end, that 8th seat is probably the best thing the Enclave has going for it.

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

0-30: 3.06 Seconds

0-60: 7.3 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.9 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 17.5 MPG over 559 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68 db

2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-001 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-002 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-003 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-004 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-005 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-006 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior-008 2014 Buick Enclave Interior 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-001 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-002 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-003 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-004 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-005 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-006 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-007 2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-010 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-011 2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-013 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-014 2014 Buick Enclave Interior-015

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS250 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:58:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=639233 After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of […]

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2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior

After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of their lineup has been overhauled. Initially, I was a little concerned that the Lexus IS sedan would receive nothing more than a new nose and some LED lights for 2014 but the Japanese 3-Series fighter came out swinging when we were invited to the launch event earlier in the year. I came away impressed with the IS 350’s road manners, but most buyers will be shopping for the less powerful IS 250 and it’s taken us this long to get our hands on one.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

Instead of refreshing the IS, Lexus decided to give their smallest RWD sedan a complete overhaul for 2014. Lexus crafted a new IS platform with a 3-inch longer wheelbase that addresses a big complaint about the old car – it was too small inside for American consumers. The result is an entirely new unibody that is three inches longer than the old model riding on a three-inch longer wheelbase. In addition to the stretch the 2014 model gets a hair wider, a hair taller and ground clearance drops by half an inch.

2014 Lexus IS 250 2014 Lexus IS 350, Exteruiotr, F-Sport Front grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

In addition to the Lexus “Spindle” grille up front, the IS sports an entirely different side profile that is easily the most expressive in the small luxury segment. Although I like Cadillac’s new ATS on the outside, I think the IS provides a more balanced blend of aggressive and luxury styling cues from the angry front end, to the almost-Swedish shoulder bulges. Unfortunately I just haven’t warmed up to the Lexus daytime running lamps which are now divorced from the headlamps and have their own cut-out in the bumper cover. Lexus says they are styled after the Lexus “L” but they just look like Nike “Swooshes” to my eye. Even so, if it were my money to spend I’d be torn between the restrained but elegant BMW 328i and the aggressive but sometimes questionable IS 250. I like Cadillac’s angular lines, but I slot the design just below the BMW and Lexus in my mental tally. Add the F-Sport package to the IS 250 however and Lexus breaks the tie with a more aggressive grille. (In the picture above.)

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Because the GS and LS share interior design cues I had expected the IS to follow suit, I was wrong. While the other Lexus models have opted for a more open and expansive interior theme, the IS feels tight and close to the driver. The feeling is amplified by a high beltline and a tall center console. If you like your car to make you “feel big,” then this is the sedan for you. Rather than the “double bump” style that seems to be popular right now, Lexus opted for a tall two-tier look with the infotainment screen positioned farther away from the driver than the gauges, and centered in the tall dashboard. Opting for the F-Sport package replaces the analog gauges with a configurable LCD cluster.

Cabin plastics in the IS lead the competition, especially those farther from the driver’s usual reach. While BMW cut a few corners with the current 3-Series by using hard plastics low in the dash, the IS maintains a quality feel no matter how low your hand wanders. As you’d expect from Lexus, one can still get acres of stained wood and soft leather. “Can” is the operative word here,since  real leather can only be found in the top two option packages in the IS, while all other models get Lexus’s faux-cow that is bonded directly to the seat foam to prevent stretching or folding as the seat ages. The imitation-hide is perfectly convincing and the only covering available in the IS 250 F-Sport.

Front seat comfort proved excellent during my week with the IS 250, easily besting the Audi A4, Mercedes C250, Cadillac ATS and the base seats in the BMW 328i – but if you want the best seats in this segment, you’ll find those in the Volvo S60 or the optional M-Sport seats in the BMW. Thanks to the wheelbase stretch, rear legroom is up by 1.6 inches over the last generation IS, while front leg room grows about an inch at the same time. The improved rear legroom is welcome as that has long been an IS shortcoming, but it’s obvious by both Lexus and Cadillac’s latest 3-Series fighter that nobody expected the 3-Series to grow as much as it did in this last generation. As a result the 328i beats the IS 250 by a whopping three inches of rear legroom. The Lexus does counter with a slightly larger trunk, but I found the overall trunk dimensions to be slightly more advantageous in the BMW balancing out the extra cube the IS offers.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Although I couldn’t find a single example on a dealer lot, the base IS with no options is the only way you can escape the infamous Lexus Remote Touch joystick. All other models use a small controller with haptic feedback to control a software interface originally designed for use with a touchscreen LCD. Regardless of the input method, all IS models get a 7-inch color LCD positioned far away from the driver. The base model sports a noticeable low resolution screen while all other models get a high resolution screen of the same size. The distance from the driver and the large plastic bezel conspire to make the screen look much smaller than it is. The problem is further compounded by the screen being actually smaller than the competition as well.

2014 brings some mild software updates to the infotainment software including a new home screen (shown above), HD Radio support and traffic information via HD radio instead of satellite so you don’t need an XM subscription to get a color-coded traffic map. If you can get beyond the input method, the system proved reliable and moderately intuitive. Overall however I am still forced to rank this system below BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Infinit’s new two-screen setup, Volvo’s Sensus, and even Mercedes’ aging COMAND system. The only system to offend my inner-nerd more is with the Cadillac CUE system.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Operating by the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fit it” mantra, there are no significant changes under the hood for the IS 250 this year. That means we have the same 2.5L, direct-injection, 60° V6 engine as before, good for the same 204 ponies and 185 lb-ft of twist. (The IS 350 gets a 3.5L version of the same engine, making 306 HP and 277 lb-ft.) Just as before, we have a 6-speed transmission on offer (The RWD IS 350 gets a newer 8-speed), with AWD commanding $2,535 more. Should you opt for the F-Sport package, Lexus will add a sound amplifying snorkel to the intake plumbing to amplify the engine’s growl.

With everyone else moving to forced-induction four-cylinder engines, the smooth V6 engine is what sets the IS 250 apart. I know that calling a V6 “smooth” or, dare I say it, “buttery smooth” sounds like sacrilege, but since BMW no longer offers their naturally aspirated in-line 6 under the hood of the 328i, the refinement crown goes to Lexus.  There is more going on here than just the numbers however, because the small turbos not only deliver more torque, they do so across a much broader RPM range than Lexus’ 2.5L V6. Even the Mercedes 1.8L turbo in the C250 blows out more torque across a broader band than the six cylinder mill in the IS 250. For reasons known only to Lexus’ product planning team, the 220 horsepower IS 300h, which mates the same engine to Lexus’s RWD hybrid drivetrain, remains forbidden fruit on our shores.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The IS’s 2.5L V6 may be down on power compared to the Americans and Germans but it is no contest when it comes to refinement or engine note. Sadly refinement isn’t what propels you to 60, so when the light turns green you’ll have a whisper quiet view of the competition’s rear bumpers. Our tester ran to 60 in 7.02 seconds, a full 1.3 seconds slower than the 328i and 1 second slower than the ATS 2.0T.  Even the 1.8L turbo in the Mercedes C250 and the bargain-basement BMW 320i beat the IS 250 to 60 MPH by a few tenths.

The responsiveness of the IS in tight corners demonstrates how much time Lexus spent engineering the 2014 model. The old IS came across as isolated, perhaps even sloppy, while the third generation chassis is sharp and crisp. Every system in the IS feels like a team player from the numb suspension to the transmission shift logic and the revised double-wishbone front suspension. While the IS isn’t the hard-core corner carving machine the ATS 2.0T is, the IS 250 feels more harmonious and balanced on the road. Oddly enough, the BMW is the wild card. The E90 3-Series (previous generation) was precise and engaging, but the F30 (current generation) has traded handling prowess for a softer ride and a ginormous back seat. Meanwhile the Audi and Volvo plow like a John Deere when they encounter a corner and the Mercedes feels just as you would expect: heavy and soft. That’s not to say the IS is the performance winner. The Lexus is a hair heavier in the nose than the BMW, so at-limits handling is not as neutral as the ATS and because of the power deficit, the 328i is faster around the track. While the Lexus feels more precise and engaging than the BMW, the 328i’s better weight balance means it is both faster in the straightaways and holds its own in the corners. How about the Cadillac? It beats both the Lexus and the BMW hands down.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004

Without taking price into consideration, the IS 250 makes a compelling argument for those that value smooth drivetrains, excellent steering feel and chassis dynamics. If however you value performance, luxury amenities and cabin room, the BMW is your best bet. If you’re a BMW shopper that is after the “ultimate driving machine” then you need to visit the Cadillac dealer.

Reviews are nothing without pricing information however. The IS 250 is the cheapest car in this shootout by a long shot. The IS undercuts the BMW 328i by $3,600 (adjusting for feature content) and even manages to be $1,700 less than the BMW 320i. Option up the BMW and Lexus with navigation, sport pack and leather and the delta grows to more than $5,000. The story is the same with the Cadillac and Mercedes with the ATS ringing in $4,200 to $7,500 more and the C250 a whopping $5,500-$7,500 more. The Infiniti Q50 may seem like a natural competitor but Infiniti has yet to release a model that competes directly with the low output options in this segment.

After a week with the IS 250 and a few hours in the Cadillac ATS and 328i in the same week something dawned on me. Lexus and Cadillac have managed to do what they set out to: beat BMW at their own game. Cadillac has nearly replicated an E90 3-Series in terms of handling and chassis performance, Lexus has crafted a drivetrain and steering rack that are superior in smoothness and feel to what BMW is selling. But just when the competition caught up BMW decided to play a different game. By chasing luxury, roominess and fuel economy, BMW has shifted the focus away from driving dynamics. (Yep, I said that out loud.) And in the process BMW is laughing all the way to the bank. By chasing BMW Lexus has created the finest IS 250, yet the sales indicate what Lexus should have been chasing is the customer.  For a car guy like me, the way the IS 250’s systems seem to work in perfect harmony combined with the low sticker price make it a winner. For the average shopper however, Lexus is an 8-speed automatic and a four-cylinder turbo away from true competition.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.58 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.37 Seconds @ 89.1 MPH

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 66 Db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 27.5 MPG over 591 miles

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-005 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-003 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-010 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-011 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Trunk

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The Jeep Grand Cherokamino aka The Jeep Grand Comanche http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/the-jeep-grand-cherokamino-aka-the-jeep-grand-comanche/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/the-jeep-grand-cherokamino-aka-the-jeep-grand-comanche/#comments Fri, 01 Nov 2013 22:09:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=637329 TTAC has a new project car and it’s a beauty. Thanks to my dad who volunteered to drive from Austin to San Jose, I’m now the proud second owner of a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with 151,500 miles on the clock. If you’ve been following us on Facebook, then you might have guessed this […]

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2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

TTAC has a new project car and it’s a beauty. Thanks to my dad who volunteered to drive from Austin to San Jose, I’m now the proud second owner of a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with 151,500 miles on the clock. If you’ve been following us on Facebook, then you might have guessed this project would involve a Jeep, but up till now I have kept the depth of the planned Jeep perversion secret. What I’ll be attempting over the next few months might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done: converting a perfectly good unibody SUV into a “pickup.” Say what?

2000 Jeep Grand Comanche "30 Second Photoshop"

2000 Jeep Grand Comanche “30 Second Photoshop”

This isn’t the first time I have floated this kind of idea before. My last inspired vision was the Comanche reborn out of a Jeep Patriot. Sadly Patriots are holding their resale value too well and after months of searching I was unable to find something worth cutting up. Undeterred by my setbacks I saw an ad for a high mile 2007 Patriot while I was visiting my folks near Austin, TX. Although the lead turned out to be a bust, my crazy parents decided to buy themselves a snazzy new 2014 Grand Cherokee because “we’re already at the dealer.” Gotta love the logic. After hours of bickering, the dealer offered $1800 for their immaculate daily driver and my brain shifted gears. I offered the same price and my dad, in a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, said “why don’t I just give it to you son.” My new plan was put into action.

It is now time for some disclosures and important statements. This project is obviously for entertainment value only. My entertainment value primarily, but if you find it interesting to watch then we’re on to something. This means that comments like “why don’t you sell it and buy a X instead?” are pointless. Also obvious is the fact that I’ve never done anything like this before so it is incredibly likely that I’ll be doing stupid things, getting things wrong and generally making an ass of myself. That’s just par for this course. While I may mention specific products, I’m not endorsing anything and no person or company has given this project any free stuff. (This makes me very sad.) Lastly, if you have any suggestions, know of any sources for parts, or are in the area and want to check the disaster out, let us know.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Why on earth are you trying this?

Aside from the obvious perverse pleasure gained from sawing the roof off a perfectly good car, I need a vehicle that I can use around the house for moving manure, feed, hay/straw and possibly the odd animal or two. I have 9 acres of heavily wooded mountain property, so 4WD and knobby off-road rubber are a must. Logically something like a John Deere Gator would have been a good idea, but they are expensive, boring, and use a crappy rubber-belt CVT and a carburetor that has to be adjusted every hour to work properly.

John Deere Gator

Why a 2000 Grand Cherokee?

Well, it was free. It’s also easy to find parts for, fairly inexpensive to replace and there are a host of aftermarket off-road accessories that should make my conversion easier. Also, the unibody design on the Grand Cherokee is fairly stout for its age and it has “beefier” “frame rails” than most unibody SUV/CUV designs of the time. This additional floor strength should allow me to cut the roof off without too much issue.

It’ll fold like a taco!

Maybe. And if it does it should be incredibly funny. Hopefully it will also get caught on video.

What’s the condition of the donor car?

Near perfect for a 2000 with 151,000 miles on it. Since the Jeep was driven by a little old lady from Texas (my mom is 72 and 5’2″), everything is original, it has always been dealer serviced, has a recorded service history three miles long and everything except the CD changer works. The engine had some valve troubled at 140,000 miles and had a partial rebuild to address the problem, it has never towed and never been taken seriously off-road.

As soon as it arrived, the first thing I did was swap in a 3-inch lift kit with new springs, dampers, tie rods and a new track bar up front. Once the lift was complete I slapped on the 16-inch black steel rims shod with 265/75R16 rubber and that’s what you see before your eyes. What’s next? The removal of the interior.

 

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Review: 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-acura-ilx-2-4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-acura-ilx-2-4-with-video/#comments Sat, 26 Oct 2013 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=629290 The Acura ILX has been derided as being nothing more than a gussied-up Honda Civic, an analogy that I too applied to the compact Acura when it first arrived. But then our own Brendan McAleer caused me to question my dismissal of the ILX. How many shoppers out there are willing to option-up a base model […]

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2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Acura ILX has been derided as being nothing more than a gussied-up Honda Civic, an analogy that I too applied to the compact Acura when it first arrived. But then our own Brendan McAleer caused me to question my dismissal of the ILX. How many shoppers out there are willing to option-up a base model by 50% and don’t think twice about the fact their “limited” model looks just like the base model? All of a sudden the ILX, especially the 2.4L model we tested made sense to me. What was the revelation? Click through the jump to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

I know that we have a segment of readers that believe all modern cars look-alike, but I’m going to say it any way. The best thing about the ILX is that it doesn’t look like a Civic. Don’t believe me? Park a Civic and an ILX next to one another and you might even think the two cars are totally unrelated. How is this possible?  First off, no sheetmetal or glass are shared between the two and Acura decided to tweak just about every hard point other than the wheelbase for Acura duty. If you look at the picture below (which highlights how poor my Photoshop skills are) I have overlayed the ILX on the Civic for reference.

In addition to a blunter nose, lower roof and a more aggressive character line, Acura modified the structure of the car by moving the pillars around. The A pillar moves 8 inches rearward vs the Civic giving the ILX a hood that is several inches longer and a windshield that is more deeply curved. The C pillar has also been tweaked giving the ILX a more graceful silhouette and a smaller trunk lid. While they were at it they swapped in an aluminum hood for some moderate weight savings.

2013 Honda Civic EX-L SedanThe result of Acura’s nip/tuck is an attractive, albeit sedate, premium look. I think that Buick’s Verano is more exciting and the not-yet-on-sale 2015 Audi A3 looks more luxurious, but the ILX plays right to the conservative heart of the target Acura shopper. In keeping with the premium image, 17-inch wheels are standard on all ILX models except the hybrid where things drop to eco-minded 16-inch rims. The most demure Acura “beak” integrated into the front grille and hidden exhaust tips complete the design of the smallest Acura.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes
Interior

The ILX’s interior represents more of an upgrade over the Civic than I had expected. Soft injection molded plastics span the dashboard and very few parts are shared with the Honda . By my estimation. the interior parts sharing is limited to a traction control button, air vent open/close dials and the door handles. Anyone worried that the Civic’s funky two-tier dash is along for the ride will be pleased, the interior style of the ILX is very mainstream from the double-bump dashboard to the four-dial gauge cluster.

In typical Acura fashion the ILX comes well equipped in base form and options are bundled into packages helping to keep dealer inventory manageable. All ILX models get zone climate control, keyless ignition, push button start and a steering wheel wrapped in soft leather. Base hybrid models get manual cloth seats but all other ILX models get heated leather thrones coated in perforated leather with a driver’s side only 8-way power mechanism.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012Front seat comfort is substantially similar to the Honda Civic thanks to shared seat frames and adjustment mechanisms. The ILX’s front seats get more generous seat back bolstering in keeping with its more premium and sporting image while the seat bottoms remain as flat as Kansas. Thanks to the platform changes that make the ILX more attractive on the outside, interior room is compromised slightly with headroom and legroom figures falling when you compare it to the Civic.  Compared to the Buick Verano the numbers are right in line.

The ILX’s rear seats are slightly less comfortable than the Verano, but a step above the mainstream compact segment with more thigh support for adults. Opting for the hybrid ILX forces the removal of the folding rear seat backs (the batteries have to go somewhere), while the ILX 2.0 and 2.4 sport the same 100% folding mechanism as the Civic. This means it’s not possible to carry long cargo and three or four passengers like you can in the Verano. This deficiency is made more of a problem by the ILX’s small 12.3 cubic foot trunk, notably smaller than the Verano, Lexus CT, or even the Mazda3.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Nestled in the “double bump” instrument cluster is a standard 5-inch color LCD that does double-duty as a trip computer and infotainment display. This base system runs the same software as the Honda Civic but places the screen in a more “normal” location and uses a button bank that should be familiar to current Acura owners. The base system features standard iDevice/USB integration, Bluetooth speakerphone/streaming and Pandora smartphone app integration. The 200-watt amplifier and 7 speaker sound system are well-balanced but volume isn’t this system’s forte.

ILX 2.0 and Hybrid models with the “technology package” link the climate control system to a sun sensor and the GPS system for improved comfort and bumps the sound system up to a 10-speaker surround sound system with a 410-watt amp. Also along for the ride is the same 8-inch navigation system found in the Acura TSX and TL. The system doesn’t sport the improved high res interface in the MDX and RLX but is among the easier to use on the market as long as you don’t try to use Acura’s voice commands for browsing your iPod. Seriously, just don’t even try. Sadly 2014 hasn’t brought any major changes to the options lineup meaning that the more powerful engine and the more powerful sound system are mutually exclusive. The choice to saddle the 2.4L model we tested with the same 5-inch display and software as the Civic is the biggest flaw with the ILX so far.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Under the ILX’s long hood you’ll find an “interesting” assortment of engines. Why interesting? Let’s start at the beginning. First off, Acura uses three different engines in the various ILX models. Rumors that Acura planned to kill off the base 2.0L four-cylinder appear to be unfounded as the 2014 ILX can still be had with the 150 horsepower mill. This is the same engine found in European market Accords and other world Honda models but appears to be exclusive to the ILX in America.  Honda’s old 5-speed automatic was tapped to send the 140 lb-ft to the ground. The ILX Hybrid gets the Civic’s 111 horsepower, 127 lb-ft hybrid system without modification. While the 1.5L engine seemed adequate in the Civic, I found the small engine and traditional belt/pulley CVT vexing in a near-luxury sedan.

On to what we’re here to talk about: the 2.4L Civic Si engine. Yes, Acura decided ILX shoppers should get a little sport-love and snatched the Si’s 201 horsepower engine for premium duty. In typical Honda fashion, the 2.4L engine screams like a banshee on its way to its 7,000 RPM redline and matching 7,000 RPM power peak. 170 lb-ft come into play at 4,400 RPM and the engine is mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual. Yes, you heard that right, Acura is trying to get a larger share of the premium compact market with a high-revving engine four-cylinder and a slick shifting stick. Although the manual-only policy is an obvious impediment to sales success, if you have outgrown your Civic Si, or if you think the Honda looks a little too “boy racer”, you can get a classier, leather coated version at the Acura dealer.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Once out on the road the ILX’s powertrain deficiencies become obvious. The base 2.0L engine may be smoother and more refined than the 1.8 in the Civic, but compared to Buick’s modern 2.4L direct injection mill, it is rough around the edges and anemic. How about the 111 horsepower ILX hybrid? It is quite possibly the only car that can make Lexus’s underpowered CT 200h seem quick. But we’re not here to talk about those ILX models, this is TTAC and we’re interested in MOAR POWARR.

The 2.4L four-cylinder is an entirely different animal. With 33% more power than the base model our 0-60 run clocked in at a respectable 7.29 seconds. That slots the ILX between the regular Verano and the Verano Turbo that accomplished the same task in 6.5 (Verano Turbo with the 6-speed manual). The time was closer than I thought it would be considering the 90 lb-ft of torque that separate the two but the driving experience couldn’t be more different. The Verano’s turbo engine provides an extremely broad torque curve which negates the need for frequent downshifting on winging mountain roads while the ILX’s engine needs to scream like a leaf blower to deliver the maximum thrust. While I found the Verano’s power delivery more liveable, the ILX at 7,000 RPM made me giggle. (Yes, I said that out loud.) As you would expect from the “luxury Civic Si,” the ILX’s shifter action is precise, clutch engagement is nearly perfect and the shifts are short. In contrast, the Verano’s clutch is rubbery, vague and the shift throw is lengthy.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006

Instead of lifting the Civic Si’s suspension as is, Acura decided to tweak the design with dual-valve damper technology lifted from the RLX and MDX. The two valves allow the damping to be firm and body roll to be well controlled under most conditions while soaking up large road imperfections like a sedan with a softer suspension. The system retains most of the Civic Si’s road holding ability while delivering a ride that more composed than the Verano. Similarly the lightly revised steering setup is a little less direct than the Si but yields better feel than the baby Buick. Despite incorporating laminated glass and an active noise cancellation system, the ILX manages to be several decibels louder than the eerily quiet cabin of the Verano.

At $29,200, our ILX was about $6,500 more than a Civic Si. When you factor in the additional equipment you find in the ILX and the expanded warranty coverage, the difference between the Honda and the Acura drops to about $2,000. When you look at the ILX in this light, the sales proposition makes perfect sense. While the Civic Si is a great compact car, it looks just like a regular Civic. The ILX on the other hand nets you a better brand name, longer warranty, an improved ride and car that won’t make your boss question your maturity. Like the Integra of yesteryear, this is the sort of “gateway” product Acura needs.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009

There are just a few problems however. The ILX’s option list and spec sheet is a mess. Despite getting better fuel economy than the Verano in every trim, Acura needs to drop their 6-speed tranny into their base model for spec-sheet-shoppers to give it a second look. Likewise the 2.4L engine needs a 6-speed auto and some infotainment love, the 2.0L engine needs more grunt and the hybrid needs to be euthanized. Without changes like these the Acura ILX will remain a sensible Civic upgrade but as a competitor to Buick’s new-found mojo, Acura has some catching up to do. The ILX’s driving dynamics may be superior, but taken as a package the only reason to avoid buying the Verano is if you still associate Buicks with the blue-haired set.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.55 Seconds

0-60: 7.29 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 89.9 MPG

Interior sound level: 74db @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 26 MPG over 345 miles

 

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-011 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-008 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-008 . 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-004 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-015 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-014 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-003 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-011

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First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/#comments Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:17:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=582817 The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder […]

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

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

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

2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda

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

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

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

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

MY2014 Mazda 3

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Drivetrain

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

2014 Mazda3 exhaust manifold

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

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004

Drive

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

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

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009

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

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

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

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 73 db

 

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-007 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-010 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-001 MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-002 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-003 2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-006

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First Drive Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/#comments Mon, 14 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=607433 Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different […]

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2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different configurations. If you’re in a 2014 Corolla, the odds are about one in five that the Corolla next to you is identical save for paint color. Often derided by the automotive press as a “driving appliance,” is there more to the 2014 Corolla or is it just a toaster with wheels? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When you plan on selling 330,000 of anything, mainstream styling is essential. When many of those shoppers are repeat Toyota and repeat Corolla buyers, it’s also essential to avoid anything that could be described as “adventurous.” The result is the attractive but plain sheetmetal. You won’t find any Mazda-esque swooshes, any Ford/Aston inspired grilles and you certainly won’t find anything “aggressive.” And that’s how Corolla shoppers like it. Corolla shoppers apparently also like getting bigger cars with every re-design, so this 11th generation model has grown by 3.9 inches. Why don’t they shop up the ladder to a Camry? Who knows.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Plenty of reviewers have found fault in the way the 11th gen Corolla looks, most of them complain vehemently in private and say little in public. I however, am not afraid to say what I think in public: the Corolla is pedestrian but far from offensive. I also find the Corolla S (pictured above) to be the more attractive of the bunch although neither nose is any more or less exciting than the Sentra, Civic or Elantra. The biggest problem with the way the Corolla looks has nothing to do with the Corolla and everything to do with timing. I drove the 2014 Corolla two days before sampling Mazda’s hot new Mazda3. If looks matter to you, the Corolla is unlikely to be on your short list. Adding a little visual flair to the front, Toyota made LED headlamps standard on every Corolla. Yep, even the $16,800 stripper model. The other thing that’s standard is an oddly tall ride height resulting in a larger than average distance between the top of the tire and the wheel-well making the Corolla look “off road ready.” Make of that what you will.

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

Interior

After a week in the RAV4’s discordant interior, I was concerned what Toyota would do with the volume leader. Thankfully my concerns were unwarranted and I found the Corolla’s interior surprisingly elegant. Yes, I said that out loud, I found the design elegant. (Notice I didn’t say exciting.) There are a few caveats however. While the dashboard styling reminded me a great deal of the Mazda6, parts quality still lags behind the Focus, top-level Forte and, in some ways, even the Chevy Cruze. The picture above is of the more attractive (in my opinion) two-tone interior. You’ll only find this on the LE, LE Plus, LE ECO and LE ECO Plus model as everything else is black on black and looks a hair cheaper. 2014 brings soft touch points to most of the Corolla’s cabin and a new fabric headliner in most models. The exterior may be plain my bottom line on the interior is that I could live with it long term without a problem.

Front seat comfort proved average for the segment but I found the lack of adjustable lumbar support to be a problem for my back. Stepping up to the “Premium” trim LE or S gets you an 8-way power seat but still very little back support. The big change for 2014 is out back, the stretch allowed Toyota to add 5.1 inches to the back seat, ballooning to 41.4 inches total, just 2/10ths less than a Camry. More legroom meant more room for the seats themselves and allowed the rear bench to be lengthened for more thigh support. Putting that in perspective, that’s 5 inches more than most compacts, four inches more than the Sentra’s cavernous back seat and a whopping 8.2 inches more than the Focus. Sadly even the Corolla hasn’t been able to escape the low-roof trend limiting headroom for taller folks in the back. 2014 brings some trunk love, bumping the cube carrying to 13, respectable for the class but below the Sentra’s large booty. If bag carrying is your thing, you should know that the Sentra can swallow four 24-inch roller bags in a vertical orientation, and four more horizontally. I can’t even think of a modern full-sized sedan that can do that.

2014_Corolla_S_017

Infotainment and Gadgets

The new Corolla gets Toyota’s latest infotainment software package and this represents a new direction. Previously there were two separate navigation/infotainment operating systems, a low cost unit found in cars like the Prius C, and the totally different (and expensive) one found as an option in vehicles like the Avalon and the Lexus line. Toyota shifting to common software running on different hardware depending on the model. Cheaper cars get smaller screens, Toyotas stick to touchscreens while Lexuses (Lexi?) get the joystick.

Representing the Corolla’s place at the bottom of the Toyota food chain, you’ll find an 6.1 inch touchscreen standard on all models except for the L. (The L is expected to represent less than 10% of sales.) While I find this software one of the worst in the luxury class, my negative impression is entirely down to the Lexus joystick. In the Corolla the system is fast and responsive and the graphics are all perfectly suited to the 6.1 inch touchscreen. Toyota tosses in weather and traffic updates on certain models without having to add navigation which is a handy feature. USB and iDevice integration is excellent and easily the equal of Ford’s SYNC in terms of voice control and tops the segment in touch-screen ease of use. The standard Bluetooth speakerphone worked well and had excellent sound quality. Depending on the trim you can also add smartphone app integration to Pandora, OpenTable, etc. Like the rest of the Corolla, the Entune system doesn’t break any new ground, but it is easy to live with.

On the gadget front the Corolla covers all the basics with those LED headlamps, a standard cabin air filter, air conditioning and power door locks and windows. LE and higher models (again, 90% of sales) gain  automatic climate control, six speakers, a backup camera, cruise control and keyless entry. If you want any whiz-bang features like self parking, heads up displays, blind spot monitoring, power folding whatnots or dynamic cruise control, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013

Drivetrain

The engine under the hood of 90% of Corollas is carried over from last year. The 1.8L four-cylinder engine is good for a class middling 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. A new six-speed manual replaces the old 5-speed as the base transmission and delivers 28/37 MPG (city/highway) when so equipped. If you’re one of the incredibly few that plan on getting an L with an automatic, be warned that this is the same old four-speed automatic as last year’s Corolla.

All other Corollas, even the supposedly “sport” S model, get Toyota’s new continuously variable transmission. I can already hear the groans, but if you’re groaning about finding a CVT under the hood, then I’m going to generalize and say you’re not the target demographic. For the rest of you, you should know this CVT is one of the best I’ve ever driven and is a close second to the Honda CVT in the new Accord. Somehow Toyota and Honda have managed to exorcise the rubber band demon from the CVT in a way that Nissan has been unable. Ratio changes are quick and fuel economy is an impressive 29/38 MPG. S models get paddle shifters and all models will imitate a  seven-speed automatic when floored. The impersonation is passable, but I fail to see the point.

If you want to break the 40 MPG barrier, than the 30/42 MPG LE ECO model is the one to get. In order to get there, Toyota swaps new heads onto the 1.8L engine which incorporates their new ValveMatic variable valve lift, timing and duration system. Like BMW’s Valvetronic and Fiat’s MultiAir, this system acts as the throttle body under most circumstances to increase efficiency. When so equipped, power rises to 140 HP and torque drops to 126 lb-ft. It was hard to tell if the system delivered any real-world benefit because of the limited time I had in the Corolla but I can tell you that the extra 8HP didn’t make the ECO model any faster to 60.

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Why does the Corolla sell so well? It has more to do with brand loyalty and a reputation for reliability than road manners. Everything about driving the Corolla can be summed up in one word: average. From steering feel to suspension dynamics and road holding the Corolla is neither class leading nor class trailing. After a day and 140 miles, it reminded me of my flight to Seattle to see the Corolla in the first place. I flew in one of Southwest’s new 737-900 planes and the experience was entirely ordinary. The plane got me from point A to point B, it was as comfortable as I expected and the looks didn’t offend.

This middle-of-the-road mentality explains why Toyota jammed their new CVT into the Corolla. They aren’t the first to the CVT party and they won’t be the last. The CVT lags a hair behind Honda’s new Earth Dreams CVT but is more refined than Nissan’s Sentra. The combination of 132 ponies and a CVT make mountain climbing easier in the Corolla than the Civic with ye olde 5-speed, but not as nice as the large engine equipped Forte or Mazda3. Repeat Corolla buyers will find the Corolla peppier than before thanks to the CVT, since the old 4-speed automatic seemed to never have the right ratio for the situation.

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

Cabin noise measured in higher than average at 74 db at 50 MPH. 74db is a bit disappointing since even Honda made the latest Civic considerably quieter. Fuel economy was, yet again, middle of the road at 29 MPG over all after a day of city driving and stop-and-go traffic.

Even the Corolla’s recent “marginal” IIHS small offset crash score is class middling with the Civic snatching “good,” the Focus and Elantra “acceptable” and the Forte and Sentra slotting in below the Corolla at “poor.” While I can think of good reasons to buy something other than the Corolla, I honestly have troubles finding any reason to not buy one. When I tallied up my personal score card I was shocked to find I had ranked the Corolla 3rd behind the new Mazda3 and the Kia Forte. That ranking is based on the easy to use infotainment system, enormous back seat, large trunk, attractive interior and (of course) the reliability reputation the Corolla has maintained over the years. Yes, even I can be tempted (at least a little bit) by the logic of the driving appliance.

Perhaps that is what the bulk of the automotive press finds so vexing: The Corolla is probably the only car on the market that is deliberately designed to be average and Toyota nailed it.When I talked to a few Corolla owners about their purchase, none of them considered another model or brand before signing on the dotted line.

 

 Toyota provided airfare, accommodations and meals for this event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.93 Seconds

0-60: 9.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.61 Seconds @ 81.8 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29 MPG

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 74db

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-009 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-009 2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013 2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003

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First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=612689 As of October, the most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan in America is the Honda Accord. Or so Honda says. After all, Ford has been trumpeting a matching 47 MPG combined from their Fusion. Who is right? And more importantly, can the Accord get Honda back into the hybrid game after having lost the initial hybrid battles […]

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2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007

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

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

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

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

Interior

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

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

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

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

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

2014_Accord_Hybrid_Touring_043, Picture Courtesy of Honda

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

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

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

2014_Accord_Hybrid_EX-L_ Picture Courtesy of Honda

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

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

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

Drivetrain

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

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

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

Front Wheel Drive Biased

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

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

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

Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 45.9 MPG over 129 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Trunk

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Review: 2013 & 2014 RAM 3500 Diesel (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2013-2014-ram-3500-diesel-with-video/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 12:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=532417 Nothing is more American than the pickup truck. If the stars and stripes thing ever gets old, they will probably get replaced by a RAM / GM / Ford montage.  The other thing that’s quintessentially American is an arms race. No, I’m not talking military hardware, I’m talking about the eternal RAM vs Chevy/GMC vs […]

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2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Nothing is more American than the pickup truck. If the stars and stripes thing ever gets old, they will probably get replaced by a RAM / GM / Ford montage.  The other thing that’s quintessentially American is an arms race. No, I’m not talking military hardware, I’m talking about the eternal RAM vs Chevy/GMC vs Ford tuck wars. Who has the best frame? Who has the best engine? Who can haul the most? Be prepared to draw your weapons and click past the jump. Chrysler sent me a 2013 RAM 3500 for a week and then invited me to taste test the refreshed 2014 model for a day.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

What can we say about the exterior? It’s pickup truck shaped. Aside from that revelation, the RAM can be had with three different cabs and two different bed sizes. Regardless of the options you choose, the RAM “big rig” styling that rocked the pickup world in 1994 is still with us although it’s been softened slightly. 2013 brings new headlamps and more chrome but keeps the seriously large grille which is raked slightly forward. Fear not, there is ample room to install a set of horns on the front.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior

I was initially a little perturbed, I had asked for a Tradesman trim of the RAM 3500 because I have a thing for the stripper commercial vehicles. Instead I ended up with a top-of-the-line Laramie Long Horn Edition in the driveway. If I’m honest the interior is a little over the top in my book, but I’m much more of a minimalist when it comes to interior design. Regardless of how you feel about the bedazzled instrument cluster, the RAM exudes quality. I’ll say that again, the RAM exudes quality. How exactly Chrysler went from crafting the cheapest feeling interiors to some of the best on the market is anyone’s guess but the result are stunning and boil down to one decision: stitched leather.

I breezed by my local RAM dealer to checkout the Tradesman, and the difference is marked. The Tradesman has an attractive interior design, but the Long Horn takes it up several notches with an injection molded dash that features real stitching, real wood trim that isn’t heavily lacquered and genuine cow hide on the doors and seat backs. The front seats are large and supportive in all versions of the RAM but don’t offer much lateral bolstering.

Rear seat comfort has been a new focus for pickup trucks owing to their increased use as family haulers and daily drivers. The RAM’s rear seats are higher off the ground than in the Ford pickups which I found more comfortable, but those with short legs may complain. Although the seats in the back don’t recline and they are slightly more upright than any other vehicle type, they proved comfortable for an hour trip. Instead of folding down, the seat bottom cushions flip up revealing storage compartments and, in our Longhorn Edition, a subwoofer. In addition to the swanky interior trappings, the RAM 3500’s cabin is almost luxury sedan quiet at 71 db at 50 MPH.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version found in the RAM 1500. Based on a QNX Unix operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. In addition to extensive voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem on-board, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If this bevy of techo-wizardry hasn’t convinced you that Ram is now in the 21st century, consider this: our tester didn’t have a CD player. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your John Denver CD by paying $395 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001

Drivetrain

The standard engine for both 2013 and 2014 is Chrysler’s ubiquitous 5.7L “Hemi”  V8 tuned to 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the refreshed 1500, the 2500 and 3500 don’t get the Chrysler/ZF 8-speed automatic instead relying on the Chrysler 66RFE 6-speed to put the power to the ground.

Our tester had the optional 6.7L Cummins turbo Diesel engine we at TTAC have come to know and love. The 6-cylinder oil burner comes in three flavors depending on the transmission you select. The 6-speed manual (a class exclusive) gets the lowest tune at 360 ponies and 660 lb-ft. Checking the box for the Chrysler 68RFE 6-speed transmission bumps power to 370 HP and torque to 800 lb-ft. If that’s not enough a new Aisin AS69RC 6-speed automatic can be selected which gets you 385 HP and a whopping 850 lb-ft. The new Aisin transmission is capable of handling a PTO, should you need it.

2014 brings a new truck version of Chrysler’s SRT 6.4L V8. RAM was quick to say the engine isn’t just an SRT transplant and a high percentage of parts are unique. The “big gas” as RAM is calling it is good for 410HP and 429 lb-ft which may not sound like a huge increase over the 5.7 but looking at the torque curve the larger engine has considerably more grunt. The 6.4 is an alternative to the expensive Cummins for most applications and it can be paired with the 66RFE automatic or the Aisin 6-speed if you need a PTO.

If you’re buying a 4×4 pickup and fuel economy is a factor, the 2014 RAM models include a front axle disconnect system. By essentially decoupling the front right wheel and front left wheel from one another, parasitic losses inside the front differential are greatly reduced. This is similar to the rear axle disconnect system employed on the new Jeep Cherokee.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Payload and Trailering

Thanks to the revised drivetrain and that new Aisin 6-speed automatic, the RAM reaches new (and insane) heights in towing with a 30,000lb tow rating when properly equipped. This isn’t just a slight increase in towing ability, this is a whopping 6,800 more than GM’s 2014 trucks and 8,800 more than Ford’s F-350. True to RAM’s commercial heart, the maximum tow rating can be had in all trim levels of the 3500, including the stripper Tradesman. All you have to do is select the Cummins and Aisin combo and be willing to spend $38,895.

What’s it like to tow that kind of weight? I wish I knew. It’s illegal in California (and many states) to tow more than a 10,000lb trailer without a class C license so I hooked up my 7,500lb trailer at home with the 2014 and RAM provided a 9,999lb trailer with the 2014 model for testing. Shoppers should know that the 66RFE and 68RFE transmissions are related to the 65RFE that I have frequently complained about. However, the reason for my complaint had to do with the 65RFE’s gear ratio spread, this is not a problem in the 66RFE or 68RFE as they use a different set of ratios. Even so, the Aisin transmission is the transmission of choice for towing and hauling as it has a notably lower first and second gear and is capable of torque converter lockup in first. As you would expect, 7,500 lbs of trailer is no match for 850 lb-ft of torque and the Cummins felt like it wasn’t even trying as I climbed up a 2,200ft mountain pass.

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesIf you’re the kind of guy who does serious towing or hauls heavy payloads, forget the 2013 RAM and tell your Ford and GM friends to join you at the RAM dealer for the 2014 3500 with a rear air suspension. This is not the same system used on the RAM 1500 which is a four-corner height adjustable  system, the 2500 and 3500 are rear load leveling only. 2500 trucks get a new 5-link coil suspension standard with available air suspension while the 3500 gets a beefier multi-plate leaf spring standard and optionally a single leaf with a set of air bags. Aside from being totally cool, leveling suspensions improve ride as well as suspension dynamics by keeping the suspension in the middle of its travel so that jounce and rebound (check?) are optimized. The air suspension also allows the maximum payload to creep up to 7,320 lbs in the 3500 for 2014 and the truck will perform better while under load.

In addition to the new rear air suspension, 2500 models get an entirely new frame and a new front suspension setup based on the 3500’s multi-link front suspension. I was worried this would decrease the 2500’s ride quality but impressively the opposite was true.
2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020

Drive

The 5.7L V8 isn’t a bad engine by any stretch, but the RAM isn’t a light weight hauler. Our Cummins model rang in at 6,799lbs ad the V8 isn’t that much lighter. Put a few thousand pounds of concrete in the bed and you’re in for a slow slog up the hill. If you can’t bring yourself to pay for the diesel, my suggestion is to drive the RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500 back to back and seriously ask yourself what your towing and hauling needs are. The 1500 isn’t just 1,800lbs lighter, it has that new 8-speed automatic which makes towing a breeze. If however you’re a serious hauler, then nothing but the 6.7L turbo diesel will do.

As much as I love manuals, and as happy I am that the Cummins can still be mated to one, the automatic is the transmission you want. Not only does it make trailering easier, you get 140 lb-ft more twist for your $500 as well. Anyone serious about towing (and anyone with a class C license) will want to step up to that Aisin transmission. Aside from getting an extra 50 lb-ft, you get higher torque rated internals, more evenly spaced gear ratios and a lower first gear.

If you notice, I haven’t spoken to the way the RAM drives yet. That’s because driving manners are secondary to the mission in a heavy-duty pickup truck. Even so 2013 brings a notable improvement to the RAM and opting for the air suspension in 2014 takes things up to the next notch. If you’re upgrading from a half-ton truck, keep in mind that 2500 and 3500 trucks will have a rougher ride in general thanks to the heavy-duty suspension components.

2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

RAM was the first to market with an exhaust brake in 3/4 and 1 ton trucks and they continue to lead with one of the best on the market. This system shouldn’t be confused with the “Jake Brakes” found in Cummins’ big-rig engines, the system Cummins employs here is sometimes called a “potato brake” because it operates by closing the vanes of the variable geometry turbo charger to increase back pressure and thereby increasing engine braking. This type of engine brake is rate in horsepower for some reason and the 6.7L diesel now brakes to the tune of 225 ponies which has a big impact on brake pad life if you tow in mountainous terrain.

When it comes to pickup trucks, especially heavy-duty trucks, shoppers are extremely brand conscious and extremely brand loyal. Think about it, how many people do you know that rotate around pickup brands with every purchase? As a result it would be easy to say the RAM 3500 is a great truck for RAM loyalists and the other trucks are all lovely too. However, the 2014 RAM might be the first truck since 1994 to sway hearts and minds. Not only does the RAM deliver the best interior and infotainment system in the segment, but it also delivers 30,000lbs of bragging rights, a stellar Cummins engine and a rear air suspension that is nothing short of revolutionary for the heavy-duty pickup market. If you’re looking at an F-350 or eagerly waiting that new Silverado 3500, swallow your pride and give the RAM a test drive. You’ll thank me later.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.39 Seconds

0-60: 8.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.76 Seconds at 85.7 MPH

Sound Level: 71 db @ 50 MPH

2013 RAM 3500 Interior, 4WD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-021 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-013 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-004 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-006 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-012 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-011 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-020 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-019 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-010 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-003 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-002 2013 RAM 3500 Interior 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-018 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-017 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-016 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-009 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-002 2013 RAM 3500 6.7L Cummins-001 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-007 2013 RAM 3500 Exterior-008 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-006 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-005 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-014 2013 RAM 3500 Interior-015

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Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=524961 I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for […]

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2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.

Exterior

With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s “levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.) 2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter chassis with Pentastar V-6

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.

 

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

In Europe the Ducato doesn’t get much techno-love, but we Americans are a different lot so we get Chrysler’s 5-inch uConnect system as an option. While not radical by itself, the fact that there is the option of a well-integrated touchscreen navigation and entertainment system available in a commercial cargo van is practically earth shattering. The closest this segment comes is the Nissan NV which can be had with the Nissan Versa’s “Low Cost Navigation System” for $795, but only on certain models. The ProMaster on the other hand is very “ala carte” allowing you to add just the $395 touchscreen system with a CD player, XM radio, iPod/USB integration and voice commands, or option all the way up to the navigation software for an additional $395.

The 5-inch uConnect system is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler/Microsoft relationship and while the software looks like the larger uConnect 8.4 system, it’s entirely different under the hood. Sadly the system isn’t as responsive ad uConnect 6.5 or 8.4 but it gets the job done better than most systems. Voice commands are logical and the system had no troubles with my music library commands. Sound quality was nothing to write home about, it is a commercial vehicle after all, but it won’t bring you to tears either. In preparation for any impending legislation, the ProMaster can be equipped with a backup cam for $230 and parking sensors for $250.

 

 

 

2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6

Drivetrain

The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle for our testing at a launch event in Southern California. The flight and meals were on Chrysler.

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