The Truth About Cars » YouTube http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:00:50 +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 » YouTube http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2015 Kia Soul EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-kia-soul-ev-video/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1042177   EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 […]

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

Exterior

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

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

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

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

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Interior

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

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

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

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

Infotainment

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

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

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Drivetrain

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

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

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

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Drive

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

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

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

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.3 Seconds

0-60: 8.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 82 MPH

 

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

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2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-001

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

Exterior

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior.CR2

Interior

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

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

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Infotainment

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Motor-001

Drivetrain

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

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Interior Gauges-001Drive

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

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

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Charging Connector

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

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

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.44 Seconds

0-60: 10.03 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 82 MPH

Average Economy: 4.3 Mi/kWh

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

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2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-004

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

Exterior

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

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

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior.CR2

Interior

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

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

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

2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-004

Infotainment

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

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

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

Drivetrain

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

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

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior 18-inch Wheel

Drive

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

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

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior

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

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

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior-001

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.5 Seconds

0-60: 6.41 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 22 MPG

 

2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-001.CR2 IMG_9582.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-0021 IMG_9581.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-011 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-010 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-009 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-008 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-007 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-005 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-006 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-001 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-002 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-003.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-003 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior-004 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior Wood Trim-001 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior Wood Trim 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior-001 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior LCD Gauges.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior LCD Gauges-001.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior Seat Controls 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Interior Volvo On Cal 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-004 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-003 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-002 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-002.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Rear-005 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-001.CR2 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Side-001 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Rear-004 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Rear-003 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Rear-002 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Rear-001 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Rear 2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation 2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-001 2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-002 2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-003 2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-004 2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-005 2015.5 Volvo Sensus Connect Infotainment Navigation-006 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Engine 2.5L 5-Cylinder 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Engine 2.5L 5-Cylinder-001 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Engine 2.5L 5-Cylinder-002 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior 18-inch Wheel 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Front 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Front-001 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Front-002 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country Exterior Front-003

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Review: 2016 Acura ILX (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2016-acura-ilx-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2016-acura-ilx-video/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 15:55:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1026105 It has been two years since we last looked at the ILX, and my conclusion went like this: The 2.4L engine needs an automatic 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 […]

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2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front.CR2

It has been two years since we last looked at the ILX, and my conclusion went like this:

The 2.4L engine needs an automatic 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.

2016 brings what I was expecting: a mid-cycle refresh with a new nose and new rump to keep the photos fresh. What I didn’t expect was for Acura to also address the major mechanical systems that we all complained about. Neither did I expect the ILX to be so transformed by a “simple” heart transplant. Can the ILX live up to the legendary Acura Legend? I snagged the keys to a “A-Spec Technology Plus” model to find out.

Exterior

Acura is not the kind of company that dishes out one daring design after another, especially since the Acura “beak” went over so poorly. As a result this ILX, like its predecessor, plays right to the conservatively styled heart of the traditional Acura shopper.

As has been said in the past, the ILX is related to the Honda Civic, but the relation is more third-cousin than sister. The ILX never shared sheetmetal or glass with its plebeian platform mate, and the ILX isn’t a simple re-skin either. While the wheelbase is shared with the Civic, nearly every hard point was changed from the A-pillar moved 8-inches rearward, trunk and door openings modified to the lowered roofline, the 2016 ILX shares as much with the Civic as the original Chrysler 300 shared with the Mercedes E-Class.

As expected, Acura swapped in a set of full-LED headlamps styled after the multi-beam modules we first saw in the MDX and RLX, and further massaged the front end to look more like the larger TLX. Acura’s quest to give the ILX more of a “wedge like” appearance rather than a tall hood translates to a somewhat pointy front to the side profile. Out back the changes are minimal but the A-Spec trim our tester wore gives the sedate sedan a bit more style and a tasteful chrome strip on the trunk spoiler.

2016 Acura ILX Interior Dashboard.CR2-001

Interior

Interior parts quality is right in line with the Buick Verano which, as expected, is a notch below the more expensive A3, CLA, S60, IS 250 and 320i. As you’d expect in a “near-luxury” vehicle, most of the ILX touch-points are soft plastic but you will find hard plastic lurking below the faux-metal trim and making up most of the center console. Front seat comfort is good but the lack of adjustable lumbar support is surprising. All models get an 8-way power driver’s seat, but only upper trims offer seat memory or a power passenger seat. An important side-effect of Acura’s modifications to the platform’s roof-line is limited headroom. Headroom is further limited up front by the standard sunroof, a nice value feature for sure, but at 6-feet tall my head missed touching the ceiling by millimeters. Acura will no doubt show taller shoppers the TLX.

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 and considerably more legroom than the Mercedes CLA, Volvo S60, and despite the spec sheet saying otherwise, the A3 sedan as well. The key seems to be in combined front and rear legroom where the ILX shines. On the downside, Acura chose to share the rear seat frame with the Honda Civic giving the ILX a 100% folding bench seat that is far less practical than the more common 60/40 variety. This would be less of a problem if the trunk had grown in 2016, but it is still stuck at a smallish 12.3 cubes, smaller than the Verano, Lexus CT or Mazda3.

2016 Acura ILX Interior Shift Paddles

Speaking of the Mazda3, the small Mazda is in many ways a similar vehicle despite Mazda and Acura targeting different demographics. Interior parts quality is quite similar, although the ILX is more of a mixed bag by borrowing switchgear from both the Civic and the TLX. Where they differ notably is the steering wheel, gauge cluster and infotainment systems where the ILX shares more heavily with the more expensive Acuras while the Mazda is a little more constsient but lacks the spendy parts.

To keep things simple, Acura bundles features into packages, leaving essentially no stand-alone options. The base model comes well equipped with dual-zone climate control, 5-inch infotainment display, LED headlamps, Bluetooth/iDevice integration, backup camera, keyless entry/go and a cabin air filter for $27,900. Since the base model is rarely the volume leader, the second trim is the most interesting because the $29,200 “AcuraWatch Plus” trim adds radar adaptive cruise control, collision warning, collision mitigating autonomous braking, lane keep warning, lane keep assist, and electric pre-tensioning front seat belts. This safety system package is included in every trim above as well, making the ILX one of the least expensive vehicles with this kind of tech near-standard. (If you want all that in your TLX it will set you back $42,600.) The $29,900 Premium adds leather seating, blind spot monitoring, cross traffic detection, XM radio and a sub-woofer to the base 6-speaker system, swaps the 5-inch infotainment screen for a dual screen system featuring an 8-inch display high in the dash and a 7-inch touchscreen lower in the dash. The last jump is the $32,900 Technology package adds factory navigation to the 8-inch screen, 10 speakers, AcuraLink (Acura’s answer to OnStar), an upgraded backup cam, color LCD in the gauge cluster and GPS-reading/solar-sending to the climate control system. The only option is the $1,999 A-sped sport trim package netting the buyer 18-inch wheels, fog lamps, faux-suede inserts in the seats, a spoiler and some aluminum pedals.

2016 Acura ILX Interior Infotainment Navigation System-003

Acura’s two-screen infotainment system isn’t as polished as BMW’s iDrive but it is considerably snazzier than you’ll find in any mass-market competitor like the Mazda. The base system lags behind the Verano’s touchscreen radio, while the two-screen system tops it in elegance. Why two screens? 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 skip tracks/albums using the touchscreen, but changing playlists or more detailed browsing requires the rotary/joystick lower in the dash and the 8-inch screen at the top. 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. Compared to the other entries in this segment, it lacks the online connectivity features found in Volvo’s Sensus Connect and Audi’s latest MMI, but offers more screen real estate and a more modern feel than either connected system.

2016 Acura ILX 2.4l EarthDreams Direct Injection Engine-001.CR2

Drivetrain

When it launched, the ILX borrowed the complete engine line-up from the Civic, including the lackluster 1.5L engine, 5-speed auto, underpowered hybrid, and the rev-happy 2.4L from the Civic Si mated only to a 6-speed manual. The 2.4L engine was the only engine worth buying, but slow manual sales meant it was a small portion of the sales pie. For 2016, Acura dropped all three engines in favor of the direct-injection 2.4L four-cylinder engine from the TLX. Closely related to the 2.4L in the Honda Accord, the  “EarthDreams” engine is tuned for slightly higher output. At 201 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of twist, this looks similar to the Civic Si’s 2.4L until you look at the power and torque curves. Thanks to the new design, and the direct-injection system, both power and torque arrive lower at RPMs and stay strong at higher revs.

Sending power to the wheels is the same 8-speed dual-clutch transmission as the bigger Acura. DCTs are nothing new, but Acura takes things a step beyond Audi and Mercedes with an 8-speed unit and a torque converter tossed in for good measure. The biggest issue with DCTs is their unrefined low-speed / hill-start performance. The torque converter solves that by allowing the clutch to completely engage first gear at low speeds.

2016 Acura ILX Interior Gauge Cluster-002

Drive

On the surface of things, the Frankenstein transmission sounds like the unholy union of all that is wrong with an automatic and a manual. Part of this is because early DCT adopters told us that torque converters were the root of all evil and DCTs were so blindingly efficient that the relatively poor 0-10  performance is compensated by brilliant 10-60 performance. In reality, the combination creates one of the finest transmissions in the world. No kidding. The Acura DCT is at the same level as ZF’s 6-speed and 8-speed automatic. Rather than hamper performance, the torque converter improves off-the-line acceleration because it can transmit more power to the gearset than a slipping clutch can. After the initial start, the converter spends most of the time “locked up” giving the drivetrain a very linear, manual-like feel. When shifting is called for, it delivers the speed of a dual-clutch transmission (slightly faster than most of ZF’s offerings) and the smoothness of an automatic because the torque converter is momentarily “unlocked” to soak up vibration during the shift. My only complaint is that Acura didn’t jam at least a low-pressure turbo on the 2.4L engine because this transmission deserves more power. Or AWD, or both.

The difference in refinement is immediately noticeable when driven back-to-back with the A3′ wet-clutch DSG and night-and-day different from the DCT in the Mercedes CLA. (The Mercedes transmission has been improving, but is still shockingly rough around the edges.) Likely largely to the new transmission, 0-60 times are a full second faster than the 2015 2.4L model and a blazing 3-seconds faster than the 2015 base model. Some of the credit goes to the new engine since the Civic Si engine has to scream like a leaf blower to deliver maximum thrust. This engine has a more luxury car appropriate torque band. In absolute terms, the 6.2 second sprint to 60 is faster than the Verano Turbo we tested, faster than the A3 2.0T, IS 250 and a just 4/10ths slower than the CLA 250 and S60 T5 Drive-e.

2016 Acura ILX Exterior Rear-001

Handling was never an issue with the ILX and that continues for 2016, despite what the folks at CR may say. The light curb weight of 3,093lbs is impressive, not just because it is 100lbs less than the lightest A3 in America and nearly 200lbs lighter than a CLA 250, but because the ILX is 6-inches longer than the German as well. With a similar weight distribution to the A3 and CLA and 225/40R18 tires (A-Spec), you’d expect the ILX to run with the sportier entries in this pack and you’d be right, with a twist. The light curb weight and wide tires provide excellent grip, but even in the A-Spec trim the ILX avoids bruised kidneys with a surprisingly refined suspension. Acura’s “dampers with two valves” allow the damping to be firm and body roll to be well controlled under most conditions while soaking up large imperfections like a sedan with a softer suspension. The system retains 95% of the Civic Si’s road holding ability while delivering a ride more composed than the turbo Verano. Similarly, the steering is a little less direct than the Si but yields better feel than the Buick. The ILX lacks the precision and astonishing grip you find in the CLA, but taken as a whole the ILX is the best balanced since it lacks the jarring ride of the CLA with the sport package but gives up little grip in the process. The CLA is a hoot and a half on your favorite winding mountain road, but the ILX is the kind of car you can also stick your mother-in-law in and she won’t think you’ve gone “all boy-racer” after turning 30. Limits are lower in the non-A-Spec trim largely due to the 215-width tires, but driving the ILX back-to-back with a Audi A3 1.8T made me question the sanity of the folks at Consumer Reports who berated the handling. Go figure.

Fuel economy was a concern of mine because of the torque converter, and indeed I averaged 2 MPG lower than the EPA combined 29 MPG, but that may have had something to do with my driving style. Treating the ILX gently it was possible to get 35 MPG out of the baby Acura on the open highway besting most of the entries in this segment and matching Volvo’s new Drive-e engines.

Despite sharing quite little with Honda’s Civic and not looking like a fancy Civic, the 2015 ILX felt like a fancy Civic. Now there’s nothing wrong with that per se (after-all the success of the Lexus ES is largely due to the fact that for many years it was little more than a fancy Camry), but that’s not the Acura that the brand’s faithful remember. This ILX however is that Acura. The drivetrain and excellent pricing scheme, more than the infotainment system or LED headlamps, are the reason. Sure the ILX has some discount plastic, but the interior on the whole feels like a TLX that’s been discounted than a Civic that’s been “tarted up.” While the old ILX could only be compared with the Verano, Mazda3 and similar vehicles with a straight face, the 2016 model is different. No, I would not call it direct competition to the 320i, IS 250, CLA 250 or S60 per se, but with pricing up to $10,000 less than those models comparably equipped, the ILX is unquestionable the value alternative. While the Acura RL may have replaced the Legend in 1995, the 2016 ILX is its true successor.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.8 @ 95 MPH

Interior sound level: 72db @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 27.1 MPH over 981 miles

 

2016 Acura ILX 2.4l EarthDreams Direct Injection Engine.CR2 2016 Acura ILX 2.4l EarthDreams Direct Injection Engine-001.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Exterior A-Spec Wheel.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front-001 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front-002 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front-003 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front-004 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Front-005 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Grille.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Headlmap Turn Signals.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Headlmap Turn Signals.CR2-001 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Headlmap Turn Signals 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Headlmap Turn Signals-001 2016 Acura ILX Exterior ILX Logo 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Rear Side 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Rear Side-001 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Rear 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Rear-001 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Rear-002 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Side 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Side-001 2016 Acura ILX Exterior Side-002 2016 Acura ILX Interior 2016 Acura ILX Interior AcuraLink Telematics 2016 Acura ILX Interior AcuraLink Telematics-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior AcuraLink touchscreen.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Interior AcuraLink touchscreen 2016 Acura ILX Interior CMBS 2016 Acura ILX Interior Dashboard.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Interior Dashboard.CR2-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior Dashboard 2016 Acura ILX Interior Dashboard-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior Gauge Cluster 2016 Acura ILX Interior Gauge Cluster-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior Gauge Cluster-002 2016 Acura ILX Interior Gauge Cluster-003 2016 Acura ILX Interior Glove Box 2016 Acura ILX Interior Infotainment Navigation System 2016 Acura ILX Interior Infotainment Navigation System-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior Infotainment Navigation System-002 2016 Acura ILX Interior Infotainment Navigation System-003 2016 Acura ILX Interior Rear Seats Folded 2016 Acura ILX Interior Rear Seats 2016 Acura ILX Interior Rear Seats-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior Seat Controls 2016 Acura ILX Interior Seat Controls-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior Seats 2016 Acura ILX Interior Shift Paddles 2016 Acura ILX Interior Steering Wheel Controlls.CR2 2016 Acura ILX Interior Steering Wheel Controlls.CR2-001 2016 Acura ILX Interior Steering Wheel Controlls 2016 Acura ILX Interior Steering Wheel 2016 Acura ILX Interior Trunk 2016 Acura ILX Interior Trunk-001

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Review: 2015 Nisssan Murano Platinum (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-nisssan-murano-platinum-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-nisssan-murano-platinum-video/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 12:45:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1015554 If you look at the numbers, sales of the Murano are on fire with a 72% sales jump in January of 2015 vs 2014 thanks to the new model. Looking more closely however, you’ll see that there was practically nowhere to go but up as the Murano barely outsold the now-dead Venza. Putting that in […]

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2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-001.CR2

If you look at the numbers, sales of the Murano are on fire with a 72% sales jump in January of 2015 vs 2014 thanks to the new model. Looking more closely however, you’ll see that there was practically nowhere to go but up as the Murano barely outsold the now-dead Venza. Putting that in perspective, Nissan’s compact Rogue is the 6th best-selling SUV in America and the Murano is 26 rungs lower on the sales ladder. Nissan sells more Rogues in 6 days than Muranos in an entire month. Rather than killing the model as Toyota did with the Venza, Nissan decided to re-invent the formerly bland soft-roader into a flagship crossover. This actually makes sense, because it helps keep the mid-sized 5-seat CUV from being the awkward “middle child” between the 7-seat Rogue and the 7-seat Pathfinder. Does the all-new and all-curvy Murano have what it takes to compete with the Edge, Grand Cherokee or even the RX 350?

Exterior

The exterior of the 2015 model is a sharp departure from the last generation and is as head-turning as the last model was bland. I wasn’t sure what to think about the Murano when it was announced, the first pictures looked like someone had confused a product launch with a concept car. While much of that had to do with the dramatic angles and color of the launch vehicle, the Murano certainly looks more exciting than Ford’s Edge or it’s Korean look-alike (the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport). Thankfully the engineers responsible for the 2015 model didn’t let the questionably styled Juke influence them.

The first clue that the Murano is a production car is the long front overhang since it remains a FWD crossover with optional AWD. Contrary to what some folks I met during the week thought, there is zero relation to the RWD Infiniti QX70 (the artist formerly known as FX37 / FX50). Helping disguise the overhang is a tall hood, pointy snout, heapings of chrome, and angles that draw the eye rearwards. The dramatic lines gyrate up and down and culminate with bulging tail lamps at the rear. As polarizing as the Murano seems in pictures, in person reactions were entirely positive and garnered more looks than most cars I’ve driven in the last 12 months.

2015 Nissan Murano Interior Center Console.CR2-001

Interior

With a starting price of $29,560, Nissan was able to equip the interior with more soft touch plastics than most of the competition save the luxury and near-luxury cross shops. This helps even the top-level Platinum we tested feel more harmonious than, for instance, top-end trims of the Grand Cherokee where a leather dashboard and real-wood are nestled next to hard plastic center consoles and questionable faux-metal finishes. As with the exterior, Nissan took some bold steps inside as well with a “floating” pleather hood over the gauge cluster and dramatic shapes galore.

Out tester was outfitted with “mocha” leather and trim panels that were a cross between silver-colored faux wood and brushed metal. (Faux-brushed-wood?) Meanwhile the light “cashmere” interiors get trim panels with brown “spots” tossed in giving it a white-washed birch appearance. You’d better like the trim, because there’s a ton of it. The faux-brushed-wood starts with large panels on the doors, a band running across the dashboard, and a large expanse covering the center console and a strip bisecting the center armrest. The overall style is decidedly funky, but to my eye is barely escaped crossing over into “bizarre.” Unlike some reviews I have read, the cashmere interior is my favorite because the lighter color and dashboard shapes make the interior feel cavernous.

2015 Nissan Murano Interior Seats.CR2

As with many of Nissan’s latest products, front seat comfort is exceptional, scoring easily above the Lexus, Cadillac and Lincoln competition for my 6-foot frame. Seats in the 2016 Edge and Santa Fe miss the mark slightly, and the Grand Cherokee’s seats are probably the stiffest of any crossover giving you the impression you’re sitting “on the seat not in the seat.” Sadly the passenger seat lacks the same range of motion as the driver’s seat and you should know that lumbar support is of the 2-way variety.

The Murano’s new 7-inch LCD  instrument panel is standard on all trims including the base “S”.  Unlike Jeep, Nissan keeps analog dials for the tachometer and speedometer leaving the LCD for navigation, infotainment, trip computer functions, and other read-outs. Also standard is dual-zone climate control and 39.6 cubic feet of cargo room. I was surprised to find that despite being smaller and “swoopier” than the Pathfinder, the Murano has nearly as much room behind the second row as the larger CUV (third row folded.) The generous cargo hold and comfy front seats are the prime reason to get the Murano over compact crossover options.

2015 Nissan Murano Nissan Connect Radio

Infotainment

While the 7-inch LCD disco-dash is standard, Nissan reserves the 8-inch touchscreen NissanConnect infotainment system for SV trims ($32,620 starting) or as an $860 option on the S trim. Making a different system just for base S trims strikes me as an odd choice, especially since the functionality is largely the same except that it lacks some touch gesture suopport and navigation. The software is a revised version of what is found in the Altima and Rogue with visual and functional refinements, built-in apps and certain smartphone-app integrated features.

In addition to the screen-size bump, the 8-inch system supports multi-touch gestures and built-in navigation software. Regardless of the version you get, Nissan has expanded the voice command library to be competitive with MyFord Touch and Chrysler uConnect. The software proved to be responsive and easy to use, although some features were less intuitive than competitive systems. Our model had the up-level 11-speaker Bose system which is among the best in this class. Unlike many systems, rear USB port link to the head unit and may be used as a media source. (Most rear USB ports are charge-only.)

2015 Nissan Murano Engine.CR2-001

Drivetrain

Sideways under the hood you’ll find the same 3.5L V6 (VQ35DE) as a variety of Nissan vehicles mated to one of Nissan’s continuously variable transaxles (CVT). Because of the CVT, power is tuned down from the high-output variants to 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Despite sharing engines with the Pathfinder, the transmission is apparently different and more similar to the last generation Murano. The result is a tow rating of just 1,500 lbs vs 5,000lbs in the 3-row Nissan. While towing in mid-size SUVs and CUVs has fallen out of vogue, that’s 500lbs less than the 190 horsepower four-cylinder Santa Fe Sport and on par with a RAV4. Nissan tells us that few tow with vehicles in this category, and they are probably right. Mid-size utility owners like me that do tow should limit their search to the Grand Cherokee, the only option in this segment capable of towing over 7,000lbs.

Thanks to the CVT and a slippery coefficient of drag, fuel economy has improved dramatically for 2015 coming in at 21/28/24 (City/Highway/Combined). Despite AWD adding some mechanical loss and 130lbs to the picture, the EPA numbers remain the same as the FWD variant. You will find more power in the competition, but you’ll be hard pressed to find better fuel economy even in the 2.4L non-turbo Santa Fe Sport. Our FWD tester barely beat the EPA average at 24.2 MPG.

2015 Nissan Murano Interior Instrument Cluster Gauges.CR2

Drive

Driving dynamics weren’t the forte of the last generation Murano and this acorn hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Nissan chose to tune the chassis toward the softer and more comfortable side of this category giving it a plush ride despite the 20-inch wheels our model sported. As you’d expect, the CVT is an efficient but not especially engaging companion. Thanks to the softer suspension,  235-width tires and plenty of body roll, certain models of the Grand Cherokee actually score higher when it comes to handling, and I’m not talking about the SRT model. The Murano doesn’t handle poorly, in fact I expected less grip than I received on my favorite mountain roads, just don’t expect the curvy Nissan to dance with the new Edge Sport. The steering is numb but accurate, the brake pedal is moderately firm and the action linear.

Thanks to the CVT and a 3,800lb curb weight, our front wheel drive model ran from 0-60 in 7 seconds flat which is a little faster than the V6 Grand Cherokee and on par with the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T and the V6 and turbo versions of the Ford Edge. Obviously the Edge Sport and its 2.7L twin-turbo V6 and the two different V8 Jeeps are in a separate category in this regard.

2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Side.CR2

Spanning from just under $30,000 to $43,745, the Murano is one of the less expensive options in this tiny segment. Only the Sotrento (available as either a 2-row or 3-row crossover in most trims for 2016) and Santa Fe Sport manage to undercut the Murano when adjusting for feature content. Despite the high value, the Murano’s flagship status ends up working thanks to the quality and consistency of the interior, something that can’t really be said of the Edge or Grand Cherokee despite those vehicles offering high-end options and features not found on this Nissan.

When viewed as the budget alternative to the Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX or Lexus RX 350 the Murano also fares well despite not offering the same level of high-end features. While the luxury set offers improved leather, real wood, hybrid options and luxury service, the Murano fights back with a polished ride, higher fuel economy, superb front seats and a sticker that is at least $6,000 less. While I’d personally buy the new MKX, I can’t say the $6,500 extra for a comparably equipped model is entirely “worth it.”

If you’re looking for the crossover with the most capable 4WD/AWD system, that’s easily the Grand Cherokee. If you want the best handling option, that’d be the Grand Cherokee SRT and Edge Sport. The Santa Fe Sport is the discount player delivering high value with me-too styling. The Murano, unsurprisingly, strikes a comfy balance in the middle of the segment with exceptional fuel economy. If you’re looking for the best highway cruiser for a wine-tour weekend in Napa for four, the Murano is exactly the tall Maxima you’re looking for.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.37 Seconds

0-60: 7.07 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.44 Seconds @ 95 MPH

Average Economy: 24.2 MPG over 649 miles

 

2015 Nissan Murano Engine.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Engine.CR2-001 . 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-001.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-002.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Front-003.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-001.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-001 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-002.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-003.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Rear-004.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Exterior Side.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Cargo Area.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Cargo Area 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Cargo Area-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Center Console.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Center Console.CR2-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-002 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-003 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard.CR2-004 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Dashboard-001 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Drivers Side 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Instrument Cluster Gauges.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Instrument Cluster Gauges 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Rear Seats Folded 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Rear Seats.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Rear Seats 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Seat Controls.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Interior Seats.CR2 2015 Nissan Murano Nissan Connect Radio 2015 Nissan Murano Nissan Connect Radio-001 2015 Nissan Murano Wheels.CR2

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Review: 2015 Honda CR-V Touring (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-honda-cr-v-touring-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/review-2015-honda-cr-v-touring-video/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 21:24:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1004938 Refreshed, redesigned or updated, whatever you want to call the changes to the CR-V for the 2015 model year, it’s hard to argue with this model’s success. The CR-V isn’t just the best-selling compact crossover in America, it’s the best-selling crossover period and the 7th best-selling vehicle overall. With sales success on the line Honda […]

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2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Front

Refreshed, redesigned or updated, whatever you want to call the changes to the CR-V for the 2015 model year, it’s hard to argue with this model’s success. The CR-V isn’t just the best-selling compact crossover in America, it’s the best-selling crossover period and the 7th best-selling vehicle overall. With sales success on the line Honda did what any Japanese company would do: make minor changes that give you more of what shoppers want without upsetting the apple cart. Does that make the CR-V just right? Or is it a compact bore-box?

Honda gave the CR-V its last redesign as a 2012 model year vehicle. The “old Honda” would have allowed the CR-V age unchanged for 5-6 years, but the new Honda seems to prefer making incremental changes to keep things fresh. While the 2012 CR-V wasn’t the same kind of mis-step the press thought the 2012 Civic was, competition is fierce and the 2012-2014 CR-V’s performance and fuel economy weren’t exactly compelling.

Exterior

Because this is a refresh and not a redesign, none of the “hard points” in the vehicle changed. Up front we get more modern looking headlamps with LED DRLs in most models and the fog lamps became rectangular. The grill has lost the Ford-like horizontal slats in favor of a simpler design with a larger Honda logo and a chrome “smile” reminiscent of the Accord and Civic. Changes to the rear are similar with new lamp modules, a tweaked bumper with silver painted inserts, more chrome on the tailgate and a style that still reminds me of a Volvo wagon in a way.

2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard

Interior

The CR-V’s interior slots somewhere between the Civic and the Accord in terms of both quality and theme. The instrument cluster is [thankfully] styled after the Accord with a large central speedometer flanked by three additional physical gauges.  The small monochrome LCD in the center of the speedometer is still a novel concept, but five years after Honda launched this look it is starting to feel dated compared to the large color LCDs you find in some of the competition. The dashboard and doors are a combination of hard and soft plastics which is again a middle road between the Civic and the Accord. For 2015 Honda has added a few extra features to keep things fresh including a standard console armrest, telescoping sun visors and rear HVAC vents. Since the CR-V never suffered from the unfortunate amount of questionable plastics that the 2012 Civic had, Honda spent the interior budget largely on the infotainment system.

2015 Honda CR-V HondaLink.CR2Infotainment

Base CR-V LX models get a 4-speaker 160-watt sound system controlled by large physical buttons and the same small screen that also handles trip computer functions (at the top of the picture above). Thankfully EX and above (which are the majority of sales) use essentially the same 7-inch touchscreen system found in the current Honda Civic with physical buttons instead of touch-controls. Dubbed HondaLink Next Generation, this is not the same system you find in the Accord. Rather it is Honda’s lower cost alternative which I think is also a better value. While there aren’t as many built-in features as you find in the Accord, this system has all the basics like Pandora and Aha streaming, Bluetooth and USB/iDevice integration and available factory navigation. Unlike many systems however it also supports iPhone integrated navigation via a $60 app. (Sorry Android users, there is no love for you at this time.) Unlike the BrinGo navigation we find in certain GM products, this solution doesn’t just store data on the phone and have the head unit render the mapping interface. Instead the iPhone is generating all the video and processing touch inputs but the head unit is displaying the video via an HDMI cable. Shoppers should note that this is not Apple CarPlay but Honda’s own solution that was created prior to CarPlay and is not upgradeable to support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. For occasional nav users this represents a significant discount over the factory software (assuming you have an iPhone) but there are some limitations. Your iPhone has to stay on the nav app for the system to work, so if you check your email at a stop light, the nav map will disappear. Your iPhone’s data plan will of course get consumed and if you’re out of a coverage area then your mapping will be limited or non-existent depending on how much your device has cached.

 

honda-diagram-1Drivetrain

The biggest change for 2015 is under the hood where we find a revised version of the 2.4L “EarthDreams” four-cylinder engine we saw in the 2013 Honda Accord. For 2015 Honda has added counter-rotating balance shafts to try and help cancel out some of the vibrations. Power stays the same as before at 185 ponies, but torque is up to 181 lb-ft and across a broader range than in 2014.

In order to improve efficiency, Honda does something a little different with this 2.4L engine, they offset the cylinders about 8mm from the engine’s centerline. This trades reduced friction for increased vibration, hence the need for the additional balance shafts. The balance shafts certainly help, but some customers have complained about the added vibration especially at idle and indeed it is not as smooth as the 2014 model. Is the vibration worth a 4 MPG bump in the city and 3 MPG improvement overall? I’d say so, but be sure to sound off in the comment section. Also improving economy is an AWD capable version of the CVT found in the Accord bumping the numbers to 27 / 34 / 29 (City / Highway / Combined) for FWD models and 26 / 33 / 28 for AWD.

Front Wheel Drive Biased Transverse AWD System, Drawing Courtesy of Alex L. DykesAWD Controversy

My favorite Swedish magazine, Teknikens Värld, has a winter capability test where they put the test vehicle on a slope and the front wheels on rollers. The test is to see if 100% of the engine power can be sent to the rear wheels. Note that the 100% is essential here, because the incline and front wheels on the rollers makes sure no traction exists on the front axle. The CR-V failed this test because Honda’s AWD control system is programed to not lock the clutch pack if it detects zero traction up front and 100% in the rear. It also appears that traction control was disabled in the test. (The CR-V is not designed to be RWD essentially.) You will note in the diagram above that this type of system can lock the center clutch pack and get a 50/50 power split front/rear like a vehicle with a traditional transfer case, or it can slip that clutch pack to vary things from 100/0 to 50/50 assuming no wheel slip.

When wheel slip occurs, something different happens. Say just one front wheel sips. The front differential, being an open unit would send power to the wheel that is slipping, this action essentially causes the power balance to shift to the rear up to a power balance around 20/80. Leaving the traction control on, the slipping front wheel would be braked until it was spinning the same relative rate as the others. This would return the system to a 50/50 power balance because even if the front wheel was up in the air, the brakes on that wheel would be “consuming” the 50% of the power on that axle to maintain the power balance. The CR-V’s AWD system is designed to operate in this 50/50 window without issue. With your front wheels on ice and your rear wheels on tarmac, the front wheels will always have some traction and the traction control will help keep things in balance. Similarly in off-camber situations in snow with one wheel in the air, the brake based system will keep things in line. Pop the CR-V up on rollers however and the system things something is wrong.

The bottom line is that the CR-V is not a Jeep Cherokee, it was not designed with locking differentials and not designed with the Rubicon Trail in mind. It was however designed with the urban jungle and 2015 snowpocalypse in mind and 99.9% of shoppers will never even know there was a controversy. If you’re the 0.01% of shoppers that lives in a roller factory, there could be an issue of course. Is the Jeep system “superior?” Yes, but for most folks it’s also overkill.

2015 Honda CR-V EarthDreams 2.4L Engine-001

Drive

The popularity of the CR-V is no surprise when you get behind the wheel. The CR-V drives like a slightly taller Accord which makes sense as the ground clearance has dropped over time as the CR-V has transformed from trucklet to tall wagon. The compact CUV doesn’t handle as well as the Mazda CX-5, but the wide tires, relatively light curb weight and moderately firm suspension certainly place the CUV at top end of the segment.

Thanks to the improved torque band and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has a much lower starting ratio than the old 5-speed (13.3:1 vs 11.7:1), the CR-V is notably faster off the line and hit 60 MPH nearly second faster than the 2014 model. Similarly the higher effective “top gear” ratio is the key to the CR-V’s large jump in the fuel economy score. As with the Accord and Civic which also use Honda’s new CVT tech, the CR-V’s transmission changes ratios much more rapidly than the Nissan Rogue’s more traditional CVT. The feel is more like a stepped automatic’s downshift than the rubber-bandy feeling you get in the Nissan.

2015 Honda CR-V Instrument Cluster-001

Thanks to the programming of the CVT, fuel economy has indeed improved over the 2014 model coming in at 27.5 MPG, just 1/2 an MPG shy of the EPA rating for our AWD tester despite my commute over a 2,200ft mountain pass daily. Thanks to the lower torque band of the EarthDreams engine, the CVT can keep the engine at a lower and more efficient RPM more of the time. Unfortunately higher torque outputs at low RPMs tend to highlight the new engine’s cylinder offset which, as I said earlier, trades smoothness for efficiency. Many of you on Facebook asked if I encountered the vibrations that some shoppers have complained about and indeed I did. Was it bad? No. Was it noticeable? Yes. Would it keep me from buying the CR-V over something else? No, because for me the MPG improvement is enough of an incentive to overlook it.

2015 also brings some tweaks to the suspension and sound insulation improving ride and cabin noise by a hair. Perhaps the biggest change for the CR-V out on the road has nothing to do with the driveline or suspension however, it’s the infusion of some Acura driving aids. The new Touring model comes standard with radar adaptive cruise control, a lane keeping system that steers you back into your lane and Acura’s Collision Mitigating Braking System or CMBS which will autonomously brake the vehicle if it believes a collision is imminent and you’re going above 10 MPH. While this isn’t breaking any ground, it does help the CR-V stay competitive with the Forester’s camera-based EyeSight system and the Cherokee’s latest radar based features. The Honda system isn’t as smooth as the Jeep system, but it is more natural than the Subaru system, works better in poor weather where the camera systems become less functional and supports a broader range of speeds.

2015 Honda CR-V Exterior.CR2

Ranging between $23,445 and $32,895 the CR-V straddles the middle in this segment after you’ve adjusted for feature content. The Forester is less expensive and more capable, but the interior is more down-market, no surprise since the standard AWD means it starts about $2,500 less than a comparable Honda. The Cherokee is the most rugged and capable vehicle in this segment but the off-road ability takes a toll on cargo room and handling while bumping the curb weight north of 4,000lbs in some trims. The RAV4’s latest redesign saw the demise of the optional 3rd row and the V6, (the two prime reasons for buying a RAV4 over the CR-V) and the addition of plenty of questionable plastics on the inside. Mazda’s CX-5 handles extremely well but isn’t as comfortable or as large inside and until the 2016 model arrives, the infotainment system is archaic.

Oddly enough, the fact that the CR-V fails to be the best in the segment in any particular category is actually the key to its success. It’s easy to create the cheapest or best off-road compact crossover (the bar is after all kind of low), a little harder to make the best handling crossover, but making a crossover that averages consistently high marks in every category is quite an undertaking. While the CR-V’s AWD system has received bad press, the same thing applies there. The AWD system isn’t the most capable in this segment but it is perfectly acceptable and won’t leave you stranded on your way to Aspen. The CR-V may lack the charm it once had, but it is still the best all-around vehicle in this segment.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2

0-60: 7.79

1/4 mile: 16.4 Seconds @ 87.5 MPH

2015 Honda CR-V Cargo Area.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Cargo Area 2015 Honda CR-V Cargo Area-001 2015 Honda CR-V Console.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Dash.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard 2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard-001 2015 Honda CR-V Dashboard-002 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Front.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Front 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Rear 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior Side 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior.CR2-001 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior-001 2015 Honda CR-V Exterior-002 2015 Honda CR-V HondaLink.CR2 2015 Honda CR-V Infotainment 2015 Honda CR-V Instrument Cluster 2015 Honda CR-V Instrument Cluster-001 2015 Honda CR-V Interior 2015 Honda CR-V Interior-001 2015 Honda CR-V Trip Computer.CR2

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Review: 2015 RAM ProMaster City (with video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-ram-promaster-city-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/review-2015-ram-promaster-city-video/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 14:00:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=999922 Please welcome back Alex Dykes as our Road Test editor. Alex will be contributing reviews and video reviews at our re-launched YouTube channel. Click here to subscribe. Everyone has been talking about the Dodge Caravan being sent out to pasture soon, but there is a third badge-engineered Chrysler minivan heading into the sunset as well: […]

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2015 RAM ProMaster City Front-001

Please welcome back Alex Dykes as our Road Test editor. Alex will be contributing reviews and video reviews at our re-launched YouTube channel. Click here to subscribe.

Everyone has been talking about the Dodge Caravan being sent out to pasture soon, but there is a third badge-engineered Chrysler minivan heading into the sunset as well: the 2015 RAM C/V. Behold the replacement: the 2015 RAM ProMaster City. With industry boffins calculating that the class 1 cargo-hauler segment will explode by over 300% in the coming few years, Chrysler is getting in on the commercial action with another Euro model. While the larger ProMaster van is based on the Fiat Ducato, the smaller ProMaster City is an Americanization of the Fiat Doblo. Does the recently formed Fiat Chrysler conglomerate have with it takes to compete with the all-new and all-sexy Transit Connect?

Exterior

Outside it is hard to tell the Doblo and the ProMaster City apart. Both have dual sliding doors and rear 60/40 barn doors that open to near 180 degrees but most of the sheetmetal is shared. New DOT compliant tail lamps and headlights were fitted and the RAM logo and cross-hair grille were grafted to the long nose. Let’s be frank, the ProMaster City isn’t as attractive as the new Transit Connect which wears strong lines and Ford’s new corporate grille. The ProMaster on the other hand goes for rounded corners and a function-over-form front end. RAM boasts that the unpainted black bumpers can be easily replaced without a quote from the paint shop. Shoppers should note that top end models ditch this repair savings for body-colored parts. Style is usually a low priority for most commercial shoppers and the PMC’s funky looks are unlikely to be a turn off. The wagon version may be a different matter.

2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-005

Interior

Speaking of wagons, the ProMaster City Wagon exists mainly as a “why not?” statement. You see, every PMC starts life as a passenger wagon built by TOFAS (a sort-of contract manufacturer) in Turkey. The completed vans are then shipped to Maryland for “conversion” where the “cargo” vans lose their rear seats and gain a load floor. This is essentially the same process Ford uses to bring the Transit Connect to our shores and avoid paying the dreaded “Chicken Tax.” Because the vans are imported with 5-seats, why not sell a few on the side? That’s the version I had for a week.

It is best to think of the wagon as a utilitarian people and cargo hauler for the avid mountain biking family than a replacement for the American minivan. The difference between the PMC and the Sedona, Sienna, Caravan and Odyssey is stark. You won’t find a third row, fold-int0-the-floor seats, squishy plastics, rear entertainment systems, snazzy audio systems or leather rear captains chars with ottomans. Instead we have a commercial grade Euro-funky interior cast in shades of black and grey. The hard plastic dash and doors will withstand years of abuse and are easy to clean, but not as nice to touch as what you find in Ford’s redesigned Transit Connect.

2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2

Most of the PMC’s dashboard is lifted directly from the Doblo except for a new steering wheel with audio controls on the back, a new shifter and a touchscreen infotainment system. The gauge cluster is easy to read but the trip computer is unintuitive. Similarly the door release handles also function as the door locks and the electric door lock controls. That took some getting used to. Storage pockets abound but the cupholder count of two is decidedly European.

The Ford is more comfortable as a people hauler because it has a dual mission. You see, the PMC doesn’t need to compete with the Sedona or Sienna, because that’s what Chrysler has the Caravan and Town & Country for. Want a minivan? Go to the Chrysler dealer. Want to haul your portable poodle washing system? Visit the RAM dealer. Ford on the other hand is using the Transit Connect to compete in both worlds, for better or worse.

2015 RAM ProMaster City Cargo Area.CR2

Cargo Hauling

For commercial haulers and the “active families” manufacturers are courting, cargo capacity is king. This is area where the baby RAM starts to shine. With 131.7 cubic feet of widget-moving space in the rear this easily beats the Nissan NV200 and Chevy City Express and barely eeks out a win over the long wheelbase Transit Connect. The RAM also manages to haul longer items thanks to a slightly longer box swallowing 11-foot items from the windshield to the rear doors, 9-foot items from the dash to the doors (after removing the front passenger seat) and 7-foot items from the front seat backs to the rear doors. You’ll notice something missing, there’s no 8-foot measure, and that is the area where every vehicle in this segment let me down, you can’t put a 4×8 sheet of anything in these vans. If you want to haul plywood, you’ll need a Caravan for that once the RAM C/V dies next year.

Loading a widget that’s 4-feet by 4-feet by 5-feet long with a forklift is a cinch thanks to the bi-folding doors, something that the larger C/V has lacked for a while. Sadly you’ll find the payload, although class leading at 1,883 pounds, is not any higher in real terms than the Caravan. This leaves a huge payload gap between the ProMaster City and the 3,922 pound payload of the base model ProMaster. In an interesting twist, the PMC uses an independent rear suspension and coil springs while delivering a higher load capacity than the NV200’s more truck-like rear end.

2015 RAM ProMaster City uConnect 5.0.CR2-001

Infotainment

Although uConnect 5.0 sounds like it would be a smaller version of uConnect 8.4 (the systems found in most Dodge and RAM models) it is actually an entirely different system. Based on a Microsoft O/S and not the UNIX-like QNX that runs the larger system, this software was almost entirely designed by Fiat. It started its life back in 2006 as Fiat’s Blue & Me system found in Europe but Fiat re-designed it to look like the larger uConnect system in 2013 and we’re starting to see it offered as Chrysler’s base infotainment unit. With available TomTom navigation, Bluetooth speaker phone integration and USB media / iDevice support, uConnect 5.0 is a perfectly serviceable head unit. It lacks the smartphone and voice command  functionality you find in the larger uConnect and upcoming revision of MyFord Touch, but it is snappy and easy to use.

Base PMC models skip the touchscreen infotainment system for a basic AM/FM unit with a USB port and four-speakers. Jumping up to the SLT trim adds the touchscreen as standard equipment and makes a 6-speaker package available. That limitation goes for the wagon model as well, in base form you get the speaker grilles but no speakers in the cargo area.

2015 Ram ProMaster City 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with 9-speed, Courtesy of Chrysler

Powertrain

Thankfully RAM chose not to raid Dodge’s compact sedan for the powertrain as Nissan did with the NV200, instead opting for the same 2.4L “Tigershark” engine found in the Chrysler 200. The four-cylinder mill produces 178 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of twist which easily outclasses the NV200 and compares well with the Ford 2.5L naturally aspirated and 1.6L turbo engines. Unfortunately this does not compare terribly well with the average American minivan like Chrysler’s own Town & Country at 283 horsepower. Admittedly the Town & Country is heavier, but the power to weight ratio is still better at the Chrysler dealer.

Helping make up for some of the power defect is a ZF-designed, Chrysler built, 9-speed automatic. (If you want to know more about the 9HP and why it behaves the way it does, check out ZF’s 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On the Leash.) The 9-speed auto gives the PMC the lowest starting ratio in the segment and the highest final drive making the bulbous RAM the fastest to 30 MPH and the most efficient at 75 MPH. The result is an EPA rating of 21/29/24 MPG (City / Highway / Combined). Should you live in state with higher speed limits the tall 9th gear is a serious advantage. I averaged an impressive 31 MPG on a 70-mile one-way trip with the A/C blowing, cruise control set to 76 MPH and 800 lbs of cement blocks in the rear. If however you commute is in the city, expect that number to drop to the teens.

2015 RAM ProMaster City Wheel

Drive

When you compare the ProMaster City and the Grand Caravan, you’ll notice that the baby-RAM trades 850lbs of curb weight and 105 horsepower for 50% more gears in the transmission. The trade means higher fuel economy as I said, but notably slower acceleration with the RAM taking 9.55 seconds to buzz its way to 60 MPH. That’s Prius territory. Add a thousand pounds and any of these “class 1″ cargo vehicles will feel slow, but the turbocharger on Ford’s 1.6L engine helps it scoot to 60 nearly a second faster. The RAM still bests the 2.5L Ford engine and the Nissan and Chevy.

If you’re after exciting dynamics, you’re looking inside the wrong white box. The RAM has a better feel behind the wheel than the Ford, but raw grip is better over at the Blue Oval. The NV200’s leaf springs and wheezy 2.0L engine are the least exciting of the bunch, but the trade is truly the best city fuel economy. The better dynamics in the Transit Connect are not surprising since it is competing both in the cargo hauler and minivan segments. Is the RAM exciting? No. Is there steering feel? No. Can it out handle the Caravan in the left lane? No. But it can out handle a Prius on your mountain bagel delivery route.

2015 RAM ProMaster City Side View-001

And now we must address the glaring problem that hit me when I looked at the price tag. At $23,130 the Tradesman trim of the City is $1,735 more than the 2015 Grand Caravan AVP, aka the cheapest minivan in America. The Caravan isn’t the freshest minivan on the market, but the interior is still several steps above the ProMaster City. Dodge gives you a 283 horse V6 standard, it can swallow a 4×8 sheet of plywood, the factory payload is just 154lbs lower and it will tow 1,600lbs more. FCA does plan on fixing this, but the fix is killing off the AVP instead of lowering the ProMaster City’s price. This value problem is not unique to the RAM however as the Transit is also more expensive than the AVP. Admittedly suggesting the passenger version of the Caravan over the ProMaster City is “missing the point” a little, but the wagon variant we tested widens the gap to nearly $3,000. If your cash is on the line, my best advice is to skip both the ProMaster City and the Transit Connect and get a Caravan AVP while you can. As long as you don’t need the barn doors in the back or don’t mind a DIY conversion, the discount Dodge is the most compelling option.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.8 Seconds

0-60: 9.55 Seconds

Average economy: 24.3 MPG over 486 miles

 

2015 RAM ProMaster City Cargo Area.CR2 2015 RAM ProMaster City Cargo Area 2015 RAM ProMaster City Front 3 4 view 2015 RAM ProMaster City Front 3 4 view-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City Front.CR2 2015 RAM ProMaster City Front 2015 RAM ProMaster City Front-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City Gauges 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-002 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-003 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-004 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-005 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-006 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-007 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior.CR2-008 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City Interior-002 2015 RAM ProMaster City Rear Doors 2015 RAM ProMaster City Rear.CR2 2015 RAM ProMaster City Rear.CR2-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City Rear.CR2-002 2015 RAM ProMaster City Rear 2015 RAM ProMaster City Rear-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City Side View 2015 RAM ProMaster City Side View-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City uConnect 5.0.CR2 2015 RAM ProMaster City uConnect 5.0.CR2-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City uConnect 5.0 2015 RAM ProMaster City uConnect 5.0-001 2015 RAM ProMaster City Wheel.CR2 2015 RAM ProMaster City Wheel

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Video: Korean Porsche Owner Chases Down DUI Suspect http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/video-korean-porsche-owner-chases-down-dui-suspect/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/video-korean-porsche-owner-chases-down-dui-suspect/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 15:45:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=815594 To those of us in the United States the idea of a police checkpoint is repugnant, but for much of the world it’s an everyday event. During my time in Japan, I experienced the process several times and the procedure was always the same. A police taskforce rolled in, set up a blockade and traffic […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

To those of us in the United States the idea of a police checkpoint is repugnant, but for much of the world it’s an everyday event. During my time in Japan, I experienced the process several times and the procedure was always the same. A police taskforce rolled in, set up a blockade and traffic slowed to a crawl while officers on foot spoke with each driver. Once in a while, a driver was directed to pull into a special area off to the side and most people did just what they were told. Non compliance would bring the wrath of a dozen baton-wielding cops and anyone who tried to run would be chased down by one of the police bikes that sat waiting and ready at the far side of the blockade.

The Korean police checkpoint in the video above seems to work in much the same way. The only thing lacking, it appears, are the chase vehicles. Of course, when you have a civilian in a Porsche GT3RS willing to run down your suspect, maybe you don’t need to make the investment.

 

The footage in the video looks like it comes straight out of a video game but is, in fact, taken from the dash cam of a real-life regular civilian who, along with his girlfriend, just happens to be on scene when a driver decides to bolt from a police checkpoint. The chase that follows happens on busy city streets and we can see pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers lives’ put at risk as the suspect does his best to escape. Eventually, the pursuer realizes that crowding the fleeing car is actually causing its driver to behave even more erratically and backs off to a safer distance while his girlfriend uses her cellular to keep the police apprised of the suspect’s location until they can finally catch up.

In the end, thanks to one civic minded Porsche owner’s willingness to help out, the police get their man. Whether or not it was worth the risk, however, is something I question. Personally, I’d rather that ordinary citizens leave the high speed pursuits and the law enforcement to the professionals. Considering the number of people on the street this cold have ended badly. The fact that it didn’t is just pure, dumb luck. Even so, I’m glad he had a dash cam so I could ride along.

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GM Hits Social Media, As Part Number Debacle Adds Confusion http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-hits-social-media-as-part-number-debacle-adds-confusion/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-hits-social-media-as-part-number-debacle-adds-confusion/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 13:32:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=781977 The latest development in the GM ignition recall fiasc Automotive News reports Barra recorded and released five short videos for GM’s YouTube channel in an ongoing attempt to minimize the damage to her company’s reputation in the court of public opinion. The overall message of the videos is that the public is the automaker’s compass, […]

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2007 Chevrolet HHR 2LT Special Edition

The latest development in the GM ignition recall fiasc

Automotive News reports Barra recorded and released five short videos for GM’s YouTube channel in an ongoing attempt to minimize the damage to her company’s reputation in the court of public opinion. The overall message of the videos is that the public is the automaker’s compass, and GM will develop “a world class process” of vehicle safety evaluation so that nothing resembling the current crisis occurs in the future.

However, Bloomberg says this trial by fire is only the beginning for Barra’s tenure as GM’s CEO. Slow sales in the United States due to harsh winter weather at the start of the year, mitigating losses in Europe, restructuring of global operations in Australia and South Korea, and currency challenges in Russia and South America all have made their impact on GM’s stock value, falling 14 percent since Barra took the reins in mid-January 2014. She also must contend with Volkswagen — who knocked GM down to third in the Big Global Three trio last year — by maintaining or increasing pace in China against the Germans by as much as 10 percent.

Over in Washington, D.C., safety advocates have found the NHTSA lacks the resources needed to properly investigate provided data that could lead to a prompt recall, just as Congress has done all they could to strengthen the agency via the 2000 TREAD Act established in the wake of the 2000 Firestone-Ford recall case.

Currently, the NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations saw their numbers fall from 62 to 51 investigators over the years, and operates on an annual budget of $10 million since 2005. Meanwhile, the number of registered vehicles increased to 248 million in the same time, a number proving difficult to monitor — resulting in the recall crises experienced by Toyota and GM — as Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Jackie Gillan explains:

The idea of $10 million for an office that’s in charge of the safety of all these vehicles, undertaking investigations and doing the recalls, it’s just ridiculous. You look at the number of people working on this, you look at their inadequate funding, and you think to yourself, no wonder this is happening over and over again.

For their part, NHTSA spokesman Nathan Taylor defended his agency’s record, citing 929 recalls involving over 55 million vehicles in the last seven years as a result of their investigations. In addition, he says automakers paid a total of over $85 million in fines over delays, and notes fatalities related to defects are at an historic low. However, Taylor believes the process could be improved:

[The agency] pursues investigations and recalls wherever our data justifies doing so. NHTSA is constantly looking for ways to improve our process so we can better identify serious safety defects.

On the lawsuit front, Charles and Grace Silvas of Texas have asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to force GM to issue a “park it now” warning to all affected owners not to drive their vehicles until the ignition switch is fixed. The possible class action suit — which could net up to $10 billion in damages — was filed not due to any fatalities experienced by the Silvas, but because the defect’s concealment led to lost resale value.

USA Today reports that Barclays analyst Brian Johnson is predicting that GM will create a settlement fund between $1 billion and $1.5 billion for affected customers, on top of banking $1 billion to pay the potentially sizable fine issued by the U.S. federal government when all is said and done. Johnson says the funds could be funneled through “Old GM,” which would maintain the wall protecting “New GM” from pre-bankruptcy liabilities.

Reuters and USA Today both warn of potential headaches dealerships and repair shops will likely experience as the recall crisis continues to unfold.

One major headache for dealers and independent parts stores will be sifting through the spare parts room to find which ignition is the improved part, and which one is the defective unit. The problem comes from both sharing the same part numbers — GM 10392423 and Delphi D14611 — a move that is considered to be counter to standard operating procedure when fixing a defective part.

For repair shops, this means the only way to tell which part is which — outside of possessing forensic engineering tools — is by disassembling every single ignition related to the recall.

The second issue: Finding enough loaner vehicles for every affected customer. Thus far, GM received 9,000 requests for such vehicles, but despite calling upon rental companies such as Enterprise and Hertz for backup, dealers are having a hard time placing customers in loaners, including Kolar Chevrolet general manager Dwayne Haapanen:

There’s been a bit of a struggle finding the cars. I burned up all my loaner fleet, and we’ve been renting from Enterprise — and now they are out of cars.

Consumers are also having a hard time obtaining a loaner, though quantity isn’t the only issue. GM’s hotline for recall questions and loaner requests has seen long waits for callers, as well as a lack of thorough training for those manning the phones, sometimes leading to request denials. The automaker is adding staffing and improving training to alleviate the problems.

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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

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Trunk-001 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Trunk 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-012 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-011 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-007 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-008 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-009 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-010 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-006 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-005 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-004 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-011 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-001 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-010 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-008 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-002 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001

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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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