2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon Review

Friday August 26th, 2016 at 8:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

By David Colman

Hypes: Bauhaus Stark and Efficient
Gripes: Dump the Turbo for a V6

This VW comes with a longer name than any vehicle in recent memory. Let’s try to break down the mystery of a title that requires 5 separate descriptors. The first and most important is “CC” which refers to a sedan that originally derived from the Passat line but now stands on its own as a spacious mid-size product that will seat 4 adults luxuriously, 5 in a pinch. The “R-Line” descriptor refers to a stealthy looking trim package that differentiates the CC in the following ways: special front bumper, model-specific exterior and interior trim, including chrome plated threshold strips emblazoned with discreet “R-Line” logos. The “Executive with Carbon” finery consists of extensive carbon fiber inserts on the dash face, and all four door panels. VW has integrated the subtle look of the carbon weave into the upholstery design as well. The bolsters of both front and rear seats are stamped with a matte black cross hatching (called “Carbon Seat Cover Inserts”) that replicates the look of carbon weave. All in all, this multi-titled, baronial German aristocrat looks much more expensive than its sticker price of $38,685. In the long history of VW, few products – with the possible exception of the short-lived Phaeton – have come close to matching the current CC for unadulterated beauty of line, or elegance of design.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

Unfortunately, the 2.0 inline turbo straight four which powers our test version of the CC fails to provide the kind of acceleration you would expect from such a sleek package. Even if you manually select first gear for a traffic light getaway, the CC is hesitant to cover the initial 30 yards of pavement with dispatch. While the DSG gearbox does better at managing acceleration as the rpm and boost level of the turbo increase, the CC is slow to gather speed. That’s because VW has tasked this 200hp motor with the job of moving 3,370 pounds. The resultant power-to-weight ratio stands at 16.85lb/hp. Better you should opt for the available 3.6 liter V6, which makes 280hp and gives you a power-to-weight ratio of 12.0lb/hp.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

Certainly, the chassis and suspension of the CC is up to the task of sports sedan performance. The Executive package includes a very handsome set of 5 made-in-Germany ATS alloy rims (including a full size spare) that mount 235/40R18 Continental (Conti Pro Contact) tires. The rims measure 8J x 18, so you know the footprint of this car is solid. Considering the minimal sidewall height of the 40 series Conti tires, the ride of the CC is surprisingly tame. VW has selected shock absorber settings that damp out unwonted road incursion while still maintaining good control when you’re zipping through the bends.

Although VW markets the CC as a sports sedan, it’s really more of a mini-limousine than a 3 Series BMW. Standard comfort niceties include a 3 position memory system for the driver’s seat, spacious map pockets behind each front seat, an ingenious rear armrest that contains two beverage holders, a hidden storage compartment, and a flush fold feature that permits carriage of long objects like skis or boards. The headrests on the front seats slide fore and aft for optimal positioning, and the interior features two separate key locks to secure the spacious 13.1 cubic foot trunk from interior access. One is located on the driver’s door, the other inside the rear armrest.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

New for 2016 is a 6.3-inch touchscreen for navigation which also doubles as a rearview camera monitor. The DSG twin clutch shift system utilizes small paddles located next to the steering wheel to accomplish up shifts and down shifts. The central info display on the instrument panel records the gear you have currently selected, but it’s virtually inconspicuous due to the small 15-point size of the number displayed. A handy trip computer is standard fitment and displays the following information – elapsed travel time, instant fuel consumption, average fuel economy, range, distance covered, average speed, current speed. You can access all these bits by wiggling your thumb on a steering wheel mounted recall button.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

Despite the fact that VW has been lambasted of late with endless bad press about the diesel fuel imbroglio, the company still manages to churn out lovable, handsome, efficient products like the long-lived CC, which gets better looking and more accommodating with every passing year.

2016 Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line Executive with Carbon

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter TSI DOHC Turbo 4-Cylinder with Direct Injection
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 207lb./ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $38,685
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic Review

Thursday August 25th, 2016 at 8:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic

By David Colman

Hypes: Small, Agile, Beautifully Constructed
Gripes: Top Up Vision Nil

As the 2016 model year draws to a close, you may find some enticing deals on this hard to beat compact convertible from Audi. Our test example carried a window sticker of $50,425. This is a lot of German fun for the money, especially if you can finagle a year end discount. Be aware, however, that the 2017 A3 has already been announced. Its frontal styling is a little crisper than our outgoing 2016 model, and it features more dramatically outlined LED lighting front and rear. The 2017 A3 will also offer Audi’s sensational Virtual Cockpit, which premiered this year on the TT sports roadster. This bit of digital fantasy superimposes Google Earth and Google Street View on the instrument panel directly in front of you.

2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic

Our 2016 A3 made do with a more conventional instrument cluster, featuring a pop-up mid-dash top mounted screen that brings all the prompts together for you to select: Car, Telephone, Audi Connect, Navigation, Media, Radio, Tone. We kept trying to find the Sport Mode under the “Car” umbrella, but failed to do so. After perusing the Owner’s Manual, it became apparent that our particular A3, despite being a “Prestige” equipped model for an added $8,850, lacked the “Audi Drive Select” feature which would have provided a choice of “Comfort, Auto or Sport” settings via a dash button that was blanked off on our test vehicle.

2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic

What you do get for that extra investment in the Prestige model, however, makes the expense well worthwhile. Front seats come heated, exterior mirrors fold away when parked, driver’s side mirror dims automatically, “Mistral” aluminum interior trim decorates dash and doors, S Line trim emboldens exterior surfaces, LED interior lighting shines brightly, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system provides harmonic ecstasy. Although 18 inch alloys are included as part of the Prestige kit, our test Audi sported upgraded 19 inch “5-arm-Wing-design” wheels finished in titanium with edges beveled to shine. These dynamic looking rollers were fitted with 235/35R19 Continental Sport Contact tires with sidewalls so minute that the A3 looked like it was riding on its rims.

To make up for the lack of Audi Drive Select, our A3 was equipped with $250 worth of “Sport Suspension” so you could rightfully consider yourself to be driving in Sport Mode all the time. Also, the A3 permits deletion of Electronic Stabilization Control (ESC) and Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) by hitting the designated button on the dash. Punching it for one second partially disables ESC and ASR, hitting it for 3 seconds fully disables both traction aids. With Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive powering all four wheels, however, you’re safe to experiment with the handling of this compact sports sedan, even with ESC and ASR temporarily disabled. It’s almost impossible to get the A3 to lose its grip, with or without traction aid engaged. This stubby platform, which measures just 175 inches in length, seems tied to the ground by invisible umbilical cords.

2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic

With its high sides and short windows, the A3 makes for a fairly sepulchral cockpit experience when the roof is up. Especially troubling is the view to the back. The rear window pane, while heated glass, is fairly small. The twin rear seat headrests obscure nearly half your view out the back. Large rear sail panels further reduce three-quarters vision to the point where you will find yourself wholly reliant on the new-for-2016 backup camera and screen display. It’s almost worth dropping the top whenever you need to reverse out of a parking place. The top is a marvel of engineering which takes but 15 seconds to lift or drop. It can also be run at speeds up to 20mph. Just be sure to have the appropriate trunk divider partition in the proper position, or the system won’t work at all. Audi has thoughtfully provided a couple of latches inside the trunk to drop the rear seatbacks. You can then pass bulky objects through from the trunk into the interior. Audi also provides a windblocker for the cockpit which stores flat in the trunk.

2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic

We were never bothered by excessive wind, so the blocker stayed folded in the trunk. You can carry a couple of adults in the tight back seat, but if they stretch more than 5’8”, they won’t have head room with the top erect. They will, however, discover a pair of heater/AC vents facing them on the central tunnel.

2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic

For $50,000 plus, you would expect this Audi to include electric seat and steering wheel adjusters, but the A3 Prestige has neither. Although 170hp and 292hp engines are available for the A3, the 2.0-liter turbo in our test car was more than adequate for cutting through traffic or scorching up back roads. It uses fuel in a miserly fashion, with its 14.2-gallon tank good for a range of nearly 370 miles in combined mode driving. On a sunny day, with the top dropped and the tunes maxed, there isn’t a better car in the universe that this A3 Cabriolet.

2016 Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro S tronic

  • Engine: 2.0 liter TFSI turbo in-line four
  • Horsepower: 220hp@4500-6200rpm
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.@1600-4400rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 23MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,425
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD Review

Wednesday August 24th, 2016 at 12:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

By David Colman

Hypes: Phenomenal Range, Cosseting Cockpit
Gripes: Insufficient Thrust

If you’re interested in saving 10 percent off the top, consider a Toyota Avalon instead of a Lexus ES300. Both four door luxury sedans derive from the same platform. Select the Hybrid model Avalon, and you’ll pay a base price of $41,950. The same Hybrid in the Lexus line will set you back an extra $4,000. Aside from name plate differentiation, the 2 sedans are virtually identical. Our test Avalon, with $500 extra for a “Safety Sense Package” (Pre-Collision Warning, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control) still posted a bottom line of just $43,285 (including $835 for Delivery). According to the EPA, the Hybrid Avalon will save you $3,500 in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle. This savings accrues from the Hybrid’s exceptional fuel consumption, which posts a combined driving mileage figure of 40 MPG. That is quite an accomplishment for a sedan weighing 3,555 pounds and capable of transporting four adults in well-furnished luxury.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

However, if I were about to purchase an Avalon, I would not opt for the Hybrid, but rather select the available 3.5 liter V6, which makes 268hp compared to the Hybrid’s 200hp. Even though the electric motor of the Hybrid contributes a side order of torque, the 200hp inline four-cylinder gas engine feels anemic when you crush the throttle. Eventually, the electric boost kicks in, but even so the added thrust is late to the game and never all that strong. The Hybrid requires careful planning for passing maneuvers. To its credit, though, our test Avalon still showed a Range to Empty of 340 miles after a complete week of road testing. With a full 17-gallon fuel tank, you can expect a cruising range close to 680 miles if you run right into the reserve. When we first climbed aboard the Hybrid, the Range to Empty prediction showed 580 miles. Either way, this Avalon will cover a lot of road without much gas.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

There’s little to carp about concerning the cockpit amenities of the Avalon. Both front and rear seats are fitted with perforated leather which breathes well and looks great. The front seats feature heat and ventilation devices, while the rears offer heat only. There’s a nice console for rear seat occupants that contains heating and AC controls, plus a utility socket for plugging in portable devices. There’s even a retractable rear window sun screen that confers instant dignitary status on rear seat occupants when erect.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

Up front, vision is excellent in all directions thanks to tall side windows. A small sunroof is standard fitment, and thankfully, Toyota has provided large, easily grasped knobs for radio volume and station choice. The included 11 speaker JBL system provides Toyota’s “Entune” app suite as well as a navigation program. There are plenty of oddment storage compartments, which help keep the cockpit neat. At the front end of the center console lies a stealthy looking retractable door covering a “utility box” containing an SD card slot, another plug in receptacle, and a wireless charging pad for your phone. The pad is monitored by green and amber lights which keep you informed of usability status. The dash above this utility box contains a smallish 7-inch touch screen which proved difficult to read when flooded with daylight. The finger touch slide for the fan is easy to use, but like the digital right and left controls for temperature, each change of position generates an irritating beep of confirmation.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

Over the years, Toyota has run the gamut on the suspension calibration of the Avalon. The original sedan handled like a tuna boat in heavy seas. When they reissued the model as a pukka sporting sedan last year, the general consensus was that the platform was too stiff and unyielding. The 2016 version covers all the handling and performance bases, with 3 settings available from buttons on the center console reading “EV Mode, Eco Mode and Sport.” According to the Owner’s Manual, the Sport setting “assists acceleration response” and is to be used “when precise handling is desirable.” We left the setting in Sport for our week with the Avalon, although we never felt particularly sporty driving this large sedan. That’s partially attributable to the meager grip afforded by the undersized (215/55R17) Michelin MXV4 Primacy tires. But if you’re in the market for a Hybrid Avalon, you’re probably not comparing it to a BMW. Rather you’re looking for an economic and comfortable family car. This one gives you the attributes of a Lexus at the price of a Toyota.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

  • Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 plus electric motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG CITY/39 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $43,285
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe Review

Friday August 12th, 2016 at 8:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Fastest Jag Ever
Gripes: Hard To Fault

This Jaguar is scare yourself to death/go to jail now/do not pass go FAST! Even with the aid of a supercharger, it’s remarkable that Jag engineers have managed to extract 550hp and 502 pound-feet of torque from just 5.0 liters (302 cubic inches) of V8. We’ll take Motor Trend’s word for it when they discovered that the R Type will run the quarter mile in under 12 seconds (11.8 to be exact) with a trap speed of 122.7mph. Sixty miles per hour comes up in 3.6 seconds from a standing start. For sheer speed, the R-Type has very few rivals on the market today, and most of them (Corvette Z-06 excluded) cost twice or thrice the price of this Jag. And comparing this ultra refined, very buttoned down speedster to a Corvette is simply sacrilegious.

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

The first thing you notice when you insert yourself into the Jag’s tight cockpit is the exquisite level of refinement and design. All the dash surfaces sparkle with a metallic cross hatching that is ever so much more beguiling than passé carbon fiber. When you light the ignition, twin ram air scoops rise mysteriously, not from the hood, but from the dash top to provide air conditioning or heat. When you switch off, the vents restore themselves to their receptacles. It’s a welcome bit of British drawing room drama that is simply unforgettable.

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

The twin bucket seats are resplendent in mocha and black stripes which Jag terms its “Camel Duo” complete with contrasting colored “Camel Stitch.” These exceptionally supportive “Performance” seats are 14-way adjustable, manipulated by a bewildering array of chromed control stalks located on each upper door panel. The instrument binnacle contains a bevy of dazzlingly bright TFT instrument faces which keep you apprised of every mechanical function without requiring you to squint. Due to the abbreviated height of the side windows and the near horizontal plane of the back glass, outward vision is somewhat compromised. You need to be extra careful when docking this Jag as the convoluted and vulnerable front spoiler protrudes more than you might anticipate.

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

One of the nicest instrumentation features is the inclusion of a huge white meatball displaying an 80 point digit displaying the gear you have selected. Since 8 ratios are available from the “QuickShift” transmission, gear notification is essential information. Thus informed, you will become expert in managing gear changes with a pair of lovely, cool-to-the-touch, aluminum shift paddles located next to the 3 and 9 o’clock grips of the steering wheel. When you have selected full Manual operation of the gearbox, the illuminated gear choice meatball will flash if you reach redline without up-shifting. The QuickShift will not upshift on its own in Manual mode. Some of you may recall those useless “upshift” lights fitted to cars back in the 1980s to improve EPA fuel consumption test cycle results. Think of Jag’s meatball version as the drag racers’ upshift light

So it’s beyond fast and beautifully appointed. But does this rather ponderous, 3,915 pound British missile handle with the aplomb Jags have long been noted for achieving?

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

Absolutely. Pinned to the tarmac with Pirelli’s best P Zero Nero rubber (255/35/ZR20 front/295/30ZR20 rear), the all-wheel-drive R-Type puts its prodigious power to the pavement with predictable certainty. On decently paved road surfaces, you’ll want to select the Dynamic Mode setting from the transmission-tunnel mounted switch. This choice, noted by a checkered flag display on the instrument panel, snubs shock absorber response, allows higher rpm shift points, and confers a sportier note to the exhaust. The R-Type adheres to the road with leach-like tenacity in Dynamic Mode. There is absolutely no slop in any parameter, and the big Jag scats like a cat in full pursuit of prey. On bumpier secondary roads, you’ll happy dial back some of this knife edge performance in favor of greater comfort and less driver involvement. On a laid-back trip to Wine Country, we left the Jag in Comfort Mode and never took the transmission out of Drive. Without fuss, the R-Type cantered along, happy to provide a GT ride rather than a race experience.

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

Our 2017 test sample, yet to be priced as to MSRP. did come with a Monroney Sticker showing a charge of $12,000 for a “Carbon Ceramic Matrix Braking System” and “20 Storm Alloy Wheels – Forged.” The enormous yellow calipers clamping the carbon discs make a stunning visual counterpoint to the dark tinted Storm alloys. But with these brakes, you need to be extra careful during the warm-up phase, because they require heavy pedal pressure before they reach operating temperature. A couple of experiences taught us quickly that the carbon brakes are initially less responsive than steel rotors. But if you plan to track your cat, there is simply no substitute for carbon during extended hot lap runs.

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

2017 Jaguar XK F-Type R Coupe

  • Engine: 5.0 liter V8, supercharged, aluminum black and heads
  • Horsepower: 550hp@6500rpm
  • Torque: 502lv.-ft.@2500rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 15MPG City/23MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $124,895 (est.)
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Lexus RC-F 2-DR Coupe Review

Thursday August 11th, 2016 at 8:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Lexus RC-F 2-DR Coupe

By David Colman

Hypes: Ultra Quick. Immaculately Tailored Missile
Gripes: Lose the Grill, Add a Rear Wiper

The gripe list on this Lexus is real short. The black spindle hourglass grill looks obnoxious rather than attractive. And the rear window pane needs a standard wiper. That’s it. This 4 seat, 2 door coupe is otherwise perfect. Its 467hp 5.0 liter V8 will propel it faster than you’ll ever want to travel on a public highway. This Lexus makes a strong case for this ultra sophisticated V8 as THE motor of choice in an ultra sporting coupe application. The RC-F’s V8 is more responsive and fun to drive than the V6 turbo which powers BMW’s M4. It is coupled to an exquisitely smooth 8-speed automatic gearbox with enough ratios to blast you out of trouble in any passing situation. If you’re lazy, just access the V8′s 389 lb.-ft. of torque by flooring the accelerator for immediate transmission kick down. Or play the selection routine by slotting the beefy floor stick into the Manual selection gate, and slapping the oversize aluminum shift paddles through their limitless choice of ratios. In Manual mode, the RC-F is an especially gratifying machine to micro manage.

2016 Lexus RC-F 2-DR Coupe

This class of rocket sled requires exceptional attention to suspension behavior. Lexus has done their homework well, providing an exceptionally rigid platform with all the right pieces in place underneath the skin. Huge Brembo-sourced brakes at each corner, measuring 14.9 inches up front and 13.5 inches rear, yield a perfectly progressive pedal feel. The front calipers boast 6 pistons, the rears have 4, and all discs are slotted to promote heat and moisture dispersion. Extra resilient F-specification multi-link suspension members front and rear keep the RC-F’s model-specific 19 inch alloys glued to the ground. Michelin takes care of adhesion at the contact patch with their best high performance tires: Pilot Super Sport rubber measuring 255/35 ZR 19 front and 275/35 ZR 19 rear. Note that the unusual “ZR” rating is the top speed rating available in a street legal tire, with a safe track speed of 190mph.

2016 Lexus RC-F 2-DR Coupe

Inside the cockpit, all systems are A-OK. With its marvelous F-Spec “NuLuxe” trimmed sport seats and electroluminescent dash display, the RC-F makes you feel like a fighter pilot even before you light the off the burbling V8 with the handy Start/Stop button. Those racy looking seats feel like they were poured in place around your seated torso. They feature 10 way power adjustability, but manage to look like race legal items, with their gaping shoulder harness slots bracketing F-embossed headrests. Should you decide to task your RC-F with track day outings, all the fixings are already in place. Just load your helmet and your driving gloves. You don’t even need to bring a stopwatch because Lexus has installed a sequential lap timer in the coupe’s on-board memory system. Lexus has come a long way since the company hesitantly installed stiffer shocks and springs on those first F-Line equipped sedans years ago.

2016 Lexus RC-F 2-DR Coupe

In fact, you can soon expect to see the company compete heads-up with Porsche, BMW, Corvette and all the other heavy hitters in IMSA’s extremely competitive GT LM class of racing as veteran driver Scott Pruett is set to debut a stripped race version of the RC-F later this summer. In the meantime, you can get a head start on the fun for just $77,905. This price includes some rather extravagant extra-cost packages such as the Navigation/Mark Levinson Package ($2,610), Premium Package ($3,240) and Performance Package ($5,500). The Navigation combo brings you a 7 inch display screen, a DVD player, a touchpad controller between the seats, and a 17 speaker (10 is standard), 835 Watt , 5.1 Surround sound ear blaster. The Premium pack consists of heated and ventilated front seats with driver seat memory setting, carbon fiber cabin trim, blind spot monitor and auto sensing wipers.

2016 Lexus RC-F 2-DR Coupe

While neither of these packages are essential, you’ll definitely want to opt for the Performance Package because it makes an indelible imprimatur on both the looks and the performance of your RC-F, with its carbon fiber roof, carbon fiber spoiler and torque-vectoring rear differential. The standard issue rear end includes a Torsen limited slip differential, but the torque vectoring feature enhances road grip even more. When you slot the multi-mode suspension dial (located atop the transmission tunnel) into “Performance +” you are definitely ready to boogie with this Lexus coupe. The exhaust note morphs into a snarl, steering feedback tightens measurably, and higher rpm shift points rise into the redline range. Best of all you can enjoy this rush right now, before Scott Pruett ever gets his Lexus on track.

2016 Lexus RC-F 2-DR Coupe

  • Engine: 5.0 Liter V8, DOHC, 32 Valve, Direct and Port Injection, VVT-i Intake and Exhaust
  • Horsepower: 467hp
  • Torque: 389lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 16 MPG City/25 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $77.905
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid Review

Wednesday August 10th, 2016 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Handsome, Fuel Efficient
Gripes: Small Trunk, Strange Dash Cladding

In 2015, the Malibu placed 6th out of 6 like sized sedans in a Motor Trend magazine comparison test. Clearly, the old Malibu had outlived its useful product life cycle, and Chevy duly replaced it with a whole new car this year. Not a freshening, not a remodel, but a completely new vehicle designed specifically for comfortable long distance travel by plus sized humans. Specifically, the magazine review dinged the previous Malibu for its lackluster engine, cheap interior plastics and cramped rear bench seat. Chevy has admirably addressed all those complaints with the Hybrid we drove. Under the hood lies a very energetic powertrain consisting of a 1.8 liter double overhead cam, inline 4 cylinder gas engine augmented by twin electric motors. Although the combo is only rated at 182hp, the vibrant manner in which the electric propulsion augments the gas motor means you will never be lacking for acceleration. This Hybrid Malibu is really quick in a straight line, with instant spool up quick enough to see you through any passing or merging maneuver.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Inside the cabin, the 2016 Malibu has lost the former model’s bargain basement array of plastics and fabrics. While it’s not quite up to Ritz standards, the Malibu interior is several cuts above Best Western. Check out the steering wheel, for example. If you opt for the $895 “Technology and Convenience Package,” Chevy gives you a nice fat leather capped rim to grip. Every possible seam and contour has enough thread or hide to eliminate all sharp edges. The same cannot be said for many cars costing twice as much as the Malibu. The only item of questionable taste is the strange quilted fabric covering the lower sections of the dash. This 3D material looks odd, as if Chevy was trying to replicate a carbon fiber look with cloth. It does not promise to wear well.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Quibbles about the old Malibu’s lack of interior room have been eliminated thanks to a 4.2 inch wheelbase extension, a whopping 11 inch width extension, and just a half inch height rise. Indeed, the new Malibu provides a spacious and airy ride, with limousine like leg room both front and rear. Yet it manages to give you a much bigger cabin while still saving nearly 300 pounds of curb weight over its predecessor. This lightened load partially accounts for the Hybrid’s excellent fuel economy, with a highway figure of 47 MPG augmenting a city rating of 46 MPG. The only real downside to the Hybrid driveline is the storage space sacrifice you will need to make to accommodate the battery pack beneath the trunk. Gas only versions of this sedan provide 15.8 cubic feet while the Hybrid makes do with just 11.6.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Since self driving cars have yet to arrive, it was a bit off putting to discover that this Malibu has been implanted with self driving notions of its own by Chevrolet. If you pay $1,195 extra for the “Driver Confidence Package” you’ll discover that your Malibu has a mind of its own. This propensity for automated decision making first revealed itself when I sprinted onto an empty stretch of freeway and immediately made for the number 1 (fast) lane. Each time I crossed a lane boundary – and there were 3 of them – the Hybrid resisted my steering direction to the left and instead corrected the front wheels back to the right. As I was later to discover, Chevrolet programmed this obnoxious behavior into the Malibu’s optional package under the rubric of “Lane Keep Assist” ( LKA). Each time you fail to signal a lane change, the steering wheel will jerk itself back in the opposite direction of your intended path of travel. Thankfully, we discovered a delete button for LKA near the hub of the steering wheel’s left spoke, and from then on eliminated the nuisance. But be forewarned, the invasion of the mind snatchers is on the way.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

All in all, Chevy has done a very workmanlike job in their remake of the aging Malibu. the new sedan looks really good, especially when given the optional $395 Crystal Red Tintcoat of our test sample. Clearly, draftsmen in what used to be called the Art and Color department of GM have refined the exterior surfaces of the Malibu to conduct wind without disturbance. This is a remarkably quiet and aerodynamically clean product that will remind you of its air management efficiency by endearingly infrequent visits to the gas pump.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC inline 4 with twin electric motors
  • Horsepower: 182hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 46 MPG City/47 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,130
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Buick Cascada Premium Review

Monday July 25th, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: Stunning Good Looks, Fun in the Sun
Gripes: Dated Dash, Underpowered

My neighbor down the street, who has never had a thing to say about any of the 50 or so vehicles that rotate through my driveway each year, made it a point to stop and discuss the styling of the new Buick Cascada. “That’s one of the best looking cars I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed from the driver’s seat of his Nissan Leaf. I hesitated to mention the fact that pretty much anything would look good when you’re driving a Leaf. But I have to agree, the Cascada is without question a stunning looker of a car – not only when the top is stowed, but also when it’s erect. This Buick is a beauty from any angle. The curvaceous side sculpting enhances the predatory pounce of the body, which looks set to gobble up pavement in very short order.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

Unfortunately, the Cascada’s looks over-promise from a performance standpoint. Because its curb weight is close to two tons, the small displacement (1.6 liter) inline 4, despite being turbocharged, is hard pressed to generate enough horsepower (200hp) to move the Cascada with the alacrity you’d expect from its scintillating looks. In fact, you need to be ever vigilant in using the 6-speed automatic transmission’s manual gate so as to spin the motor hard enough to generate acceptable acceleration. Even on its best day, the turbo 4 barely cracks 9 seconds in the run to 60mph from a standing start, and tops out at just 82mph in 16.7 seconds in the quarter mile run. In other words, this Buick is no Roadmaster in the speed department.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

But if you can set aside that deficiency the Cascada has a lot to offer in a slimly populated market segment (sub $40K family convertibles) recently vacated by VW’s discontinued Eon and Chrysler’s 200 drop top. Really, at a base price of $36,065, the Cascada looks like rather a bargain. We particularly liked the up-market appearance of the interior seating, which sported a diamond perforation pattern on the 8-way power adjustable front sport bucket seats. These handsome perches also come with standard 3-stage heating and cooling controls. The heat source warms not only the cushion section but also the lower backrest area. A standard steering wheel rim heater completes the toasty luxury effect when the top is down and the weather is chilled. The top is a beautifully contrived unit which can be activated up to 31mph. Although the small back window features a defroster, rear vision is never very good with the top erect. However, a standard rear vision camera displays what you can’t see from the driver’s seat, and front and rear parking assists also help you steer clear of obstructions.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

The Cascada is based on an Opel platform which is built in Poland. This unit started life more than 7 years ago as an Opel Astra J, and continues in production today as the Opel and Buick Cascada. Because of its longevity, the controls are showing their age. You’ll still need to insert a key in a slot to start this Buick, and the Cascada also lacks the handy proximity locking and unlocking common to newer designs. The center stack of the dashboard is rather complicated, with dozens of tiny buttons. It took me way too long to figure out how to program the HD Radio for favorite presets because the system is simply not intuitive. At one point I inadvertently managed to select Station 53 (“Chill”) on XM Radio on all 6 presets! On the plus side, however, this Buick features 4G LTE Wi-Fi, so you’re a virtual mobile hot spot, with a free limited data trial to enjoy before pay renewal with OnStar is required. While Buick touts the Cascade as a “Premium” effort, certain cheap touches dilute that impression. For example, the cruise control thumb wheel affixed to the left steering wheel spoke feels imprecise and flimsy.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

Buick has fitted a surprisingly stout suspension system to this convertible. With standard 20 inch alloys carrying Bridgestone Potenza RE76 tires (245/45R20) at each corner, the Cascada has all the moves you’d expect of a sporting ride. The car corners flat and true, with the front suspension’s “HiPer Strut” carefully tuned to eliminate torque steer under heavy load. The downside of the 20 inch wheel application is the very wide turning circle you must deal with on every U-Turn. But when the top is stowed, the sun is out and the wind is playing with your senses, the Cascada has few peers as an enjoyable and affordable bargain convertible.

2016 Buick Cascada Premium

  • Engine: 1.6 liter inline 4, turbocharged with SIDI, DOHC and VVT
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 206lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $37,385
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Buick, Expert Reviews, Feature Articles |Tags:, , || No Comments »


2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Review

Friday July 22nd, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

By David Colman

Hypes: $100,000 Custom Look at 75% Off
Gripes: Small Trunk

You’ve got to hand it to Volkswagen. Here’s a company that does a better job of mining its own history than any other car maker. The latest nugget they’ve resurrected from their past is pure 24K gold, both in color and in spirit. Harkening back to The Sixties, when sand racers in California jacked VW Beetles up on Jeep wheels to attack the sand dunes of Baja, comes the appropriately named Beetle Dune. This package successfully resuscitates the myth – if not the off road performance – of those primordial Baja Bugs. VW accomplishes the transformation of the New Beetle into the Baja Beetle of yore through sleight of eye. Thanks to new front and rear fascias, black wheel arch extensions, and skid plate underpinnings front and rear, the 2016 Dune looks ready to tackle a run from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

But the Dune’s diversionary looks can be deceiving. Even though ride height is half an inch taller than that of a stock Beetle, the Dune still clears the ground by just 5.9 inches. And VW’s use of 8 inch wide “Canyon” alloy rims with 235/45R18 Continental ProContact tires affords very little sidewall buffer for safe travel over unimproved roads. That restricted ground clearance means you’ll want to stick to paved roads or well groomed dirt trails because this Beetle, despite its promising looks and name, is no off-roader. Rather, it’s just dressed up to look like one.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Dressed to the nines in fact, with a flashy exterior and a jaw dropping flash-point interior, both of which look best in all revealing Convertible form. Although both closed and open versions of Dune are available in three shades (Sandstorm Yellow, Pure White and Deep Black), the only color that does justice to the visual symphony is Sandstorm Yellow. Call this one Dune Messiah. Only the Sandstorm Yellow Dune includes upper door trim panels and dash pads finished in exterior color. The White and Black versions both make do with boring black door and dash trim. The net effect of the dazzling metallic gold exterior paint finding its way into the interior is eye popping. VW then takes the audacious custom look to the next level by fitting the Dune’s interior with gray cloth and black leather sport seats double seam stitched in Sandstorm Yellow thread.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

We enjoyed several pleasurable long drives in the Dune’s cockpit with the top stowed, the four side windows up, and the huge rear seat wind blocker erect. These measures cancelled virtually all air swirl inside the Dune, allowing open air motoring without the constant draft hassle. Of course, you are free to drop the windows and wind block for a more motorcycle like experience. The convertible top is beautifully constructed, with enough padding and insulation to make the Dune a true all weather proposition. VW provides a tonneau cover for a finished look when the top is down. A single button on the windshield frame operates the top’s mechanism, and operation is automatic from start to finish. There is no need to latch/unlatch the roof from the windshield manually, and Dune even drops or raises all four windows as needed during each cycle.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Although Dune is designed to look like the original rear-engined Beetle, the engine is now located up front rather than out back. In fact, this Beetle is built on the same platform as the current Golf, so you can expect performance to mirror that of the Golf range in terms of acceleration, handling and fuel consumption. Which is to say the Dune performs well on all counts. It’s powered by a 170hp version of the Golf’s 1.8 liter turbocharged inline 4, which produces 184lb.-ft. of torque. Our test Dune fed its horsepower to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic gearbox which could be shifted manually via the floor mounted stick when in Sport mode. No paddles are provided, however.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

The Dune Beetle is the ultimate illusory car. It looks like an original rear engine, rear drive Beetle, but in reality features a front engine and front wheel drive. It mimics the looks of a Baja Bug thanks to its medley of evocative styling clues, yet it will be driven off road rarely due to limited ground clearance. In view of all these tricks, you might call Dune the ultimate poseur’s car. But oh, what a lovely and unforgettable pose it has struck.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 cylinder,16 valve, turbocharged and intercooled
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,815
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax Review

Thursday July 21st, 2016 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

By David Colman

Hypes: Ferocious Demeanor Belies Grocery Getter Usefulness
Gripes: The 38 gallon tank will cost at least $150 to fill

As luck would have it, a sizeable parking slot at Orchard Supply Hardware opened up right next to a new Toyota Tacoma Crew Cab. As I parked my Tundra, I was careful to line up its front bumper with that of the Tacoma. This is a more difficult task than you might suspect since frontal vision from the Tundra’s lofty cab makes it virtually impossible to see anything directly in front of you. Nonetheless, when I finished jockeying the big Toyota pickup into position next to its smaller brother, I hopped out to assess relative size of these Toyotas. The Tundra stretched nearly a full bed length beyond the comparatively diminutive Tacoma. For the record, the Tacoma measures 208 inches from stem to stern versus 229 inches for the Tundra. The Tundra also stands 6 inches higher and 5 inches wider. In the case of our test Tundra, its 76 inch height is further extended by installation of 20 inch alloy rims with monster truck sized 275/55R20 Bridgestone Dueler Alenza tires.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So grab yourself a handful of steering wheel and climb aboard this $50,275 big rig. On the passenger side, Toyota has provided a strategically placed grab handle for hoisting yourself aboard. Ensconced in the nicely furnished cab, your eyes immediately focus on the artful stitching of the diamond patterned dash and door inserts. This nifty needlework, part of the Platinum Package, looks like something you might find in a Bentley or Maserati rather than a Toyota work truck. The interior spread contains lots of such nifty touches. The driver’s seat is covered with perforated leather, and offers 12 way power adjustment. The front passenger seat offers 5 way adjustability, and both seats provide heating and cooling of cushions. A vast intra-seat storage bin allows you to bury just about any valuable object for safe travel.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The floor-mounted stalk controlling the 6-speed automatic transmission places a massive shift knob in your right palm. There’s never a doubt about which gear you’ve chosen with this mechanism. It’s one of the easiest vehicles to shift thanks to flawless operation of the gear selectors. Actuating the lever is a delightful operation, especially since it also allows you to perform sequential up and down shifts.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

The hefty transmission comprises but one element in a very sophisticated driveline. 4 wheel drive is available either full or part time via a selector located on the dashboard. The Tundra boasts an electronically controlled transfer case and an automatic limited slip unit fitted with a 4.30:1 final drive ratio. That ultra-low ratio insures maximum traction for towing, a task this truck is ideally suited to perform. Toyota installs both an engine and a transmission oil cooler on the Platinum version, plus a factory receiver style tow hitch. You can engage either Tow or Haul mode from a switch on the dash. Electrics are looked after by a heavy duty battery and alternator, and Toyota pre wires trailer hookup with both 7 and 3 pin receptacles mounted on the rear valance above the bumper. But the heart of the whole trailer operation centers on the massively torquey 5.7 liter “I-FORCE” V8, which produces 381hp, and more importantly, 401lb.-ft. of torque, a rating which gives this rig a towing capacity of 9,700 pounds.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

So, yes you can haul an Airstream, a ski boat or a race car with relative ease thanks to all the planning Toyota has done to optimize the Tundra for such a task. But during our week with this truck, we never towed a single thing. In fact, we never even loaded the 5’5″ double-walled bed (with rail caps) with so much as a bicycle. Yet the Tundra was still a delight to operate as a regular daily grocery getter. The spacious Crewmax cab makes you feel like a passenger in an airport limousine. Sightlines in traffic are commanding, and the lofty perch gives you a better sense of road position than any artificial feedback from the Blind Spot Monitors with which this Tundra is equipped. Tundra also offers Rear Cross Traffic Alert as a standard feature, and this information is essential since you can’t see what’s going on back there from your seat in the cab. The standard rear backup camera will prove very helpful in aligning a trailer hitch. Standard front and rear sonar parking sensors let you put this big bad boy to rest in any parking lot without nudging your neighbor.

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

2016 Toyota Tundra 4X4 Platinum Crewmax

  • Engine: 5.7 liter V8, DOHC 32 valve, with Dual Independent VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 381hp
  • Torque: 401lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 13 MPG City/17 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $50,275
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, Toyota |Tags:, , || No Comments »


2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan Review

Wednesday July 20th, 2016 at 11:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: The Gas Gauge Never Moves Off Full
Gripes: Limp Tire Choice, Unpredictable Regenerative Brakes

As the first half of 2016 fast approaches, Toyota’s Camry remains the sales leader in the USA in the crowded mid-size sedan marketplace. What does it take for this unassuming four-door to beat such heavy hitters as Honda’s Accord, Nissan’s Altima, Hyundai’s Sonata, Ford’s Fusion and VW’s Passat? If our week in the Hybrid version of the Camry is any indication, it takes excellent fuel mileage combined with reputable dependability to persuade Americans to buy more Camrys than any other mid-size product.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

Of all the models in the Camry line, from the 173hp entry-level 2.5 liter LE to the 268hp 3.5 liter XLE, only one garners top honors in the fuel efficiency sweepstakes. That would be the Hybrid XLE we drove. In a solid week of testing, including numerous short hops and long distance cruises, the fuel level never once dipped below the 3/4 full mark because the Hybrid scores 38 MPG on the highway and an even better 40 MPG around town. This is truly amazing for a fully appointed four door that weighs more than a ton and a half. This Hybrid rates 9 out of 10 on the EPA’s “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” and it does so without the inconvenience of a plug-in receptacle. You can hold your green head high with this vehicle and never once suffer the range inhibition so common to owners of fully electric vehicles.

The acceleration of the Hybrid is surprisingly strong with good torque immediately on tap as the CVT transmission shuffles belts to maximize output from a standstill. The Hybrid uses a 2.5 liter inline four cylinder petrol engine good for 178hp. This unit combines with an electric motor to boost total output to 200hp. The additive value of the electric motor thus adds 22hp to the 2.5 liter gas-only Camry. In practice, that 22 extra hp transforms the sedan’s performance from boring to rewarding. There was never an occasion when the Hybrid was wonting for pop.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

This year Toyota offers a sports handling package for the Camry called “XSE.” From all reports, it doesn’t do much for your driving enjoyment but actively diminishes ride comfort. Our Hybrid was equipped instead with the XLE trim level, which adds the following niceties: Entune infotainment with 7 inch touchscreen, navigation, auto on/off LED headlights, moonroof, dual-zone climate control, Qi wireless phone charging, heated front seats and leather upholstery. In addition, Toyota fitted our test sedan with a Homelink transceiver ($345), and a premium JBL audio system ($1,330). Also upping the price by $750 was an “Advanced Technology Package” which adds Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, and a Pre-Collision System that tightens the seat belts in advance of contact.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

The Camry will never qualify as a sports sedan, no matter how much Toyota stiffens the suspension with the XSE option. But you could definitely improve its handling by replacing its mediocre Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires (215/55R17) with the 18 inch rims and higher performance rubber which Toyota makes available on the XSE model. Also available at your dealer are the splendid looking 10 spoke, 18 inch rims which Toyota bolted to the limited production (only 12,000 examples) 2016 Camry Special Edition (SE). In any event, the Camry is a workhorse, not a racehorse. But its styling update, administered in 2015, still looks fresh enough to entice more buyers into Toyota showrooms than any other manufacturer. One of the explanations for this continuing phenomenon is reliability. Consumer Reports slaps a “Recommended” check mark on the Camry model range in large measure because this sedan scores a “Much better than average” rating in the all important “New Car Prediction” category.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

If you’re on blood thinning medication, you’ll be relieved to know that the Camry Hybrid will never threaten to raise your blood pressure. While it won’t unduly excite you, it will also never unexpectedly disappoint you. The odds of getting stuck due to a mechanical malfunction are so remote that you can let your AAA membership lapse without so much as a pang of anxiety.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $35,800
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

Posted in Expert Reviews, Feature Articles, hybrid, Toyota |Tags:, , , || No Comments »


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