2014 Fiat 500L

2014 Fiat 500L

The saying goes that man cannot live by bread alone, and neither can automakers live by selling one car alone. This holds especially true for automakers with a budding dealer network to support, like the Fiat brand, which returned to US shores in 2011 after a 28-year absence. The company’s single car to sell at the time was the Fiat 500, a cute retro rebirth of the original, iconic Cinquecento, which your toddler now calls Luigi thanks to Pixar.

Since then, the new 500 has sold reasonably well here in the US, and the Fiat brand has been following the same playbook that another purveyor of pint-sized autos, Mini, has used: sell as many variants as you can of the one model you’ve got. So we have the 500, 500C drop top, high-performance 500 Abarth, all-electric 500e and a few additional trim levels and special editions to further fill dealer showrooms. But the axiom that automakers cannot live selling one car alone still stands, and so Fiat has finally introduced its second model, the larger 500L.

Executive Editor Chris Paukert completed our First Drive of the 500L back in June, and was left pleasantly surprised by its combination of utility, offbeat style, fun-to-drive demeanor and value. We’ve also, however, read some scathing reviews, like this one from The New York Times. I wasn’t sure where the truth lay when the keys for this top-trim 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge were handed to me, but finding out would be but a short week of together time away.

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2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review

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The 500L has so many other things to offer that can’t all be sunk by styling alone.

Some people dismiss vehicles simply because of their styling, and we suspect the 500L will deter its fair share of shoppers with a design some find too unattractive to live with. Those elements we find so darling on the peewee 500 appear stuck on the larger 500L like the eyes, nose and mouth of a Mr. Potato Head, and the tall, thin shape that maximizes usable space inside does it few favors on the outside. That said, Executive Editor Paukert’s words about familiarity breeding acceptance rang true for me by the end of the week; while I’m still no fan of its design, the 500L has so many other things to offer that can’t all be sunk by styling alone.

Of course, there are many colors and trims available to tweak the 500L’s looks to your liking, though not the same plethora of interesting hues offered on the 500. This tester is a top-spec Lounge trim in Bianco White with the optional $500 Nero Black roof, $950 twin-pane power moonroof and all the trimmings, including a chrome-like treatment for exterior trim pieces like including the door handles, side-view mirrors and taillight surrounds, as well as fog lamps and optional 17-inch aluminum wheels with black accents ($500). There are three other trims – Pop, Easy and Trekking – but the only real alternative to the look you see here is the Trekking model, which butches up the front end in a faux crossover style with an altogether different lower fascia made of matte black plastic.

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Its outward view is like watching an IMAX movie of the passing world.

Of all the things the 500L has to offer, though, its interior is its biggest selling point. For one, the view from the driver’s seat of a 500L is wholly unique. We’re in an era of automobile design where window lines are rising, windshields are getting more raked and shorter in height, and visibility overall is declining in favor of cameras and sensors to see our way around things. In contrast, the 500L’s outward view is like watching an IMAX movie of the passing world. The windshield height itself is an awesome gift if you hate cranking your neck at intersections while waiting for a light to turn green, but the unique quarter windows between the front windshield and side glass are the real difference-makers.

Other vehicles have quarter windows (the Honda Fit comes to mind), but there are none we can remember so vertical that also reach the same height as the side windows. Also, the 500L’s pair of A-pillars are so thin, again in contrast to industry trends, that these quarter windows are functional, allowing visibility of pedestrians and objects that might normally be obscured by a big, thick A-pillar while turning. Throw in that optional twin-pane roof, and on a sunny day, it feels like you are driving around in the top of a lighthouse. The one drawback to all this glass is the sunvisors, which are inadequately sized for the job. They are decent in height but not in length, which is particularly frustrating when trying to block sunlight through the driver or front passenger’s side window because they don’t extend further out on their arms.

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It’s the worst implementation of the best infotainment system on the market.

There’s more to the interior than great expanses of glass, though. The 500L benefits from offering Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect infotainment and navigation system. In fact, on all but the base Pop trim, Fiat is including the system plus a rear view camera and proximity sensors free of charge through the end of the year. This version of Uconnect, however, uses a smaller 6.5-inch screen compared to the massive 8.4-inch display in most newer Chrysler cars. While still full of features and quick to respond, the user interface is cramped, and the screen easily washes out in sunlight (a particularly unpleasant trait in a car with this much glass). It’s the worst implementation of the best infotainment system on the market, which means it’s still among the best available in this lower-cost segment. Our test model also included the Beats premium audio system with subwoofer, a $500 option you can forego unless you like your bass levels higher than normal at all times.

Three easy-to-use knobs operate the dual-zone climate control system, below which are inputs for an SD card, USB device or AUX input. Being exposed rather than tucked in a glove box or armrest makes these ports easily accessible and convenient to use, and a small cubby to the right can hold your phone while it’s charging. That is, if your phone’s not too tall; an iPhone 5 sticks out too far when placed in the cubby. Fortunately, there’s another shelf below the glovebox that’s tilted up with a rubber, bubbled surface that’s great for gripping smartphones.

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The front seats of the 500L are lifted off the floor to make an upright seating position that’s more like a minivan than a car. This creates a great perch from which to see through the expansive glass and grip the thick, canted, leather-covered steering wheel. The seats themselves, however, could use more cushion and the short bottoms don’t provide enough thigh support. Their height off the floor also requires bending forward to reach your beverages in the cupholders located below the input ports.

The collection of configurations for the rear cargo area is as clever and useful as a Swiss Army Knife.

The second row of seats is raised even higher than the front seats for a stadium effect, but the optional moonroof in our tester robs rear seat passengers of precious headroom. Six-footers seated in back will easily make contact with the roof, but we’re told by others who’ve tried the 500L sans sunroof that those missing inches and then some are restored without the ceiling glass. The seats also slide 4.7 inches fore and aft and the seat backs recline so a pair of rear passengers should have no problem finding comfort.

Behind that second row you’ll find 21.3 cubic feet of cargo space, an ample amount by anyone’s standards. The rear bench splits 60/40 and each section folds forward, but the flat surface they create is much higher than the floor of the rear cargo area. That floor, however, is actually a board that can be removed and reinserted at a height that matches the second-row seat back, thus creating a perfectly flat and level floor. The second row of seats can also be tilted forward, creating a tall cavity of cargo space from floor to ceiling that’s accessible through the side doors. This collection of configurations for the rear cargo area is as clever and useful as a Swiss Army knife, and second only to that expansive view as our favorite thing about the 500L.

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Where the 500L begins to falter is its mechanicals, specifically the pairing of its 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. In isolation, the engine itself is well-suited to the task of motivating all 3,254 pounds of the 500L. This is the same powerplant used in the high-performance 500 Abarth, but tuned for a different mission. It still produces 160 horsepower, but pulling power rises from 170 to 184 pound-feet of torque, and gone is the Abarth’s maleficent growl. There’s still more than enough power to move the 500L smartly, and it feels a tick or two more eager while underway than most of its competitive set.

This is the same powerplant used in the 500 Abarth, but tuned for a different mission.

A defining feature of the MultiAir engine in all of its applications, which also includes the Dodge Dart, is turbo lag. This delayed wallop of power was once common to turbocharged engines and in this case, it’s still normally minor enough to be considered acceptable (some people even enjoy the ‘boost’ effect). However, the 500L’s dual-clutch transmission can be jerky when accelerating from a stop or changing gears from Reverse to Drive, and that behavior combined with the engine’s turbo lag creates a broken experience. Where one expects a smooth, predictable flow of power, there is instead a stuttering launch off the line that’s exacerbated when the turbo’s extra power arrives. Fortunately, a traditional six-speed automatic transmission will be available for the 500L soon, and a six-speed manual is available in the meantime and offers buyers an extra mile per gallon of fuel economy with an EPA rating of 25 City / 33 Highway versus the DCT-equipped model’s 24 / 33.

Drivetrain smoothness issues aside, the 500L’s handling is surprisingly good. Its European roots are to be credited for a firmer-than-average ride that doesn’t wholly swallow bumps or make potholes disappear, but sharp impacts are still well damped. The fair tradeoff is more composure while cornering than would typically be expected from a tall, boxy utility vehicle like this. Steering is also satisfying thanks to the squarish wheel’s high level of accuracy converting your inputs into varying degrees of L and R, despite the power assistance not fading away enough as more miles-per-hour are collected.

2014 Fiat 500L

The Fiat comes to market with a starting price nearly $1,000 below the magic $20k number.

While the ride is reasonably compliant, we didn’t find the 500L a great road trip companion. One reason already mentioned is the seats, which aren’t comfortable for long stints. Another is noise, though not coming from where you might expect. With all that glass and the 500L’s upright, aerodynamics-be-damned shape, a great deal of wind noise would almost be understandable, but whooshes and whistles are kept in check. Road noise from the tires and decibels sneaking into the cabin from the engine compartment, however, are higher than average. The drone would be annoying on longer trips, and helps keep the 500L experience a class below more luxurious outlier competitors like the smaller, more premium Buick Encore.

The Buick’s near-silent operation and luxurious appointments come at the expense of space and utility, whereas the 500L offers plenty of both with a few rough edges. The Fiat also comes to market with a starting price nearly $1,000 below the magic $20k number. A base 500L Pop begins at $19,100, while our top-trim Lounge tester requests a still-reasonable $24,195 base price (not including an $800 destination charge). With options like the twin-pane roof, black Nero roof, Beats-branded audio system and 17-inch wheels, its as-tested price with destination reached $27,445, which does not include the free-of-charge Uconnect infotainment and navigation system, rear camera and back-up sensors valued collectively at $1,745.

2014 Fiat 500L

The 500L is simply a hard value to beat.

The 500L is simply a hard value to beat. Combining an equal amount of space and utility with this many premium features would put you into a loaded midsize crossover costing over $30k. Competitors like the aforementioned Encore and redesigned 2014 Kia Soul may offer similar features, but lack the capacity to swallow as much cargo in so many clever ways. And while there’s no denying the 500L looks and occasionally acts like an awkward European on our soil, its gawky styling and unmatched outward views may appeal to the non-conformist set who sigh every time a Honda CR-V drives by.

By adding the 500L to its menu, Fiat should begin attracting all of those buyers who initially found the brand appealing, but whose lifestyles needed more than what the 500 had to offer. And if past precedent can be trusted, we may have a high-performance 500L Abarth in the future to look forward to, as well. With or without, though, the 500L will help ensure that Fiat dealers aren’t starved for buyers because of limited offerings, and as a sophomore effort in the US, it more than satisfies.

Vital Stats

Engine:
Turbo 1.4L I4
Power:
160 HP / 184 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed DCT
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,254 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
23.1 CU-FT
MPG:
24 City / 33 HWY
Base Price:
$24,195
As-Tested Price:
$27,445
Related Gallery2014 Fiat 500L: Review
2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review2014 Fiat 500L: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 John Neff / AOL

Category: Budget, Hatchback, New Car Reviews, Fiat

Tags: 2014 fiat 500l, featured, fiat, fiat 500l, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Acura RLX

2014 Acura RLX

Earlier in the year, I reviewed a powder-blue Volkswagen Beetle Convertible, and I witnessed a group of high-school-aged girls ogling the car as it sat in my driveway. In my head, I found it to be a funny-yet-fitting scene that I didn’t think of again until a 2014 Acura RLX showed up in my driveway. This time around, an elderly neighborhood couple stopped to give the big Acura sedan a closer look. The RLX is trying to shed past stereotypes of its predecessor, the Acura RL, just like the Beetle. Hoping to avoid becoming the de facto “grandpa car,” Acura has completely reworked – and renamed – its flagship sedan.

As the bookend to the new entry-level ILX, the addition of the 2014 RLX might give Acura its strongest sedan lineup ever as the automaker looks to break the cycle of being a middle-of-the-road luxury brand. Stepping up to the big-boy table isn’t going to be easy, though, as the competition keeps getting tougher. Forget cars like the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series, the Acura RLX is going to have its hands full with the likes of the Cadillac XTS, Lexus GS and Hyundai Genesis, not to mention a strong consortium of lower-priced, mid-luxury sedans like the Hyundai Azera, Toyota Avalon and Chevy Impala. The one thing all of these cars have in common is a reputation for being an old man cruiser.

I spent a week with the new RLX to see if it could shake the stigma of its outdated predecessor or if it would just leave me searching for the nearest early bird specials.

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2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review

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Compared to the ultra-anonymous RL, the 2014 RLX is a sharp car, but line it up against other luxury sedans and it’s clear that Acura has played it very safe with this sedan’s design. The RLX does have an assertive face with a toned-down version of Acura’s signature shield grille and those attention-grabbing LED headlights. These “jewel eyes” might add a little too much busyness to the RLX’s face, but they definitely help the car stand out in a crowd, while the sculpted front fenders add some athleticism to the design.

Acura really missed an opportunity to get daring.

Unfortunately, as your eyes move down the rest of the car, there’s very little to get excited about. The doors have a similar slab-sided styling to the RL, and the rear view is a major letdown for us, with those chrome-wrapped reflectors that attempt to mimic exhaust outlets, an uninspired decklid and taillights that look like something that found on a Chevy Malibu or Subaru Impreza. We more easily understand when volume cars like the Honda Civic receive timid redesigns so as not to alienate their hundreds of thousands of repeat customers, but we think Acura really missed the opportunity to get daring (maybe not ZDX daring) to attract more style-driven luxury buyers. It has, in effect, carefully updated the look of the outgoing RL, whose only inherent wildness amounts to its “wildly unsuccessful” sales run.

As is the case with most current Acura products, the lineage to the Honda brand is easily recognizable inside the RLX. This starts right at the dual-hooded instrument panel, which closely resembles what you will find inside a Honda Accord. That’s not to say that this car feels anything like the plebian Honda, but there’s just not enough ‘wow factor’ inside the RLX to separate them completely in the minds of buyers. Compounding this issue is the fact that the RLX fails to offer a panoramic roof. In a similar baffling move that left the option of a navigation system out of the sportier ILX 2.4, we have to wonder how Acura could have left out the option of a big glass roof on its begging-to-be-loved flagship. For a car wanting to play with the big boys in its class, this omission for an all-new model is a head-scratcher.

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Compared to the RL, the wheelbase of the RLX has been stretched by two inches and the car is almost that much wider.

What the RLX’s cabin lacks in visual pizzazz, it makes up for with roominess and refinement that truly defines this car as a luxury sedan with excellent infotainment technology to boot. On the technology front, the dual screens are a helpful tool to see and control vehicle information. The top screen displays navigation info, which can be controlled using the lower touchscreen, with the latter also controlling the audio, phone and other functions. Despite the screens offering haptic feedback, Acura still leaves plenty of hard buttons – something plaguing other trick infotainment systems (especially from Cadillac and Ford) – and the only primary function to annoyingly go without a hard button is the climate system’s fan speed control. Acura’s high-tech cabin is still very user friendly by offering numerous levels of redundancy for the driver, as systems like the navigation and audio can be operated using the touchscreen display, the large center knob or through voice commands.

Compared to the RL, the wheelbase of the RLX has been stretched by two inches and the car is almost that much wider, equating to a substantially roomier cabin for all occupants. Up front, the seats are wide but supportive, but it’s the rear seating that might be the best place to sit, with ample room to stretch out on long trips and rear and side sunshades on higher level trim lines. Adding to the comfort, all but the base model get nice perforated leather and the upper trim levels receive acoustic glass. Added to all of the other sound-deadening measures, the RLX is left with a whisper-quiet cabin.

That is, until you turn the volume knob up on the optional 450-watt, 14-speaker Krell Audio system. The highlight of this package is the upgraded ‘ultra-premium’ sound system that one-ups Acura’s top-notch ELS audio system with the higher-quality Krell speakers and amps. The system delivers a crisp, clear sound that is probably better than most living room setups. But you’re going to pay for it.

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At $48,450 (in base form and not including the $895 destination charge), the RLX is a great car, but the as-tested price of our Krell-equipped RLX rang in at $57,845. That’s not an easy pill to swallow even in this segment, and this wasn’t even the highest-priced model. Go full boat, and you’re looking at the RLX with Advanced Package and a price tag north of $60,000. There are a plethora of luxury sedans to cross-shop when you start playing the “What can I buy for $60,000?” game. As much as Acura would like to think the RLX will compete against rear-wheel-drive German sport sedans, this new four-door compares better to the aforementioned Lexus GS, Cadillac XTS and maybe even the Audi A6. The problem, of course, is that except for the rear-drive GS, all of the other cars listed here offer an all-wheel-drive system.

For now, the RLX is only offered in a front-wheel-drive configuration.

Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system may have been one of the only reasons to justify the purchase of an RL – it was standard equipment on that car – but, for now, the RLX is only offered in a front-wheel-drive configuration. Sending power to the front wheels is a 3.5-liter V6, which, while smaller than the RL’s engine, is more powerful and more efficient. The first Acura to utilize direct injection and cylinder deactivation, the RLX puts out 310 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque – not much of an increase in power over the RL’s 300 hp and 271 lb-ft, but big gains in fuel economy partially make up for it.

Official EPA fuel economy estimates for the RLX stand at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg highway, compared to 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the 2012 RL, but there’s no doubt this could have been even better had Acura ditched this six-speed automatic transmission for a more advanced transmission, like the seven- or eight-speed gearboxes that are now commonplace among luxury automobiles. Many of these added-speed transmissions are tuned for squeezing every last mpg from the car, but the RLX’s six-speed automatic still exhibited a tried-and-true feel with every up and downshift being exactly where they should – neither too soft nor too harsh.

2014 Acura RLX

Down the road, the RLX Sport Hybrid, making its official debut at the LA Auto Show this week, will bring with it the all-wheel-drive system and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that this car needs to be competitive. In the meantime, however, Acura buyers wanting a big sedan are stuck with this front-wheel-drive model. One redeeming factor that has Acura built into the RLX is the new Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system. An acronym that might be better suited for a Jaguar, this system helps the RLX feel less like the front-driver it is by adding some steering assistance to the rear wheels. The rear wheels are able to steer with or against the front wheels depending on vehicle speed, which helps make the RLX easier to maneuver in low speeds and a little more nimble in corners. Taking things a bit further, the rear wheels are also able to angle inward (toe-in) during hard braking to bring the RLX to a stop more quickly. We suspect that last feature isn’t particularly good for tire wear, but if you’re getting that much use out of it, you’re probably putting some good wear on the tires anyway.

The suspension setup errs on the side of comfort over handling.

The RLX still feels like a front-wheel-drive sedan with a hint of torque steer on hard takeoffs, and if you can get past this FWD curse, it’s a decent car to drive. Delivering a smooth and quiet ride that’s expected from such a luxury sedan, the suspension setup errs on the side of comfort over handling, but it does so without ever feeling too cushy or disconnected from the road. As we noted during our First Drive back in February, the RLX provides some level of fun on twisty roads, but is much more in its element while driving through the city or on long road trips.

That being said, the direct-injected V6 has great power and offers acceleration at just about all engine speeds, whether taking off from a dead stop or passing a car on the highway. If you want a little more, just knock the shifter over into Sport mode for more aggressive transmission shift points as well as quicker throttle and steering response.

2014 Acura RLX

The RLX feels much smaller than it actually is thanks to its light-yet-responsive electric power steering that delivers amazingly tight steering maneuvers. Top that all off with a solid brake system that lets the 4,000-pound sedan perform impressively quick stops, and Acura has a well-balanced luxury sedan on its hand with plenty of comfort and just a dash of fun.

With blinders on, the RLX is a big step forward for Acura.

With blinders on, the RLX is a big step forward for Acura, but looking at the fullsize luxury sedan segment as a whole, its shortcomings make any improvements over the RL seem less remarkable compared to its rivals. This is, after all, a segment filled with established German sedans and a growing number of high-quality offerings from Asia and the US.

While the RLX didn’t blow our minds, it has managed to put up stronger numbers with buyers in its short time on the market, at least compared to the old RL. In just its first three months on the market (through June), the RLX had already sold more units (1,564) than the RL sold in all of 2011 and 2012 combined (1,475). That minor achievement notwithstanding, the RLX has only sold 3,780 units through October, which still puts it at the bottom of the Acura heap – excluding the discontinued ZDX. It’s yet to be seen how the car will resonate with the newer and younger buyers that Acura so badly needs, although based on what I saw in my driveway, it’s still your grandfather’s Acura. But maybe I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… at least when it comes to my neighbors. I’ve since spotted that same elderly couple checking out a Subaru WRX STI parked in my driveway. So there’s that.

Vital Stats

Engine:
3.5L V6
Power:
310 HP / 272 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Auto
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,981 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
15.1 CU-FT
MPG:
20 City / 31 HWY
Base Price:
$48,450
As-Tested Price:
$57,845
Related Gallery2014 Acura RLX: Review
2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review2014 Acura RLX: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 AOL

Category: Sedan, Acura, New Car Reviews, Luxury

Tags: 2014 acura rlx, acura, acura rlx, featured, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S [w/video]

2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S

Withhold judgment on the world’s greatest exhaust note until after you’ve heard the Jaguar F-Type V8 S (scroll down now for a sneak peek). Its cackle, boom and pop under deceleration will have you rifling through its glovebox looking for a tool to remove the stereo. An in-dash audio system is trivial when four round pipes on the tail-end of a vehicle sound this good.

Combining modern technology with age-old exhaust plumbing, Jaguar’s British engineers have developed a way to propel spent combustion gases into the atmosphere in a manner that elevates the complete driving experience. At idle, it purrs. Under acceleration, it roars. During cruise, it soothes. Perhaps most compellingly, during deceleration, it titillates.

Thankfully, the newest two-place convertible from Jaguar isn’t only defined by its mesmerizing soundtrack – the F-Type would be an impressive sports car even if the world went silent.


2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S

Jaguar introduced the F-Type at the 2012 Paris Motor Show. The all-new two-seater, the automaker’s first in 50 years, debuted in three trim levels (F-Type, F-Type S and F-Type V8 S) with a trio of supercharged powerplants (two 3.0-liter V6 models in different states of tune and a 5.0-liter V8). All arrived with a ZF-sourced eight-speed paddleshift automatic transmission and traditional rear-wheel drive.

It is, by all definitions, a proper sports car.

Unlike the larger XK, a model that has been forced to play the role of both GT and sports car since 1997, the F-Type is smaller, lighter, quicker and more agile – it is, by all definitions, a proper sports car. Of course, that categorization at its launch immediately invited an onslaught of comparisons to other two-seat convertibles in this established segment, cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911 Cabriolet, which bracket its pricing. The new Jaguar nearly mirrors the exterior dimensions of the American and German (it is slightly wider), but its curb weight comes up more than 400 pounds heavier.

That weight perplexes when you consider how hard Jaguar, known for its extensive use of aluminum in other models, worked to keep its F-Type lean. The car uses a compact all-aluminum monocoque chassis, an architecture based on the larger XK platform, but has smaller overhangs and a lower driving position to improve stability. The two-door’s body panels are aluminum, and Jaguar has used more composite componentry than it ever has in the past. Bolted to the alloy is an all-aluminum double-wishbone suspension, front and rear, and there are forged 20-inch alloy wheels at each corner.

So where does the mass come from? Blame the equipment.

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In addition to a big V8 in the nose and oversized iron brakes at each corner (the largest rotors ever fitted as standard equipment on a production Jaguar), the F-Type boasts a sophisticated Adaptive Dynamics suspension system that adjusts damper rates up to 500 times per second and an active exhaust setup that allows the driver to tailor the vehicle’s sound. There are electric motors in the seats, on the dashboard (motorized vents) on the rear decklid (active spoiler) and even in the retractable door handles. The appointments add beneficial technology and luxury, but with their arrival comes heaviness – lots of it.

Jaguar conservatively claims that the 0-60 sprint happens in just 4.2 seconds.

Yet the weight penalty, with regards to acceleration, is offset in dramatic manner by the Jaguar’s powerful engine. To be more specific, the F-Type V8 S is fitted with a version of the automaker’s supercharged 5.0-liter V8 that is rated at 495 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. While most in the segment have ditched traditional automatic transmissions in favor of dual-clutch units, the conventional eight-speed transmission doesn’t seem to slow the two-seater’s forward progress. Thanks to launch control and an active electronic differential that can fully lock the rear end to aid hookup, Jaguar conservatively claims that the 0-60 sprint happens in just 4.2 seconds, but this test car felt quicker (some publications have seen numbers in the mid-three second range). The V8 S is very, very quick.

As mentioned, Jaguar is peddling several variants of the F-Type, starting with the standard $69,000 V6 model. This test car, a range-topping V8 S Convertible, arrived with a base MSRP of $92,000 (plus $895 destination fee). In addition to a long list of standard equipment, including high-grade leather upholstery and a 380-watt audio package, it arrived with nearly a dozen options. The most expensive included a Performance Package ($2,950), 20-inch forged wheels with carbon-fiber accents ($2,500), Vision Package ($2,100), Extended Leather ($1,900) and the Premium Meridian Audio sound system ($1,200). The bottom line for the loaded, range-topping model was $105,620.

2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S

The cockpit of the Jaguar is best described as intimate. While it fit my six-foot, two-inch frame comfortably with the leather bucket in its furthest aft position, the seating position felt awkwardly low, and I didn’t have much wiggle room once strapped in place. Owners will have to learn to pack lightly, too, as the F-Type’s trunk is short and shallow. During my week with the vehicle, I went on two overnight trips. My stowed luggage was limited to a smallish 20-inch roller bag, a compact ballistic nylon camera bag and a racing helmet bag – that was about all that fit in the boot. Before anyone suggests that minimal luggage capacity is par for this segment, remember that a Porsche 911 has a deep trunk up front, plus its cabin provides rear fold-down seats with a sizable cargo area.

The F-Type won’t be winning any awards for interior ergonomics.

Thankfully, any suggestion of claustrophobia is extinguished when the power-operated top is peeled away. The soft folding roof takes just 12 seconds to vanish from sight at speeds up to 30 mph. Top down with the small wind blocker in place is the best way to enjoy the F-Type, anyway.

The F-Type won’t be winning any awards for interior ergonomics, as the cockpit is a flustering mix of dials, switches, buttons and toggles with a variety of surface textures – everything appears upscale, but to my eyes, it just doesn’t look cohesive or intuitive. Small storage nooks litter the cockpit, but all except the console cupholders won’t hold anything larger than a smartphone. Complaints aside, the meaty three-spoke steering wheel (with orange paddles mounted on its backside) felt great, and I liked the very legible analog speedometer and tachometer in the primary cluster and the orange start/stop button located just forward of the console-mounted shifter.

2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S

Under deceleration, it cackles, pops and booms as if two adversaries are engaged in a cannon battle deep within the muffler.

Compared to its V6-powered siblings, the range-topping F-Type V8 S is almost overshadowed by its bullish engine. The supercharged eight-cylinder comes across as angry and hellbent on displaying its power output, temperament and personality. Tire-shredding burnouts require only about three-quarters of the accelerator pedal’s travel in its first couple gears, and even less if the road lacks grip. The V8′s throttle response is nothing short of now, and it takes due restraint to keep the rear tires moving at the same rate as the asphalt beneath them. Of course, that also means the F-Type is illegal levels of fun.

Accompanying the power is an exhaust note that will have passengers spewing commending profanities once they regain consciousness following this Jaguar’s dizzying acceleration. With the Active Exhaust button pressed, a simple finger tap just aft of the shift lever, the sound under full throttle is throaty, raw and fierce. Under deceleration, it cackles, pops and booms as if two adversaries are engaged in a cannon battle deep within the muffler. Even though there is some trickery involved with electronically controlled bypass valves and late fuel delivery, the thunderous sound is undeniably glorious – it is one of the most impressive factory exhaust systems I have ever heard, and I never grew weary of its snarl.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S

Few will complain about its stiff ride after throwing the baby Jag into its first corner.

Thankfully, the rest of the F-Type is nearly every bit as engaging.

Nobody will question the Jaguar’s athletic motives. The ride is firm, and it appears Jag’s British engineers chose sport over sumptuousness when it came time to tune its dampers. Add in the 20-inch wheels, and the ride is hardened on all but the smoothest surfaces, even when the suspension is configured in its softest setting. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it harsh, as it didn’t feel uncomfortable, bothersome or annoying. Even after a couple of three-hour stints behind the wheel, I never emerged cursing the damping or wishing there were a softer setting. I imagine that something more yielding would break the sport car’s character.

I suspect few will complain about its stiff ride after throwing the baby Jag into its first corner – under those conditions, the F-Type hunkers down and sticks like a thirsty leech on warm, wet skin. The Pirelli PZero tires on my test car deserve some of the credit, but the stiff chassis and suspension tuning earn the real praise. This car is surprisingly balanced at the limit, especially considering how big the engine is. While there was a hint of understeer at the edge of the envelope, I found that oversteer with the rear tires breaking free was a greater worry if I wasn’t careful with the throttle.

2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S

A manual gearbox won’t be missed by most drivers who are willing to give it a chance.

Paddle shifters commanding a traditional automatic transmission usually frustrate, as they often react with a lazy response, but that wasn’t the case with this Jaguar. Pulling back on the anodized orange paddles delivered shifts that were firm and quick – unexpectedly so, actually. When left in automatic mode and driven with restraint, the gearbox’s shifts were nearly imperceptible. This eight-speed is well-suited to the F-Type, and with this particular powerplant, a manual gearbox won’t be missed by most drivers who are willing to give it a chance.

The steering is very sharp, with quick reactions that give the two-seater a slot-car feel when the road becomes twisty. At first, I was concerned that its eagerness to change directions would make it a chore on the open road, but those worries were warrantless, as it was very stable at highway velocities. I didn’t have a chance to test its impressive 186-mph top speed, but it felt docile during some bursts in the desert, and its robust brakes gave me plenty of confidence in its ability to stop.

2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S

If asked to lodge a complaint or two, I’d finger the low driving position first. While it kept the wind buffeting to a minimum during my frequent top-down excursions, I never felt at ease with the corners of the car because my eyes were so low. As a result, I noticed that I was needlessly leaving a wide buffer between the curb and the car in tight sections. The F-Type’s weight was also an issue. Even though the supercharger seemed to negate the mass under acceleration, cornering and braking were unquestionably affected by its excessive poundage – the words “light” and “tossable” never came to mind. (I’m genuinely looking forward to driving the slightly lighter F-Type Coupe, which will debut next week at the LA Auto Show.)

Character is one thing this Jaguar is brimming with.

Today’s F-Type V8 S Convertible is bloody fast in a straight line, very competent in the corners and has razor-sharp turn-in, but on some level, I couldn’t help but feel it was lacking the decades of refinement that show through in cars like the C7 Corvette and seventh-generation 911 – both seem to offer a more balanced performance envelope and a more seamless transition between touring and sports car. Jaguar as a company has an impressive history, but this first-generation two-seater still has a bit of maturing left to do.

But it’s emotion that sells cars at this end of the market, and character is one thing this Jaguar is brimming with – it is genuinely enjoyable to drive. As automakers continue to release vehicles that do everything but inspire, this boisterous and powerful F-Type V8 S excites. This smallest cat not only roars like the king of the jungle, it’s equally as compelling to drive.

Vital Stats

Engine:
SC 5.0L V8
Power:
495 HP / 460 LB-FT
Transmission:
8-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
3.9 Seconds (est.)
Top Speed:
186 MPH
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,558 LBS
Seating:
2
Cargo:
7.0 CU-FT
MPG:
16 City / 23 HWY
Base Price:
$92,000
As-Tested Price:
$105,620
Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

How tiny recalls are becoming the new norm

Factory Orders (In this July 27, 2011 photo, assembly worker Julaynne Trusel works on a Chevrolet Volt at the General Motors Ham

Due to the nature of mass production, a faulty part on a car can cause a recall numbering in the tens to hundreds of thousands of vehicles, even if not all of the cars in the recall are defective and need a fix. “Better safe than sorry” is the mantra. But over the past few years, automakers have learned how to perform recalls much more efficiently by employing technology that allows them to trace parts back to their sources, Automotive News reports. An extreme result of this is when General Motors used bar codes and radio frequency tags to trace defective Chevrolet Volt parts back to their source and limited a US recall to just four vehicles.

That recall was initiated after a European Volt owner brought the car in for a repair under warranty. A faulty brake valve was the problem, and instead of recalling all Volts that might be affected, GM searched its parts database and traced the faulty brake valves back to just four cars in the US.

Nissan has a similar track-and-trace system that is referred to within the company as “Bread Crumbs,” named in reference to the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. Parts that are tagged and traced are assigned to specific engineers, who track warranty cost, customer complaints and any reported defects, Automotive News reports.

Other automakers are using the same or similar practices to limit recalls to the vehicles that actually are defective. Not only should these smaller, more specific recalls help make vehicles safer, but it should lessen the monetary impact recalls have on the auto industry – which spends $45 billion to $50 billion on them per year.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The last time your humble narrator found himself driving a Corvette, someone saluted. It happened last fall in a 2013 427 Collector Edition Convertible, white with silver stripes, and the unexpected gesture of respect came courtesy of one of America’s finest servicemen in khaki fatigues: a UPS driver. He stood up in the open doorway of his step van while opposing the sixth-generation Corvette at a stoplight, spontaneously presenting the stern-faced, clipped salutation of a veteran. Icons demand respect, and the C6 earned it. God Bless America, this new Corvette has a lot to live up to.

Despite having only been on sale for mere weeks, we’re guessing you – and our favorite parcel delivery driver – have read and committed to memory all of the pertinent details surrounding the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. You’ve gazed in wide-eyed wonder over the all-new fifth-generation 6.2-liter LT1 small-block V8 and its salient specs (455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque) and its attendant feats of wonder (0-60 in 3.8 seconds, quarter-mile in 12 seconds at 119 miles per hour), and you know its bargain-basement pricing – $51,995 to start. Good on ya – we do, too.

But metrics and pretty pictures only go so far – not unlike most first drive impressions, which occur on ideal manufacturer-prescribed roads and circuits in tight time frames. As the Corvette’s heritage is that of one of the world’s best everyday sports cars, we knew we had to secure a week with one on our home turf to see how it acquits itself in daily driving. After all, we owe it to our parcel-packing patriots.


2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

It looks fresh, modern and habitually aggressive.

This Chevrolet may be a freshly minted product of Bowling Green, KY, but here in the Motor City, we’ve been seeing examples running around undisguised for the better part of a year (since shortly after it debuted at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show). Pre-production test cars have positively carpeted the area’s roadways – if you live here and haven’t been seeing at least two or three a day, it’s either because you’re too busy texting while driving or you’re a shut-in. Even so, we can’t help but gawk each and every time we see one.

Recent Corvette generations have been notable more for their bulbous, smooth fiberglass bodywork than for their intricate surfacing, but this generation is different – and not just in the details. Self-appointed purists may bemoan new developments like the squared-off taillamps and the lack of a rounded glass backlight, but there’s no denying the C7 has major-league presence, even without our test car’s optional Z51 specification, which adds all manner of vents and a prouder rear spoiler. With its sinewy sheetmetal creases, it looks fresh, modern and habitually aggressive – far more so than even the last generation’s range-topping ZR1.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Everything that hangs on this architecture has been weighed and measured to imbue it with perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

In fact, the C7′s inherently outrageous design may eventually be its downfall, as there’s so much going on that one can’t help but wonder if it will age well. Can it grow old as gracefully as its predecessors have? Or will it become a victim of its extensive catalog of surface jewelry – its showy contrast-painted vents and intakes, its look-at-me lighting and its Howitzer-like exhaust outlets (incongruously, the only round elements on its rump)? Even if they lacked this generation’s visual impact, Corvettes C4 through C6 possess a rounded, organic purity that this car simply doesn’t even attempt to muster. We’re not sure whether that’s a bad thing or not and will let time be the judge. A more pressing question is asking what Chevrolet can do to make the C7′s inevitable higher-performance derivatives stand out without becoming overwrought caricatures. For the moment, though, we’re just happy that the new model isn’t a rote rehash, a lazy designer’s greatest hits compendium of past Corvette styling cues; this generation adds something new to the conversation.

The exterior’s philosophy of fundamental change is far from just skin-deep. This Corvette is an all-new piece, having moved from steel to a hydroformed aluminum chassis that’s 57-percent stiffer than that of the C6 while being 99 pounds lighter. Everything that hangs on this architecture has been weighed and measured to imbue it with perfect 50/50 weight distribution. For example, the Stingray uses carbon fiber for its hood and removable roof panel, the latter to lower the car’s center of gravity and the former to preserve the chassis’ fore-aft balance. Engineers could have also used carbon fiber for the rear quarter panels instead of fiberglass, but that would’ve shifted the weight balance forward, effectively undoing the purposeful mass redistribution brought about by the lighter hood (it would have cost more, too).

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The C7′s cockpit is finally worthy of the rest of the package.

Modern Corvettes have long been unassailable bargains in terms of performance-for-the-dollar, but their interiors have resolutely stood in the way of converting buyers otherwise preoccupied with high-end European sports cars. Even when spanking new, recent Corvette cabins haven’t been particularly compelling, being let down by substandard materials and comically bad seats and steering wheels. Mercifully, the designers and cost-cutters associated with past failures have been taken out to the woodshed and the C7′s cockpit is finally worthy of the rest of the package.

The dashboard has an appropriately pronounced driver bias thanks to the central passenger grab handle, while a smaller, more purposeful 14.1-inch steering wheel faces the pilot and well-spaced pedals fall underfoot. The gauge cluster is dominated by an eight-inch screen flanked by analog speedometer, oil temperature and gas gauges. That reconfigurable display is crisp and legible even with polarized sunglasses on. Most importantly, the standard seats are much improved. Framed in magnesium and equipped with eight-way power adjustability, they’re worlds more supportive than the outgoing lumps. They’re not yet perfect – we’d prefer a bit more lateral support from the bottom squab – but they’re still very good, and they’re permissive of both more indulgent waistlines and drives. Besides, a set of optional Competition Sport seats with racing harness pass-throughs ($2,495) promise to cinch-up any shortcomings. Then there’s the very nice optional full Nappa leather and carbon fiber package that cocoons the entire cabin in dead cow and weave, but it’s part of the $8,005 3LT package that also includes navigation and a matching interior-color instrument panel. Even in base 1LT form of our test car, though, the Stingray feels well equipped, with power leather seats, power tilt/telescope wheel, head-up display, Bose touchscreen audio with SiriusXM, MyLink connectivity and OnStar turn-by-turn directions, backup camera and keyless entry/start.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Interior demerits? Rear visibility isn’t as expansive as it was in the C6.

Interior demerits? Rear visibility isn’t as expansive as it was in the C6 – the B-pillars taper noticeably toward the spine of the car as they extend rearward, pinching the rearview mirror’s sightlines. The side mirrors aren’t much better – they’re smaller for the sake of style and aerodynamics, but they’re too restrictive in view. This a growing sin at General Motors – we’ve noticed the same issue on cars like the Camaro and the 2014 Cadillac CTS. More worrisome is that the cabin of our test car (not the red car shown here in our California photos) smelled of offgassing plastics and adhesives – not a pleasant aroma when premium sports car buyers expect a heady hit of tanned leather. We’re hoping that’s due to our car’s low mileage and perhaps its early build status. Other niggles include a startup button that looks like it came off a ’90s Dell PC (surely the new fifth-generation small block is worthy of a greater sense of occasion) and a Corvette-traditional high liftover height into the cargo area (along with a hatch that requires a good shove to close).

But all of these are just incidental quibbles that don’t distract from the Corvette’s main mission: obliterative performance, which it has in spades – and in diamonds, hearts and clubs. Really big clubs. That’s even true in base form, but it’s spectacularly, inviolably true if one checks the Z51 option box. For a measly $2,800, the Z51 package nets you – *deep breath* – track-friendly dry-sump lubrication; an electronically controlled limited-slip differential; upsized slotted front brake rotors (13.6 inches vs 12.6); differential and transmission coolers; shorter gear ratios; stiffer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars; upsized wheels (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP summer tires and a few aero tweaks. All that for twenty eight hundred dollars. We’ll let Porsche’s options list put that in perspective for you. On a standard 911 Carrera, 2,800 simoleons won’t even get you GT Silver Metallic paint or the Sportdesign front fascia, let alone the $2,950 sports exhaust (add an extra $950 if you want the exhaust tips rendered in polished, chrome-plated stainless steel). With the Germans, even the options have options.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The Z51′s grip is wall-to-wall and its thrust absolute.

The previously highlighted 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds (with Z51) and the 12-second quarter mile time tell a lot about the new Corvette’s performance envelope, but they don’t tell you how confidently this car achieves them. With its supercar rubber, the Z51′s grip is wall-to-wall and its thrust absolute. Chevy’s all-new-for-2014 small block architecture benefits from direct injection and variable valve timing, as well as Active Fuel Management (GM-speak for cylinder deactivation). This free-revving powerplant will spin to 6,600 rpm, and on the way it will match the outgoing Corvette Z06′s 7.0-liter LS7 engine pound-foot for pound-foot between 1,000 and 4,000 rpm. There will be no lollygagging.

Likewise, steering is appreciably slop-free, as well as accurate and communicative, loading up nicely in corners. Transient response is excellent and throttle-steer is but a toe-tickle away. The brakes are linear and easily modulated, delivering consistent, drama-free performance, even after being heated up doing sorties around the winding and often indifferently surfaced roads surrounding Hell, Michigan. Inputs are admittedly a bit heavier and somewhat less finessed than in the aforementioned Porsche – in particular, the clutch and the seven-speed gearshift require a bit more effort. Yet they are far from recalcitrant, and besides, their action is in keeping with the Corvette’s muscular personality.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

If you’re long of hair, be prepared for a bold new look after even short freeway trips with the roof off.

We conducted multiple hour-plus freeway commuter schleps in the C7 without complaint, and would happily do so again. And that was riding atop the Z51′s stiffer, non-adjustable performance suspension on greater Detroit’s less-than-smooth freeways and any number of bombed-out surface streets. Even astride the Z51′s larger wheels and watchstrap rubber, the ride was firm but not punishingly so, and the stiffer structure and better screwed-together interior refused to shudder or howl in protest. Having said all that, we’d still happily splurge for the $1,975 Magnetic Ride Control suspension, as it delivers a wider bandwidth between weekday comfort and trackday stiffness. We had the chance to test the system on our first drive and pronounced it as effective here as it has been in other offerings like Cadillac’s glorious CTS-V.

Being open-air lovers, we took advantage of some mild autumnal days and the region’s changing foliage by frequently stowing the Stingray’s standard removable roof panel. It’s light enough to be manipulated by one person and stows in a recess in the generous 15 cubic-foot cargo hold, yet one can still pivot the panel out of the way to pack a mess of groceries in plastic bags underneath. It’s nice to have this top as a standard feature, but it’s best reserved for around-town cruising – at freeway velocities, the cockpit borders on deafening, with that gaping rear cargo cavity gobbling air, resulting in a maelstrom. If you’re long of hair, be prepared for a bold new look after even short freeway trips with the roof off. If you plan on going topless frequently, we suggest waiting for the Stingray Convertible, which is due shortly. It’s more money (starting at $56,995), but it also promises more uninterrupted sky and, counterintuitively, more serenity. Yet even with just the coupe’s lift-off panel, it’s at least easier to repeat the sounding joy of the small block’s soundtrack – music made all the more vital by the freer-flowing $1,195 multi-mode exhaust, which also nets an extra five horsepower and five pound-feet of torque.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Our manual-transmission model is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 29 highway.

It’s not just the exhaust that’s user configurable – the C7 is more driver adjustable than any Corvette in history, from its rev-matching paddles (turn them on to blip the throttle on downshifts and execute preternaturally perfect gearchanges) to its Driver Mode Selector jog dial, which scrolls through five different modes: Touring (default), Weather, Eco, Sport and Track. Toggling between settings alters everything from fundamentals like throttle response, steering weight and cylinder deactivation to traction and stability control intervention, not to mention what information is shown on the gauge cluster and head-up display. On models equipped with the optional adjustable suspension, DMS holds sway over that, too (MR-equipped cars also get five-mode traction control). This all-in-one total systems control approach is a welcome one. Consider it the on-road equivalent of Land Rover’s Terrain Response Control – not only does it minimize the time spent fiddling (and thus, maximize time spent ass kicking), it makes the C7 a better, more comfortable and efficient partner when you’re not working it hard, too.

Speaking of efficient, the Stingray is. Our manual-transmission model is rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 29 highway, with a combined EPA cycle of 21 mpg. We saw under 19 mpg in a spirited, rev-happy mix of driving, but we also saw easy moments of 31 mpg in eco mode on the freeway – the engine loafs at just 1,450 revs doing 70 mph. Everyday fuel economy in the mid-20s feels very doable, and switching between V4 and V8 model occurs seamlessly. You might imagine that great fuel economy isn’t terribly important to Corvette buyers, but we’ve known our fair share, and they’re oddly preoccupied with talking about it like Prius people – it’s like the world’s least-sexy form of bench racing.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

It’s capable of giving class-above players like the 911 S and Nissan GT-R absolute fits on a roadcourse.

Our lightly optioned Motor City special totaled just $57,180 delivered – and that includes all the Z51 go-faster bits, the dynamic exhaust, as well as $1,190 in painted trim and brake calipers not seen on our photo car. That’s substantially cheaper than the far less powerful, far less equipped Porsche Cayman S ($63,800), one of our very favorite cars, yet it’s capable of giving class-above players like the 911 S and Nissan GT-R absolute fits on a roadcourse – models with MSRPs nearly double that of this Kentucky wildcat.

If you’re checking the scorecard, that’s modern looks, killer performance, up-to-snuff interior, everyday usability, excellent fuel economy and peerless value all squarely in this Chevrolet’s win column. Will that be enough to cajole the naysayers out of their pricier rivals from Stuttgart and Tochigi (not to mention Munich, Ingolstadt and Affalterbach)? It should be adequate ammunition to give them all pause and convert more than a few, but in reality, marque loyalty runs pretty deep in these waters – 911 types are 911 types, GT-R guys are GT-R guys, and Corvette loyalists are definitely Corvette loyalists. So it was, and so it always will be.

No matter – even if not everyone will appreciate it, the 2014 Corvette Stingray is the indisputable high-performance deal of our still-young century. It’s positively salute-worthy. Hooah!

Vital Stats

Engine:
6.2L V8
Power:
460 HP / 465 LB-FT
Transmission:
7-Speed Manual
0-60 Time:
3.8 Seconds
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,298 LBS
Seating:
2
Cargo:
15 CU-FT
MPG:
17 City / 29 HWY
Base Price:
$51,995
As-Tested Price:
$57,180
Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

One of the many perks of this job is, not surprisingly, the cars. It’s relatively easy to snag the keys to a vehicle for a special occasion, whether that be for a road trip, tailgating or helping a friend move. And while sometimes the tailgating might happen with a Ford F-150 instead of a Range Rover and the road trip might be in a minivan rather than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, occasionally the stars align and a special vehicle arrives for an equally special time.

That’s exactly how I found myself dressed to the nines and behind the wheel of the BMW M6 Gran Coupe, a $135,375 (as-tested) rocket ship, en route to a rare multi-wedding weekend to celebrate with two pairs of my closest friends on the biggest day of their lives (a very special congratulations to Kara and Zach, and Laura and Andrew). Continuing with our nuptial theme, the M mechanicals and the 6 Series Gran Coupe body are a match made in heaven.


I will happily go on record as saying the 6 Series Gran Coupe is the best-looking vehicle to wear the BMW roundel since some stylistic genius decided to slap a pair of Angel Eyes on a titanium grey, E39 5 Series (though you’re obviously welcome to argue the point). The M treatment only improves the Gran Coupe’s looks, with massive, gaping front air intakes forming a menacing smile. Even in Sakhir Orange, which is far from the most flattering color on the palette, this is a car with presence. The meaty wheel arches up front and wide haunches of the back add to this aggressive look, while traditional M cues, like the carbon-fiber roof, quad-tipped exhausts and not-so-subtle side grilles further differentiate the M6 from lesser Gran Coupes.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

With a starting price of $115,000, it should come as no surprise that the cabin of the M6 Gran Coupe is a nice place to spend time. Our tester was outfitted with the $3,500 Merino leather option, which wraps the dash in the same sumptuous hides that cover the M sport seats. The headliner is a mix of leather and Alcantara suede, with a thick strip of hide bisecting the roof of the M6 Gran Coupe. It’s a simple touch, but the coachbuilt feel is the kind of thing that adds specialness to a car. Carbon fiber replaces wood, and is essentially everywhere that isn’t covered in cow.

The M treatment only improves the Gran Coupe’s looks.

Being a BMW M car, the cabin shouldn’t just be a great thing to look at, it should be an excellent driving environment, as well. While the M6 Gran Coupe is no exception to this rule, it doesn’t pass with flying colors. The low, coupe-like roofline makes this car genuinely difficult to get in and out of. Even with the driver’s seat at its lowest level, I bumped my head occasionally, while lady passengers in dresses were warned beforehand to be conscious getting out of the orange M, lest they pull a Britney. Once hunkered into the low, snug cabin, though, things come together well.

If the last M car you drove was the outgoing M3, this steering wheel’s large diameter and long, thin spokes will seem a world apart from that sled’s tiller. It feels fine to the touch, while placement of the right-sized paddles makes working the dual-clutch transmission a literal and figurative snap (really, tugging a paddle elicits a lovely, mechanical click). The seats are snug, and offer the generous range of adjustments expected at this price point. Sight lines were an issue in the M6, though, as the small rear window of the Gran Coupe body and that long hood force drivers to rely on the car’s three cameras and fore- and aft-mounted parking sensors. It’s a rather large car, and unless you want to go all Batman Begins and adjust your seat for different driving situations, it’s tough to maneuver in tight confines.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

The beating heart of this adventurous coupe-like sedan is BMW’s 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8. This is an engine that’s grown on us, despite lacking the charisma of the 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 from Mercedes-Benz (more on that in a minute). The 4.4 comes to the party with 552 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque, all of which is available from 1,500 to 5,750 rpm. With that kind of thrust, it’s only natural that a quick-shifting, dual-clutch transmission with seven gears dispatches power to the M6 Gran Coupe’s rear tires. When used to full effect, the M6 GC can scamper to 60 miles per hour in a manufacturer-estimated 4.1 seconds (it feels quite a bit quicker than that), and on to a limited top speed of 155 mph.

BMW passed on including its Driving Experience Control (a toggle switch located to the left of the shifter that gives drivers a range of preset modes for the vehicle’s systems, usually including Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+) in favor of independently adjusting everything – shift speeds, damper firmness, engine power and steering can all be manually tweaked at the press of a button. The driver can also save his or her favorite combination of settings in the iDrive system and rapidly switch between them via a pair of steering-wheel-mounted M buttons. For example, I had the M1 setting programed to go all out, with the quickest shift speed, sharpest throttle response, firmest damper settings, least aggressive stability control and the weightiest steering, while M2 set the engine to BMW’s Eco Pro mode, and detuned the suspension, transmission and steering for maximum comfort.

The beating heart of this adventurous coupe-like sedan is BMW’s 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8.

Before we get to the really rosy stuff, let’s talk about the M6 Gran Coupe’s steering. BMW kept it old school with a hydraulic rack, yet somehow managed to suck most of the goodness out of it. In a world where electrical steering systems are rapidly becoming the norm thanks to their fuel-saving qualities, hydraulic steering systems and their electro-hydraulic brethren are supposed to be the talkative, weighty deals that make a car feel substantial to handle. At low speeds, the M6 Gran Coupe’s steering feels vague and overboosted, two traits that are particularly rare on a BMW. Things are better at speed, as the weight levels out and starts to feel snappier and more direct, although feedback is still perplexingly limited.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Fed by two turbochargers, the M6 has no real turbo lag to speak of. Set to its most aggressive setting, the throttle is quick to respond. At the same time, BMW’s less sporting modes are perfectly livable in everything from bumper-to-bumper traffic to freeway cruising to driving around town.

The M6 Gran Coupe is also available with two brake options. The standard fitting is a conventional set of 15.7-inch-front and 15.6-inch-rear, vented-and-cross-drilled rotors sandwiched between six-piston calipers. Lucky for us, though, someone at BMW saw fit to tick the box for the $9,250 M-branded carbon-ceramic brakes. The front rotors grow from 15.7 inches to 16.1, and instead of steel, both front and rear rotors are made from a carbon-ceramic composite. Sporting gold calipers that peek out from behind the 20-inch M wheels, the uprated brakes do more than just look good, offering up fade-free performance and serious stopping power while shaving 43 pounds of unsprung weight from this 4,430-pound car.

Even with these aggressive rotors, brake pedal performance is linear and quite easy to modulate. It isn’t grabby or excessively aggressive, although we did notice the carbon-ceramics tended to squeal at low speeds until they were properly warmed up, which is a common issue with carbon ceramic brakes.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Leave it to BMW to build a car that only makes sense in Germany.

If you’re wondering why someone would spend so much on a set of brakes, then you haven’t experienced the epic power that this car’s V8 can put to the road.

The M6 is staggeringly quick. The engine’s power hits like a hammer, flattening cabin occupants into their leather chairs, only relenting when the driver has the good sense to back off the gas. Power is available low, middle and high in the rev range and can be delivered at virtually any speed and in any gear. Dropping a gear or two for a pass at freeway speeds will easily kick the M6 past 100 mph without hesitation. It’s almost too fast for American roads – leave it to BMW to build a car that only makes sense in Germany.

As much praise as we heap on the performance of BMW’s engine, there’s even more coming for the excellent M DCT seven-speed transmission. It can be as smooth as a traditional automatic, but when set to its fiercest setting will happily deliver upshifts that have a shotgun-like recoil. Multiple tugs of the paddles will drop multiple gears, with the car trusting its driver not to do anything too stupid. Each gear change is accompanied by an aural tickle from the four exhaust pipes, with a loud bark on upshifts and a bass growl on downshifts. We still aren’t in love with the physical shifter for the DCT – we want an obvious Park setting, rather than resorting to setting the emergency brake and leaving the car in Neutral.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

The M6 Gran Coupe moves in a way that few four-door vehicles can.

Like the engine and transmission, the M6′s suspension is well suited to a variety of conditions. The M Dynamic Damper Control is there to tweak shock absorber stiffness, allowing the driver to dial up a firmer or softer ride based on the conditions. While there’s a clear difference between the softest and firmest modes, the M6′s ride was rather hard overall. The separation between this car and other sporing machines with fixed rate suspensions is that the BMW has composure in spades. You feel the bumps in its softest Comfort setting, but they come across as a dull thud. Firmer settings like Sport and Sport+ aren’t much worse, surprisingly. While the ride is firmer and bumps and ripples feel commensurately worse, the car itself doesn’t feel as though it’s going to go to pieces. The few ride issues present here, however, are all well worth it when the right strip of road is found.

The M6 Gran Coupe moves in a way that few four-door vehicles can, with flat, neutral handling. There’s very little roll, and everything seems to happen with a progressiveness that won’t catch the driver out. Feedback through the car is reasonably strong, relative to the numb steering. Still there is still a sense of aloofness that makes it difficult to put total trust in the car. Some of the M-ness we want then, but not all of it.

Even with the Dynamic Damper System in its firmest setting, the M6 did a fine job controlling the sound of an impact along with everyday road noise, despite its huge, offset (265/35 fronts and 295/30 rears) Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. With this kind of performance on hand, it’s easy to forget there’s a luxury car underneath and that certain things like a quiet ride are expected. What we also expect is some personality in the exhaust note and engine sound, but were left disappointed here. It’s not that the M6 Gran Coupe is too quiet, but relative to something like the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG, it sounds generic, uneventful and even a little artificial. Even Audi’s new 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 sounds richer and more aggressive.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

For its size and power, the M6 returns a reasonable 20 miles per gallon on the freeway and 14 mpg in the city. I managed to net about 15 mpg, despite spending most of my time on the freeway in Eco Pro, switching to a more dynamic mode as the situation dictated.

Predictably, this is not a cheap car … an unoptioned 2014 M6 Gran Coupe starts at $115,000.

Predictably, this is not a cheap car. As mentioned earlier, an unoptioned 2014 M6 Gran Coupe starts at $115,000. (The starting price for the 2014 model has inexplicably risen by $2,000 between when our $113,000-base window sticker was printed, and this writing.) Our tester, meanwhile, was very well outfitted. The $1,900 Driver Assistance Package (lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, side and top-view cameras) and $5,500 Executive Package (heated steering wheel, vented seats, full LED headlights, head-up display, massaging front seats and sunshades for the back window and doors) were added, on top of the aforementioned carbon-ceramic brakes and Merino leather packages. Add on $925 in destination charges and the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax, and you’ve got an as-tested price of $137,375.

How did the M6 go over with the wedding crowds? It was an absolute hit. This is the kind of car that attracts a crowd wherever it goes and in whatever situation it finds itself, drawing stares while doing something as effortless as idling through a parking lot. More than that, though, it’s a marriage of technology and performance with luxury and comfort, creating a car that is balanced and utterly competent in most any situation. It can just get you home, or tap you on the shoulder when it wants to play. It’s not a perfect vehicle (my head still hurts a bit), but is a genuinely good, entertaining performance car, and a solid addition to the rarefied market that is the high-performance, four-door coupe segment.

Vital Stats

Engine:
Twin-Turbo 4.4L V8
Power:
552 HP / 502 LB-FT
Transmission:
7-Speed DCT
0-60 Time:
4.1 Seconds
Top Speed:
155 MPH
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
4,430 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
16.2 CU-FT
MPG:
14 City / 20 HWY
Base Price:
$115,000
As-Tested Price:
$137,375

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Brandon Turkus / AOL

Category: Coupe, Performance, BMW, New Car Reviews, Luxury

Tags: 2014 bmw m6 gran coupe, bmw, bmw m6, bmw m6 gran coupe, featured, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Nissan Versa Note

2014 Nissan Versa Note

The original Austin Mini was not designed as a fun-to-drive, sporty small car. Its go-kart-like handling and general chuckability were an unintended byproduct of essential aspects of its design. Its four wheels were pushed to the absolute corners of the car to maximize interior space, and its front-wheel-drive layout and transversely mounted engine were in contrast to the rear-wheel-drive, longitudinal layouts of the day.

The result was a highly economical car with space for four and some luggage that just happened to be an absolute hoot to drive. Nissan has followed a similar path in the design of its Versa Note, which strives to provide the maximum amount of space and efficiency in a minimal footprint. On this front, it’s successful.

First, we must salute Nissan for departing from the styling of the malformed kidney bean it calls the Versa Sedan. The Versa Note is a fashionably conservative design that neither offends nor excites. The front fascia is arguably its most conservative point, with high-mounted headlights and a sharper, cleaner version of Nissan’s familial grille. The tail, with its funky I-don’t-know-what-shape-I-am taillights contributes most of the car’s flair. The large, spacious greenhouse, particularly up front, keeps passengers from feeling hemmed-in while letting in plenty of light.


2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note

We must salute Nissan for departing from the styling of the malformed kidney bean it calls the Versa Sedan.

Where the Versa Note distinguishes itself from the sedan with its exterior styling, the two are far too closely related in the cabin. Nissan tries to maintain the conservative-but-different styling of the exterior with its cabin design, but the results are less successful. It feels generic, and the materials simply aren’t up to scratch in 2013. Hard plastics dominate, with a half-hearted attempt at soft-touch plastic on the dash. The doors feature a modicum of padding on the armrest, but the entire door card assembly flexed when we pushed them. In fact, the poor interior is easily one of the biggest knocks against the Versa Note. The reality of the subcompact market is that cabins are getting better (look no further than the Ford Fiesta Titanium), and Nissan is not competing. We’d rather have a shortage of room and a clean, modern cabin than 100 cubic feet of black plastic. There are others, though, who likely would disagree, as the Versa has traditionally sold well based on the value of its class-leading interior volume rather than its choice of materials.

We aren’t exaggerating, the backseat of the Versa Note is enormous, with just over two inches more legroom than the midsize, rear-wheel-drive Infiniti M luxury sedan. It’s comfortable back there, too, with a nicely cushioned bench that avoids the penalty-box feel of some competitors. In fact, the Versa Note is actually classified by the EPA as a compact, despite its footprint and price being more in line with subcompacts. The EPA’s notoriously wonky classification system categorizes a car based on interior volume, which is why the Versa Note is in the same EPA class as a Bentley Continental GT. Trunk space is ample too, with a very generous 18.8 cubic feet available when the rear seats are up and 38.8 cubic feet with when the split-fold seats are down.

2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note

From behind the wheel, visibility in the Note is quite good. The tall, open greenhouse combined with the upright seating position offer great sightlines from behind the wheel. Being behind said wheel, though, isn’t all that great of an experience. The Versa Note’s seats are overly narrow, which gives it a rather sporting feel at first, only to have it grow tiresome as time with the car wears on. The padding on the seats is overly soft as well, meaning that while it’s tight, there isn’t a lot of support. It should be noted, though, that unlike the 2012 Versa Sedan we reviewed, our tester did include a center armrest for the driver. The urethane steering wheel is swiped from the Sentra, and much like that car, is merely okay to operate. It does feel rather cheap – Nissan might do well to swallow the extra expense and wrap the wheel in leather, as it’d really class up the car’s cabin.

Versa Note’s big selling point, besides interior volume, is the tech and infotainment feature-set that it offers.

The Versa Note’s big selling point, besides its interior volume, is the tech and infotainment feature-set that it offers customers. A backup camera isn’t an unusual feature nowadays, but Nissan’s Around View monitor, which takes the feeds from four different cameras and projects a “360-degree” overhead image onto the infotainment screen, is positively aristocratic in the world of subcompacts. On top of that, NissanConnect, the Japanese giant’s infotainment service, packs in Google and Google Send-to-Car map service along with weather and traffic information, hands-free text messaging and, of course, Pandora and Bluetooth integration. Add to that other class-above features like heated seats, push-button start, navigation and a right-sized (for the class) 5.8-inch touchscreen, and the Versa Note presents itself as an absolute steal for our car’s $19,280 as-tested price.

Nissan has really gone all out with infotainment and what would normally be thought of as high-dollar features in the Versa Note’s cabin. They aren’t supported, however, by an overly sophisticated powertrain or mechanicals. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine squeaks out 109 horsepower at a lofty 6,000 rpm (just 500 revs south of redline) and 107 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Fortunately, it’s tasked with hauling around just 2,482 pounds in our top-spec Versa Note SV trim, which makes the low power less of a drawback than you might think.

2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note

If a non-sporting car is wearing a Nissan badge, it’s only logical to assume there’s a continuously variable transmission in the mix. Like other Nissans, the Versa Note’s Xtronic CVT is actually quite tolerable – Nissan has made tremendous progress with its CVTs over the years, and it’s really showing here. It lacks the rubber-band feel and tendency to pin the revs up high that typify less evolved CVTs. The pairing of the small engine and belt-driven transmission contributes to an impressive 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

The pairing of the small engine and belt-driven transmission contributes to an impressive 31 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Immediately apparent on the first turn of the wheel is that the Versa Note is not a sporting small hatch like a Mazda2 or Honda Fit Sport, the two best driver’s cars in this class. The steering is electric, and not particularly communicative, either on center or mid-turn. It’s rather low effort, and while we prefer a bit of heft in our steering, Nissan has done a good job making the tiller feel light without feeling overboosted – striking this balance really contributes to a small car’s sense of mild tossability and agility.

Paired with a relaxed throttle response, the Versa Note is an easy car to drive smoothly. The accelerator is predictable and linear in its action, making dialing in just the right amount of thrust rather easy.

Remember what we were saying about Nissan splurging on the cabin tech and skimping on the mechanicals? The brakes are the biggest offender, with ten-inch front rotors and eight-inch rear drums. Don’t let the antique rear hardware scare you, though, as our experience with the Versa Note’s brakes proved to be largely positive. Thanks to electronic brake force distribution, working the stop pedal is a confidence-inspiring experience. The brakes are predictable and easy to modulate, which in today’s world will always be preferable to some cutting edge tech that hasn’t been perfected. They may not look like much, but these brakes are just fine.

2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note2014 Nissan Versa Note

With 109 horsepower, 107 pound-feet of torque and a weight-to-power ratio of 22.7 pounds per horsepower, are you really surprised that the Versa Note could, at best, be described as pokey? There’s not a lot of grunt to work with here, but that’s actually okay, as the 1.6-liter engine feels smooth, and so long as you don’t punish it, it will still return adequate fuel economy. Mid-range torque is actually somewhat potent, and while we had to get aggressive with the gas pedal, we rarely found ourselves in a situation where we couldn’t produce the required amount of power, provided we planned properly. As we mentioned above, Nissan has really figured this CVT thing out, building a transmission that is smooth, predictable and won’t kick the revs up any higher than is necessary. It’s not annoying, which might be the biggest compliment we can give a CVT.

Road noise from impacts is what we’d call average, and there is some tire roar … but wind noise was nicely sorted.

While there’s nothing overly wrong with the power on offer, the aural byproduct of that grunt is buzzy and rather unpleasant. It’s not too pronounced, but when you really get into the accelerator, a thrashy noise rears its head and enters the cabin. Drive reasonably, though, and the noise is rarely disruptive to the driving experience. Road noise from impacts is what we’d call average, and there is some tire roar depending on the kind of road surface you’re traveling down, but wind noise was nicely sorted.

With independent struts up front and a torsion-beam suspension in back paired with 16-inch alloys wrapped in low-rolling resistance, 195/55R16 Bridgestone Ecopia EP422 tires, the Versa Note is a dullard in the corners compared to its hotter competitors. There’s nothing particularly offensive about its handling – body roll is present, but doesn’t make for a disruptive or unstable experience. It’s a similar story with dive under braking. The overall sense of feedback through the seat is there, but requires a bit of concentration to really notice. The fact that this car isn’t a corner carver isn’t shocking, but neither is the fact that the Versa Note’s ride is quite nice for its class. There’s a fair amount of vertical motion, but it’s not jarring or crashy like some competitors (we’re looking at you, Toyota Yaris). Much like the oversized cabin, the ride of the Versa Note feels more suited to a larger vehicle.

2014 Nissan Versa Note

While netting the 40 mpg highway rating is probably doable, we didn’t find getting there a particularly easy task.

As it stands, our fuel economy in the Versa Note, around 32 mpg combined, was near the bottom of its EPA economy ratings. While netting the 40 mpg highway rating is probably doable, we didn’t find getting there a particularly easy task. We’ll happily split the blame for that between your author’s somewhat aggressive throttle use and the car’s own shortcomings. The Versa Note’s powertrain is just fine and feels ideally suited to the car’s size, but we’d love to see Nissan really push and do more with its powertrain technology. While adding features like stop-start and active aerodynamics to the Versa Note will add to its price, being able to brag about best-in-class fuel economy (a title held among gas-powered cars by Ford’s three-cylinder, turbocharged Fiesta and its 45-mpg rating) is worth its weight in gold.

While our Versa Note was loaded, it’s possible to order the basic car for under $14,000, which is an absolute bargain based just on the cabin space it offers. That car is called the Versa Note 1.6 S. The next trim, the 1.6 S Plus, bumps the price to $15,240, while our top-spec 1.6 SV starts at $15,990. To get all the goodies like Around View, navigation and heated seats, though, you’ll need both the SL Package ($1,700) and the SL Tech Package ($800). Those two packs bump the price to $18,490, although there are no other factory-installed options after that. Add on our tester’s $790 destination-and-handling charge, and you’re looking at an as-tested price for our test car of $19,280.

2014 Nissan Versa Note

If you value the absolute maximum amount of space for the very least amount of money, the Nissan will serve you very well.

Now, by a fun coincidence, this review was preceded by Seyth Miersma’s piece on the Ford Fiesta Titanium yesterday. Directionally, Note shoppers might want to have a look at the Fiesta, as it avoids a number of complaints we have with the Versa. But before we get to the bad, it’s important to note (yuck yuck) that the Nissan is hardly defenseless in this fight. It’s lighter and more fuel efficient than the Fiesta, which only returns 27-city mpg and 38-highway mpg. They start around the same price, $14,000, but even with the Titanium trim coming in at $18,800 (Miersma’s tester was over $20,000 with navigation), the Versa’s load of tech is the better bargain. It makes up for this with a modicum more power and torque (120 hp and 112 lb-ft), a far more cosseting ride and a cabin that blows the Versa Note’s hard plastic interior out of the water. If it’s the latter two things you value, the Fiesta might be your cup of tea.

Coming back to the original Austin Mini, the Versa Note follows the Mini’s brief, but takes its formula to extremes, and conjures up a decidedly different character that focuses on space, technology and optional goodies. The fact of the matter is that the Versa Note, like the Mini, is a car that will appeal to a lot of people. It’ll just do it with Around View, Pandora integration and Google rather than driving chops.

Indeed, the ultimate question you’ll need to ask yourself about the Versa Note is what you need and want in a subcompact car. If you value the absolute maximum amount of space for the very least amount of money, the Nissan will serve you very well. It’s the same story if a car’s infotainment systems are high on your priorities list – Nissan has done an excellent job of fitting the Versa Note with class-exclusive features that will make a driver’s time behind the wheel easier and less stressful. But if you want to have fun while driving each day or value a high-quality cabin, you’ll be better served by a Mazda2/Honda Fit Sport or a Ford Fiesta, respectively. Still, the value-for-money proposition that is the Versa Note makes for a solid competitor in an increasingly tough class of cars.

Vital Stats

Engine:
1.6L I4
Power:
109 HP / 107 LB-FT
Transmission:
CVT
0-60 Time:
9.5 sec (est)
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,482 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
18.8 CU-FT
MPG:
31 City / 40 HWY
Base Price:
$13,990
As-Tested Price:
$19,280
Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium

You might not be interested in owning a subcompact (B-segment) hatchback for $20,000. Let’s be clear from the get go here: there are any number of reasonable arguments for staying away from the highest-content versions of these small cars. Ford’s player in the B-segment arena is the newly updated 2014 Fiesta, and the Titanium trim represents the most luxurious instantiation of the model. We recently were loaned a Fiesta Titanium for a week, whose final sticker price hit $20,390, with navigation being the only standalone option added to the bottom line. By way of comparison, the most basic version of the all new, one-segment-up Mazda3 hatchback costs $19,740 with delivery and destination accounted for, and no options added on.

Hold on to that thought for a moment, we’ll get back to it.


Ford has done some seriously good work to update the Fiesta for 2014, though a lot of the effort has gone into making an already good-to-drive car look a lot better sitting still. The most immediately recognizable change to the car has been wrought on the front fascia, where Ford’s newest corporate face means the Fiesta sports an expansive new grille. The hexagonal kisser lends the same sort of Aston Martinesque vibe to the Fiesta as it did to the new Fusion, and the Titanium’s standard multi-spoke, 16-inch aluminum wheels help to complete the idiom.

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium

The ’14 Fiesta would have made a convincing case as an alternate-reality Aston Martin Cygnet.

In fact, when we started lining up the front-facing photographs of our Storm Gray tester we were struck that the ’14 Fiesta would have made a convincing case as an alternate-reality Aston Martin Cygnet, had Toyota not secured that gig for its Scion iQ. We’re not sure that counts as a missed opportunity for Ford, but the point remains that this ’14 Titanium trim is worn quite well.

Open the driver’s door and you’ll see that some small-car-premiumness carries on inside the Fiesta cabin. The standard leather seating and steering wheel wrap are touches that felt like a huge win for the segment back when Fiesta launched, and they still help to set the Titanium apart in 2014. Crosstown rival Chevy Sonic can be had with leatherette seating, but not the real cowhide, and the Hyundai Accent will wrap your steering wheel in leather if you opt for the SE trim, but not your seats. The Ford chairs are the sort of flat-bottomed variety, with not much in the way of thigh support, that you’d expect in a car worked to maximize space for drivers of all sizes. Your author found the head and neck support to be impressive (I’m super tall, too), but the lateral hold to be below average.

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium

In addition to looking spendy, the new-school integration of a MyFord Touch-enabled, 6.5-inch touch screen does a lot to clean up the tiny-button-strewn mess of the out-going Fiesta’s control center. Our car offered SYNC as well as the optional ($795) navigation system, and we found all to be reasonably easy to use, honestly. The display screen proved bright and simple to read, and the touch controls slightly faster to react than we’d expected given previous disappointments with MFT.

The biggest ‘premium’ differentiation for the car … is the quiet, controlled ride.

As a whole, the soft-touch plastics, brushed metal and gloss black accents, and big bright gauges all worked in harmony to make the Fiesta Titanium seem pretty upscale while in use. But the biggest ‘premium’ differentiation for the car when compared with its competition is the quiet, controlled ride. Ford has gone to a lot of effort to make the Fiesta feel a lot like a bigger car, including modulating the ride quality to filter out bad road surfaces, and deaden tire and wind noise to the point of class leadership. While our personal preference is to have more steering feedback from our small cars, we’ll admit that the Fiesta’s slightly light, filtered feel through the tiller is well matched to its overall package.

For a small, short-wheelbase car, the hatchback feels more at home cruising than it does nipping from one corner to the next. Sure, the structure of the car is plenty rigid, and should you feel the urge it’ll do just fine being lobbed around a groovy piece of tarmac. But the low levels of tactility and the hushed confines of the Fiesta really put the driver in more of a mind to meander than to attack corners.

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium

The combination of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and the five-speed manual transmission are part and parcel to this laid-back nature. The manual gearbox is better suited to harnessing every bit of the 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque, should you need to cover ground in a hurry, but its light action and long throws won’t be confused for a sports-oriented piece of equipment, either. Still, clutch and gearbox are so simple and painless to operate, that we can’t imagine opting into the six-speed “PowerShift” automatic unless we were dead set on getting mildly better fuel economy. (The manual car is rated at 29 city and 38 highway miles per gallon, while the auto will do 30 and 40 mpg, respectively.)

It’s worth noting that the best may be yet to come in terms of powertrains here.

It’s worth noting that the best may be yet to come in terms of powertrains here. We got a brief turn in a Fiesta equipped with the EcoBoost three-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual last year, and still think that a fully loaded car with that 123-hp, 148-lb-ft powertrain might be the ultimate sweetheart of the lineup. For now, Ford’s only making that engine available as an option on the SE model, and with a manual transmission only.

To sum up, for around 20 grand ($19,595 with destination and no options) Ford will sell you a Fiesta Titanium that does well just about everything a car needs to do, while also being feature rich and very comfortable. Back at the top of the hour we pointed out that you can also get what seems to be a very nice, completely redesigned and one-segment larger Mazda3 hatch for about the same amount of money, but at the “base” end of the trim spectrum. (If you don’t like the Mazda you could put Focus, or possibly Golf, in here, too, though fewer and fewer C-segment cars offer hatchback configurations).

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium

If you’re interested in the “bigger car” thing that Ford is putting forth with Fiesta, why not just opt into a bigger car?

Here’s why we think this is a credible exercise in comparison: the thing that separates the Fiesta from its B-segment hatchback contemporaries the most is the aforementioned ability to drive like a larger car. Sonic and Accent are both extremely good cross-shops for Fiesta in terms of price, size and equipment. In fact, with more power and very close fuel economy ratings, we’d argue that the Chevy and the Hyundai might be better values than the Ford overall. But both of those cars drive a lot like traditional subcompacts, with more feedback and noise, slightly less stability at speed, etc. The same case is writ large for the even more athletic Mazda2 and Honda Fit, both of which are great fun to pilot, but far more elemental than the mature Fiesta. (The Honda and Mazda are also being generationally updated as we speak, and might well come out as more fully baked competitors when that happens.)

So, if you’re interested in the “bigger car” thing that Ford is putting forth with Fiesta, why not just opt into a bigger car? Well, in the Mazda3 example, you’re not actually giving up that much in an area that you’d expect to be dominated by the larger C-segment offering: interior space. Well, sort of. The Mazda does have about 10 cubic-feet more of total interior volume, but a lot of that is allocated behind the front seats. Up front, the Fiesta offers more headroom and the same amount of legroom as does the Mazda, albeit in a much narrower package (Ford gives up 4.5 inches of shoulder room). If you’re someone that doesn’t regularly make use of your backseats, that’s a surprisingly competitive amount of cabin to work with, considering the Mazda3 is 16-inches longer overall than the Fiesta.

2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium

There’s not a perfect trim-level comparison to draw, but getting roughly the same equipment in the Mazda3 that we tested in our Titanium will mean opting for Mazda’s Grand Touring trim. That leads to a Mazda3 that costs just about $24,000, with larger wheels and no leather, when all is said and done.

All the content of a C-segment car (give or take) with the same sort of on-road experience, but in a smaller package.

Everyone loves having a lot of options, and our point here is that the Fiesta Titanium seems to give us an important one that hasn’t really existed in the market before. All the content of a C-segment car (give or take), with the same sort of on-road experience, but in a smaller package. To some folks, that doesn’t feel like much of a deal at all; they see a smaller car in the driveway as less impressive than a larger one, period. Or they want more performance from a larger engine, or they’ll make use of the backseat more frequently. But the Ford is intriguing for buyers that are perhaps single, live in urban areas or otherwise value a car with a small footprint, and yet still want as many bells and whistles as can practically be expected. Give up some elbow room, gain a bit of the posh. The choice is (now) yours.

There are a lot of people out there that will take one look at the $20k sticker price, chuckle, and move on to the next Autoblog review. But as the case of the small car continues to advance in the US, we think there’s a real opportunity for half-pints like the Fiesta Titanium. The proposition is a bold one for the traditionally size-obsessed American car buyer: value is not measured in wheelbase inches. The small car has become an option, rather than a last resort.

Vital Stats

Engine:
1.6L I4
Power:
120 HP / 112 LB-FT
Transmission:
5-Speed Manual
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,537 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
14.9 CU-FT
MPG:
27 City / 38 HWY
Base Price:
$18,800
As-Tested Price:
$20,390

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Seyth Miersma / AOL

Category: Hatchback, Ford, New Car Reviews

Tags: 2014 ford fiesta titanium, featured, ford, ford fiesta, ford fiesta titanium, review

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

Jeep appears to have nailed it this time. After two decades of assembling its Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle, the American automaker has finally delivered a world-class off-roader capable of taking on everything in its segment – and more – with a high likelihood of coming out on top.

And if you drove last year’s model, it’s time to climb behind the wheel again as Jeep has significantly updated the SUV for 2014 with a bold new exterior appearance, an upgraded interior with enhanced electronics and a new transmission that completely transforms the way it drives.

We recently spent a full week with a dark blue 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4, a well-optioned model fitted with the standard gasoline-fed V6. While it didn’t have the punch of the range-topping V8-powered SRT8, or the fuel-sipping economy of its new EcoDiesel sibling, the high-volume variant left us quite impressed.


2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

Without question, the 2014 is significantly improved over its predecessor.

Slightly more than 20 years ago, Jeep launched its all-new Grand Cherokee for the 1993 model year. The current chassis is its fourth-generation iteration (known as the WK2 to brand purists), which made its debut at the 2009 New York Auto Show, but it didn’t go on sale until the following summer as a 2011 model. Three short years later, Jeep has introduced the revised 2014 model with a slew of significant upgrades.

Jeep is offering its 2014 Grand Cherokee in no fewer than six different models (listed in order of increasing base price): Laredo, Laredo E, Limited, Overland, Summit and SRT. Depending on the model, there are three engine choices (3.6-liter V6, 5.7-liter V8 and the new turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 diesel) and several powertrain choices (4×2 and three different 4×4 systems). While the aforementioned diesel and high-performance SRT models capture most of the spotlight, the standard gasoline-powered V6 models comprise the bulk of sales – more than justifying this review.

As indicated, Jeep made several improvements to the Grand Cherokee for the new model year. Mechanically speaking, a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission replaces the outgoing five-speed gearbox and the four-wheel-drive system has been improved with new modes. Cosmetically, the front fascia has been redesigned and there are new taillamps, a larger liftgate spoiler and more wheel choices. Jeep didn’t leave the interior alone either, as the 2014 models are fitted with a new steering wheel with paddle shifters, revised instrument cluster, redesigned center stack with the company’s larger 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, upgraded Uconnect Access and other enhanced interior materials. Without question, the 2014 is significantly improved over its 2013 predecessor.

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The Overland in standard configuration is fitted with a very high level of equipment.

Our particular 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4, painted in True Blue Pearl over two-tone Vesuvio Indigo Blue and Jeep Brown interior upholstery, started with a base price of $45,995. Few would blame the owners who add absolutely no options, as the Overland in standard configuration is equipped with a very high level of equipment that includes leather upholstery, heated and ventilated power-operated eight-way driver and front passenger seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, Chrysler’s Uconnect system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, 506-watt audio package, heated steering wheel, power liftgate, bi-xenon headlamps and more. Even so, our tester was upgraded with the Customer Preferred 23P package ($1,695), which included adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, advanced brake assist, blind spot and rear cross path detection. The bottom line on our SUV’s window sticker, including the mandatory $995 destination charge, was $48,685.

Like most late model Grand Cherokees on the road today, our vehicle featured Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, rated at 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. New for 2014 is a standard ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic that provides not only improved fuel economy and better acceleration, but a new lower crawl ratio of 44:1 to aid off-road prowess when equipped with the two-speed transfer case (Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II is standard on the Overland). The EPA rates the SUV at 17 miles per gallon city and 24 mpg highway, which is a slight improvement over last year’s 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The engine is also E85 compatible, but burning the ethanol fuel blend delivers reduced economy.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

The 2014 Grand Cherokee starts off strong even before the engine is started.

Underpinning the Grand Cherokee is an independent suspension mounted to a steel unibody chassis shared with the current-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class (consider it a gift from the earlier DaimlerChrysler days). The front features upper and lower control arms while the rear is fitted with a multi-link design. Twin-tube, gas-charged shock and coil springs round out the package. The Quadra-lift air suspension, with four drive heights and a low Park mode to ease ingress/egress (4.1 inches of total travel), is standard on the Overland. The steering is electrically assisted, and the Grand Cherokee requires just 37.1 feet to turn curb-to-curb. Our Overland was equipped with 20-inch cast aluminum wheels, wrapped in 265/50R20 Goodyear Fortera HL all-season tires.

First impressions mean quite a bit in the automotive world, especially when emotion sells more vehicles than any pushy salesman. In that regard, the 2014 Grand Cherokee starts off strong even before the engine is started.

The exterior refresh is attractive, as it maintains the Jeep’s obligatory aggressive and capable appearance while losing some of the shiny chrome in the process. Headlights are now sleeker and more detailed, and the lower fascia receives the same attention. The alterations to the back of the vehicle are less obvious, but Jeep has repositioned some of the flashy trim and cleaned up its overall appearance.

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All of the touch surfaces feel substantial and of high quality, solving that common complaint.

While the contrasting dark blue and chocolate interior would not be our first choice, the white piping on the seats and wood on the dashboard provided an upscale appearance. All of the touch surfaces feel substantial and of high quality, solving that common complaint. The front seats are comfortable, with nice bolsters, long lower cushions and good lumbar support, and the driving position fit your editor’s six-foot two-inch frame well. A bright and very legible multi-configurable instrument panel is easy to see, even through polarized glasses, and the Garmin-based Uconnect navigation was intuitive for all who used it (although we didn’t like how many of the seat heat/cooling functions required more than a few actions to access). To ease connectivity, the driver and front passenger are offered an AUX, USB, SD and 12-volt DC power outlet in a panel at the bottom of the center stack.

Second row passengers were equally as content, with acceptable leg, knee and toe room; large tinted windows; and plenty of power to charge their own personal electronics (Jeep has put twin USB ports and a 115-volt outlet on the rear of the center console, exclusively for their use). When the center armrest is raised, the cushion beneath it is flat to make a comfortable fifth seating position.

A lack of a third row (Dodge will sell you a Durango for that role) means there are no bulky hide-away cushions to prevent the 60:40 split second row from folding, thus creating a flat and expansive cargo area. The front passenger seat folds flat to increase cargo space, too. There are also four metal rails, and steel tie-downs, to help secure larger loads and grocery bag hooks to keep the little things from rolling around (another 12-volt DC outlet is in the rear cargo hold).

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The gear selector requires a slight learning curve, and it cannot be rushed without drawing profanities.

The push-button stop/start is carried over from last year. The more significant news is the new electronic shift lever replacing its gated predecessor on the center console. Seemingly lifted right out of the current-generation Audi A8 sedan – they are virtually identical as both share the same ZF eight speed transmission – the stubby T-handle only requires a nudge to engage the gear. In practice, the gear selector requires a slight learning curve, and it cannot be rushed without drawing profanities, but it works well after a bit of familiarity.

Our initial positive impressions of the exterior and interior are complemented by the Grand Cherokee’s new driving dynamics.

The V6 will never match the brawn of the SRT’s V8 (or even the Hemi), and nobody should expect it to, but the new lower first gear allows the volume model to leap off the line with newfound energy. The Jeep weighs 4,984 pounds, which is about average in this segment, but a happy marriage between the six-cylinder Pentastar and the ZF eight-speed transmission (it reportedly has 90 different shift algorithms from which to choose) means the SUV will hit 60 miles per hour in about seven seconds flat. On the road, the power seemed to fall off at higher speeds, but it was more than adequate for most passing maneuvers. According to Jeep, our test car will tow 6,200 pounds (those seeking more pulling capability should look at the diesel or SRT, as those are both rated to pull 7,200-plus pounds).

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

The SUV excels on the open road, especially at speed.

Once at speed, extensive soundproofing and thick door seals kept wind noise to a minimum. Unlike the beastly SRT8, docked points for road noise in our recent review, the narrower all-season rubber on this four-door never howled on the open road. While it likely doesn’t help lower cabin noise, the air suspension automatically lowers the vehicle at highways speeds to improve the vehicle’s overall aerodynamics and aid fuel economy (the Grand Cherokee earns a drag coefficient of 0.37).

Tuned for on- and off-road travel, the ride was on the firm side yet its damping response aligned with our expectations – softer than the SRT8, but still maintained a sporty edge. Its European-bred chassis is stiff and responded well to steering requests. Even so, we found ourselves skipping the tight mountain curves where the Jeep began to feel a bit awkward, and taking the highway routes to make good use of the excellent radar-based adaptive cruise control. The SUV excels on the open road, especially at speed.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

It appears that Jeep has finally delivered one of the best overall vehicles in the midsize SUV segment.

Sadly, and despite setting a day aside for it, we never had the chance to take the Grand Cherokee off the pavement and try its Select-Terrain system (our planned trip to an off-road park was pushed off the schedule when another automaker was late with a vehicle delivery). Based on previous experience, the new revisions will only improve its competence after the concrete ends.

As you have likely concluded, we really enjoyed our time with the improved Grand Cherokee. It appears that Jeep has finally delivered one of the best overall vehicles in the midsize SUV segment. In base form, the $31,000 Laredo version competes exceptionally well against the Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer – we’d likely choose it over all four if a third row of seating weren’t required, and especially if off-road excursions were on our extended menu.

Yet more impressive than beating a typical mid-priced soft-roader is the Overland’s ability to be a worthy lower-cost alternative to the widely praised BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The American beats both in content, equals them in ride quality and is more capable on rough terrain. Thanks to a host of new cosmetic and mechanical upgrades for 2014, the Grand Cherokee has emerged as America’s new midsize SUV standard of excellence.

Vital Stats

Engine:
3.6L V6
Power:
290 HP / 260 LB-FT
Transmission:
8-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
7.0 Seconds (est.)
Drivetrain:
Four-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
4,984 LBS
Towing:
6,200 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
68.3 CU-FT (max)
MPG:
17 City / 24 HWY
Base Price:
$45,995
As-Tested Price:
$48,685

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Michael Harley / AOL

Category: SUV, Jeep, New Car Reviews, Luxury

Tags: 2014 jeep grand cherokee, featured, jeep, jeep grand cherokee, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

People, us included, make a big stink about the importance of family sedans. There’s no doubt they’re critical – they represent a huge slice of the market’s annual sales and profits. However, despite accounting for far fewer transactions than the midsize sedan segment, the fullsize sedan is getting attention from manufacturers now that our market’s entire lineup of those (slightly) smaller four-doors has turned over in the last two years or so. As most of the fullsize segment’s mainstays derive a fair bit of their platform and powertrain technologies from their midsize cousins, these larger four-doors offer the potential for fatter profit margins, too. And with the newly stylish duds found on many of the industry’s most successful midsize sedans, it’s only right that automakers no longer think about fullsizers as big, squishy, vanilla family haulers with flat seats, vague steering and a thin layer of ‘luxury’ in the form of faux wood trim.

As manufacturers have again started diving into large sedans feet-first, the cars themselves have become sharper. The interiors are now of a higher quality and loaded with tech, while the exteriors have become further extensions of each manufacturer’s design language. There’s perhaps no greater example of this than the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus, two models that evolved from subpar offerings into market leaders. This segment-wide transformation happened quite quickly, whether because of coincidental timing or because manufacturers are trying to get more out of their big cars, recognizing they account for a small portion of overall sales (just 3.5 percent of the new-car market in the first half of 2013).

The 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is one such vehicle. We remarked on the changes to the V6 variant last year, and while we previously had a quick steer of the gas-electric hybrid, we figured the new model was worth a closer week-long look.


2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Toyota has avoided the urge to gussy up this hybrid model with eco-friendly tinsel.

While the Avalon’s bass-mouth styling may be polarizing, it’s at least consistent – Toyota has avoided the urge to gussy up this hybrid model with eco-friendly tinsel. A Hybrid Synergy Drive badge adorns the trunk lid, while a pair of Hybrid badges sit on the bottom of the front doors. Otherwise, this is essentially the same sleek sedan we saw debut at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

Like the exterior, the cabin is largely a carryover from the gas-powered model, aside from a trio of buttons behind the shifter that control the car’s EV, Eco and Sport modes. The latter two alter the throttle mapping and pedal resistance, allowing for either a more responsive drive experience or a duller one in the name of improved fuel economy. EV mode, meanwhile, forces the Avalon Hybrid to run on battery power alone until the pack depletes. Following a similar theme as the exterior, our tester’s cabin is far more fashion-conscious than the Avalon it replaces. Hard plastics are largely relegated to the lower dash, while the center stack is made of a finely textured plastic that, while not grade A, is a solid B. The dials are machined and feel suitably fine, while the dash and door panels feature leather with contrast stitching.

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The seats offer more support than the last-generation sedan without sacrificing the comfort expected of a big car like this. The steering wheel, as has become typical of Toyota (and Lexus in particular) as of late, feels a bit small for a vehicle of this size, yet it still sits well in hand. The minuscule buttons to the left and right of the directional pads are rather difficult to operate – particularly annoying as the left bank controls the audio system’s volume.

The decision to only offer our tester with a 6.1-inch touchscreen in the center stack isn’t a good move.

Toyota has opted for touch-capacitive controls for the infotainment and some of the climate controls, despite the poor critical response other brands have received for these ‘buttonless’ buttons. These controls strike us as curious in this vehicle. It’s not that they don’t work well, it’s that the Avalon Hybrid has a traditionally older buying audience who may not be able to adjust to the new tech so easily, whether out of an unwillingness or an inability to learn.

The decision to only offer our tester with a 6.1-inch touchscreen in the center stack isn’t a good move in our book. The display is responsive enough, but looks graphically inferior compared to the Retina, AMOLED and high-def screens we encounter on various devices throughout our day. It also looks undersized relative to the bulk of the dash. A larger, seven-inch screen is at least available on the top-flight Hybrid Limited.

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The Avalon Hybrid faced closer scrutiny on the road than it did when we were checking out its cabin and tech. See, the third-generation model did well in its intended function as a big, comfortable barge, but it did so at the expense of things like feedback and involvement. While it was hardly any worse than its main rival, the Buick LaCrosse, its detached driving experience left us feeling lukewarm. And that was before any hybrid components were fitted to the model – Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive technology is new for the Avalon, and while it may be renowned for delivering big fuel economy gains, it isn’t exactly known for adding dynamic verve.

We would come to leave our test car in Eco most of the time.

Predictably, then, this fourth-generation model is better in a few key areas, yet it struggles in others. At the Avalon and Avalon Hybrid’s launch last October, Toyota touted a “specific emphasis on steering response and agility,” which Senior Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski reported on in our original review of the Avalon V6. With the Avalon Hybrid, the new model is quite stable on center and easy to keep tracking straight and true, but its still-vague feedback and overboosted weighting makes for imprecise steering that can take time to adjust to.

The Avalon Hybrid’s relaxed ergonomics mean that the pedals are well situated and there’s enough adjustability in the steering column to avoid bumping knees while at work. The accelerator delivers linear and predictable power, regardless of whether Sport, Eco or the default driving mode is selected. We would come to leave our test car in Eco most of the time after finding that its retarded throttle response helps to accelerate more smoothly away from lights. By not dipping into the skinny pedal quite so eagerly, it’s possible to enjoy a more serene ride and, as an added bonus, improved fuel economy.

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The brakes, meanwhile, remain an issue. Toyota still hasn’t figured out how to deliver both regenerative braking and pleasing pedal modulation (although to be fair, it’s hardly alone). The brakes – 11.7-inch discs up front and 11.1-inch in the rear – can feel overly grabby and difficult to modulate. That’s due to both a lack of linearity in pedal effort and a frustratingly small range of travel.

Total system horsepower sits at 200 ponies, which isn’t particularly great for such a big, heavy vehicle.

Opting for the Avalon Hybrid means accepting that drivers of conventionally powered full-sizers will arrive more quickly than you. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine packs 156 pound-feet of torque and 156 horsepower at 4,500 and 5,700 rpm, respectively. As that’s not much for a 3,500-pound car, a nickel-metal hydride battery back stores juice for a 105-kilowatt electric motor, which in turn delivers 199 pound-feet of torque between zero and 1,500 rpm. Total system horsepower sits at 200 ponies, which again isn’t particularly great for such a big, heavy vehicle. Ignoring the lack of power, Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain is still a great item, delivering what power it has in a smooth, predictable manner. Low-speed acceleration is particularly pleasing thanks to the electric motor’s groundswell of torque.

Paired up to an electronic CVT, the Avalon Hybrid offers smooth, uninterrupted (but limited) power. The transmission is responsive to sudden inputs and will happily kick the rpms up to the appropriate level. It also drops revs quickly, as the hybrid system is all too happy to turn the gas engine off entirely.

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

If you’re not used to a big sedan drive experience, the Avalon still feels quite soft, while the feedback on offer can be frustratingly limited. At the same time, the Avalon Hybrid is more composed on varied road surfaces. It doesn’t porpoise down the road, but feels planted and composed on the straight and narrow. Of course, it still rolls quite a lot in corners, but it also doesn’t slosh about like water in a bucket. There isn’t really enough grunt to slam the car’s weight onto the rear suspension, so acceleration squat isn’t an issue, but it does have a tendency to dip its nose a bit too much under hard braking. Factoring in its vague pedal feel, jumping on the binders in the Avalon Hybrid is hardly a confidence-inducing experience. The 17-inch Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires offer reasonable levels of grip commensurate with what can be expected of touring-biased all-season rubber, although we are surprised Toyota has opted out of specifying a low rolling-resistance tire, a standard industry trick for saving a bit more fuel on hybrid models.

The ride is firmer than expected and can’t iron out potholes and imperfections quite so efficiently.

The cost of this more tolerable handling, though, isn’t really worthwhile. The ride is firmer than expected and can’t iron out potholes and imperfections quite so efficiently. The Avalon Hybrid is a stable car at speed, though, with different road surfaces having little influence on how the car tracks along the road. And while actual impacts aren’t fully transmitted to the driver, the noises they produce are easy to pick out.

Indeed, impact noises from the firm ride are an issue, but hardly a full-time thing. Controlling straight-line tire roar and wind noise is far more important to a car’s overall sense of refinement, and in this regard, the Avalon Hybrid does well. At and above typical highway speeds, there isn’t an obnoxious amount of wind noise, with no noticeable air leaks from our tester’s 6,000 hard miles of press fleet duty, either. Tire roar is very well controlled, too, likely a benefit of using conventional tires. Sonically, there isn’t a lot to expect from a hybrid powertrain like this – the engine is inoffensive in its note but actually could stand to be muted a bit.

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

With a bit more discipline, 40 mpg can be surpassed without much effort.

The Avalon Hybrid holds a unique place in the market, in that it’s one of the only entries not to use some sort of six-cylinder or turbocharged four-cylinder engine (Buick’s eAssist-equipped LaCrosse hybrid being the other). With its hybrid powertrain, it shouldn’t come as a shock that it’s the most efficient model in its class, netting 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway – 14 and 4 mpg better than its next closest competitor, the aforementioned Buick. What is surprising is just how easily it is to hit those numbers. Even with our moderately aggressive right foot, we recorded 38 miles per gallon in about 300 miles of mixed driving. We imagine that with a bit more discipline, 40 mpg can be surpassed without much effort.

Naturally, one of the Avalon Hybrid’s biggest assets is its size. It’s a large sedan, and it feels that way from every seat. Front-seat passengers are treated to plenty of headroom and a central armrest that is wide enough to avoid elbowing matches between driver and passenger. The back seats, even with the fronts as far back as possible, still leave enough legroom for short jaunts. Even with the driver’s seat set for your narrator’s six-foot, one-inch frame, there is plenty of room in the back for someone of equal or even greater size. Really, there’s not a bad seat in the house. Even the trunk has an American vastness to it, with a solid 14 cubic feet of space. While that means it won’t out-haul a Ford Taurus (20.1 cu ft) or Chevy Impala (18.8 cu ft), it handily outdoes the 10.8 cu ft in the LaCrosse eAssist.

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Unlike the four grades of the Avalon V6 (XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited), the Avalon Hybrid range only has three trims (XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited), with prices starting at $35,555 for the base car, $37,250 for the mid-level XLE Touring and $41,400 for the top-end Limited. Our XLE tester’s sole factory-installed option consisted of its spiffy $395 Blizzard Pearl paint, but it was also fitted with a few dealer-installed accessories ($225 floor mats, a $69 protective rear bumper applique, a $499 remote-start system and $395 for InvisiShield-style paint protection). Its total as-tested price of $39,628 (including $795 destination charge) strikes us a bit high, but then again, hybrids cost more money to build.

Toyota’s new Avalon goes far beyond a sleek new exterior and a fuel-efficient powertrain. This new vehicle is better to drive than its predecessor in most ways while offering the kind of technology buyers expect when paying this kind of money for a family sedan. The addition of this Hybrid model serves as a shot across the bow to other manufacturers, as it demonstrates that Toyota’s fuel-sipping technology isn’t just limited to the Prius and Camry. Even so, while we like the idea of a more efficient big sedan, it’s unclear how many American buyers will be interested in ponying up for that efficiency, as there are more powerful and less costly offerings available – even from Toyota itself.

Vital Stats

Engine:
2.5L I4
Power:
200 HP
Transmission:
eCVT
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,585 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
14.0 CU-FT
MPG:
40 City / 39 HWY
Base Price:
$35,555
As-Tested Price:
$39,628

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Brandon Turkus / AOL

Category: Hybrid, Sedan, Toyota, New Car Reviews

Tags: 2013 toyota avalon hybrid, featured, review, toyota, toyota avalon, toyota avalon hybrid

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2013 Acura ZDX

What Is, What Could Have Been, And What May Yet Be

2013 Acura ZDX

History is largely unkind to losers. That’s true in the world of politics and sports, and it follows on with a few caveats in the realm of automobiles.

In terms of cars, historic losers tend to be remembered in one of two broad ways. Every once in a while, unsuccessful or oddball models actually make reputational gains after some time away from the new-car marketplace. I consider the Saab 9-2X one of the recent poster children for this group; a car that moved like molasses on dealer lots in the mid-2000s but has morphed into a sort of hard-to-find, used gem in recent years. More often, though, that which was unloved when new remains unloved with tens or hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer. Pontiac’s seriously misunderstood Aztek has king status here (despite the wailings of oddball fan clubs across the nation), so much so that invoking “Aztek” as a pejorative stopped being pithy about a dozen years ago.

I just spent a week driving the 2013 Acura ZDX, a vehicle whose distinct charms cannot save it from placement somewhere on the continuum of failed automotive experiments. It remains to be seen if the crossover will ultimately land in the pillowy, judgment-free zone many reserve for Subaru BRATs and BMW M Coupes, or the wasteland occupied by the Yugo GV, Cadillac Cimarron and their disappointing ilk.

Related Gallery2013 Acura ZDX: Review
2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review

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The ZDX remains one of the best crossovers on the market to drive overall.

The fact is that in 2013, just a few years removed from its introduction and well into its triple-digit sales years, the ZDX remains one of the best crossovers on the market to drive overall. This Acura offers a reasonably sporty balance between ride comfort and handling, with enough driver involvement available to push it past more run-of-the-mill members of its competitive set.

The ZDX’s steering wheel might be similarly filtered of road feel, but it offers quite a dose of heft and precision when compared to a Lexus RX, for instance. Turn-in response is a bit laggy along whimsically bent pieces of road for my tastes, but its wheel offers confident weighting for holding a line on a fast exit ramp, changing lanes at speed on curved stretches of highway, or other brief moments of dynamic joy found in everyday urban motoring.

I’ll admit that when taken out for a spin on a country road, the ZDX has a nose-heaviness that more or less defines its character. But the Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) and its torque-vectoring magic counterbalances the car’s understeering nature just enough that it’s still possible to make a decent time out of a Sunday drive. Ask for a change of direction with some rapidity and the ZDX’s nose hesitates a bit, but hold your line and keep your foot in it and the power to the rear will bring the crossover body around in relatively snappy fashion. That wouldn’t be high praise if I were talking about a sports sedan, mind you, but it’s just about as good as it gets where luxury-oriented crossovers are concerned (notable exceptions found below).

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There’s a rakish cut to the Acura’s sheetmetal that … stirs up a lot of attention.

The 3.7-liter V6 motivating this slicked-back Acura outputs 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque – a respectable set of figures even in today’s turbocharged landscape. Of course, in traditional Honda fashion, the V6 has got to be really hammered to get the most out of it. Peak power doesn’t come on until 6,300 rpm, just 500 revs short of redline, with full torque available at 4,500 rpm. So, where force-fed six-cylinder engines like those in the Audi Q5 or the Volvo XC60 will get up and git at lazy engine speeds, Acura requires that you really work its six-speed automatic transmission to wring performance out of the happy-to-spin mill. And, of course, the point of a CUV, even a sporty sort of CUV, is that no one is going to expend a lot of effort to make it go fast.

This isn’t a driver’s segment. So, unfortunately, the incremental plusses that the ZDX offers versus a bog-standard, lux crossover don’t do much to move the needle. Could a higher level of performance and even more money tacked onto its bottom line have better differentiated the ZDX from the herd to the tune of meaningful sales numbers over the last four years? Hard to say, really. But I do come away from driving the Acura (not just this one, but much of the current lineup) with the nagging sense that it is very close to being very good to drive without actually getting there.

Still, when the ZDX was introduced, something about its fast, hunkered shape – riding just higher than an AWD sedan but looking nothing at all like a station wagon – triggered instant polarization amongst interested onlookers. There’s a rakish cut to the Acura’s sheetmetal that, along with the rarity of the model, stirs up a lot of attention, both good and bad. My not-at-all-car-interested neighbor waved hello the first day I had the ZDX, enthusiastically pointing out, “That looks like a good one!” where most cars would have caused no comment at all. I was stopped in the middle of photographing the CUV when a fiftyish-something couple amiably posed a dozen or more question about the car, not buying it at all when I tried to convince them that the ZDX wasn’t “just the same as that Honda Crosstour.” (By way of reminder, the ZDX rides on the same platform as the MDX while the Crosstour’s bones are shared with the gen-eight Honda Accord.)

2013 Acura ZDX

We’re still talking about roughly 6,200 specimens of this unicorn running around the US, in total.

Hey, when you see a guy with a unicorn, you’re probably going to ask him about it, even if you think it’s weird looking. I get that.

In the 2012 model year, Acura sold fewer than 800 examples of the ZDX. In its first full year on sale, 2010, Acura dealers shifted around 3,200 units, which also represents the apogee of the soon-to-be-discontinued model’s yearly sales figures. Even if we assume (boldly) that the automaker will repeat its sales figures from 2012 in the final 2013 run for the ZDX, we’re still talking about roughly 6,200 specimens of this unicorn running around the US, in total.

Just as a point of reference: in MY 2010, when the Acura MDX was recently facelifted but otherwise in the middle of its second-generation, it outsold its crossover coupe stablemate 47,210 to 3,259. And just because I know that a few of you will wonder, the inexorably linked (thanks to introduction timing and bodystyle) and more expensive BMW X6 was sold to Americans 6,257 times in the same model year.

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The failure of the ZDX to sell comes down to packaging and pricing, despite the oft-derided styling. Hear me out.

Ultimately, I think the failure of the ZDX to sell comes down to packaging and pricing, despite the oft-derided styling. Hear me out. Acura put together a lovely, somewhat austere cabin for the model: supple leather covers the dash, center console and door inserts, heated and cooled seats are super comfortable and even the carpeting and floor mats feel of above-average quality. For 2013, Acura is only selling the ZDX in one trim level, basically including all of the equipment from all of the options packages from years past: Panoramic glass roof, 19-inch wheels, HID headlights, navigation with voice recognition and the ELS sound system. (The quiet-at-speed ZDX cabin is still amongst my very favorite listening booths with this excellent Elliot Scheiner-tuned hi-fi system.) The all-in cost including an $895 destination fee is $51,815. And, while not meaning to be glib, that’s an awful lot of cash for a CUV that has an impractical hatch and really cramped rear seats.

Even older competitors with rakish styling like the X6 and Infiniti FX37 can boast of two or three inches more headroom than the ZDX for rear seat passengers, to say nothing of cargo space. Today, the smaller-footprint Range Rover Evoque five-door has a lofty 4.3 inches of extra headroom when compared with the Acura, to say nothing of being a better realization of the personal AWD luxury vision, getting better gas mileage and having a lower MSRP. That’s before we get into four-place crossovers and SUVs that aren’t penalized by having a “four-door coupe” silhouette.

2013 Acura ZDX

The optimist in me believes that it could still find love in the years to come.

So, there are any number of reasons why you and I didn’t buy a ZDX over the last four years, and plenty of good ones for Acura to kill the model off after 2013. But I started this review by asking how history will judge it, and the optimist in me believes that it could still find love in the years to come.

Why? In the early going at least, the rarity of the ZDX combined with still-excellent Acura residual prices should mean that the relatively small number of buyers looking for a good used example will have to pay a premium. A cursory web search shows used prices hovering in the high $20k range for cars with over 50,000 miles and well into the $30k territory for cars with 40k miles and lower. Fast-forward a few decades, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that the prescription of a quirky brand, an outsider design, the utterly unique cabin and increasing rarity could cause a car club or two to spring up. Who knows, it might even be the Saab 9-2X of the 2030s?

I’m sure that’s not what Acura wants to hear. The truth is that car companies don’t experiment in big splashy ways as often as they used to in years past, in part because the cost associated with the risk is just way too high. And that makes me a bit sad, and it makes me want to root for iconoclasts like the ZDX all the more. I can only hope that lessons learned with this model make Acura’s next experiment more successful in the marketplace; not that it causes the company to give up trying altogether. Both outcomes are possible, even if the latter is more likely.

Vital Stats

Engine:
3.7L V6
Power:
300 HP / 270 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Auto
Drivetrain:
All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
4,438 LBS
Towing:
1,500 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
57.83 CU FT (max)
MPG:
16 City / 23 HWY
Base Price:
$50,920
As-Tested Price:
$51,815
Related Gallery2013 Acura ZDX: Review
2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review2013 Acura ZDX: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Seyth Miersma / AOL

Category: Crossover, Acura, New Car Reviews, Luxury

Tags: 2013 acura zdx, acura, acura zdx, featured, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Porsche Cayman S

Second Fiddle Moves To First Chair

2014 Porsche Cayman S

In the interest of full disclosure and a bit of bloodletting, allow me to admit that while I’ve always coveted the Porsche Boxster and its hard-hatted Cayman cousin, I’ve never quite warmed to them visually. They’ve always had a certain push-me, pull-you, can’t-decide-which-way-they’re-going aesthetic that’s been tough to wrap my head around. Porsche achieved the same thing with the original 550 Spyder’s overturned bathtub bodyshell that would come to inspire the Boxster, but somehow that classic’s even more symmetrical nature works for me. Fast-forward to this third generation, and at least for this enthusiast, Porsche’s manchild has well and truly come of age as a design.

It’s all there – a piercing stare thanks to squircle headlamps inspired by the 918 Spyder hypercar, newfound directional thrust afforded by a longer wheelbase and elongated greenhouse, and muscular rear haunches with a wider stance emphasized by larger side ductwork and snubbed overhangs. The body’s teardrop shape terminates with an active spoiler that integrates into a gorgeous arc with the taillamps like a budding ducktail nod to 1973 911 Carrera RS. Despite casting a longer shadow than its predecessor, the 2014 Cayman still looks tidily proportioned, smooth and wieldy, the perfect skipping stone to ricochet down a canyon river road.


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The Cayman’s 46/54 weight split strikes just the right balance of blade to handle.

It’s not all for the sake of appearances, either – this Cayman features more aluminum-intensive construction that cuts its body-in-white weight by 100 pounds, yet torsional rigidity – never really a weak spot to begin with – is up by 40 percent. Some of that weight loss has been eaten away by increases in standard equipment, but even with a 2.4-inch longer wheelbase, which now spans longer than a 911 Carrera, Porsche says this Cayman S is still a useful 66 pounds lighter than last year’s model.

There were things to carp about with the second-generation model – some marginal interior trimmings, usurious option prices – but handling never came up on the Cayman’s report card under ‘Needs Improvement.’ Even so, the stiffer chassis and larger footprint sets the table for better handling and stability. Enthusiasts regularly blather on about the perfection of 50/50 weight distribution, but for my money, a little more junk in the trunk of a rear-wheel drive performance car isn’t a bad way to go, particularly when you have to add occupants’ weight into the equation ahead of the engine. The Cayman’s 46/54 weight split strikes just the right balance of blade to handle, and there are bagfuls of grip – the rear end may be the pendulum, but with our car’s optional Pirelli P-Zero rubber, it takes a strong cocktail of bravado and stupidity to get the rear end well and truly unhinged, especially if stability control is in place.

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The rear end is as painlessly catch and release as an overstocked and underfed pond.

Brainstem-straining traction is great, but there’s a lot more fun to be had in cars that muster enough power to overcome their tires’ purchase, too. To that, Porsche says, thumb the Sport button. Can I kick it? Yes, you can. This now-standard bit of switchgear curbs the stability control and puts the throttle on high alert, deactivating the engine’s start-stop and fuel-saving coasting software in the bargain. Loosening the collar on Cayman’s e-nannies is the way to go for B-road fun, yet even with the stability control all the way off, the rear end is as painlessly catch and release as an overstocked and underfed pond. That’s particularly true with a model spec’d with Porsche Torque Vectoring ($1,320), which incorporates a mechanical locking differential and brake-actuated torque redistribution to induce greater yaw angles.

Normally with a sports car, the headlining details focus on the engine’s specifications, yet here we are, over 500 words in, and nary a column-inch has been expended on the particulars of this Porsche’s flat-six heart. What gives? It’s not disappointment – it’s just that the Cayman is so all-of-a-piece, so organic, that the engine is just another ingredient in the mix. But what an ingredient it is. Unlike the 2.7-liter-powered standard Cayman, the S snags the 3.4-liter six from the base 911, tuned to deliver 325 horsepower (so as not to overshadow the rear-engined icon’s 350 ponies) at 7,400 rpm and 273 pound feet of torque is available from 4,500 rpm. Even though that works out to a specific output of 95.6 hp/liter, that max power total is an admittedly pretty pedestrian-sounding number.

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This engine finally sounds great on boil, particularly when fitted with the switchable sport exhaust.

But don’t be put off – Porsches are rarely about pants-dropping power figures, they just get the job done through a balanced portfolio of virtues, and this Cayman is no exception. If pressed, I might wish for a bit more low-end torque, but overall this is a jewel of a powerplant. Like the new 991-generation Carrera, this engine finally sounds great on boil, particularly when fitted with the switchable sport exhaust, which unfortunately runs a scarcely believable $2,825. It’s still on the uncultivated and truckish side while idling to warm, however.

Porsche’s peerlessly unpronounceable seven-speed Doppelkupplungsgetriebe is the quickest way to fling ’round a racetrack, and as a dual-clutch gearbox, it’s damned enjoyable – yet I was only too pleased to see the standard six-speed manual setup fitted to this test car. There are small penalties for rowing your own – 0-60 falls in 4.7 seconds instead of 4.6 with the PDK (4.4 with the optional Sport Chrono’s launch control feature), and fuel economy sits at 20 miles per gallon city and 28 highway instead of the two pedal setup’s 21/30 – but you do get a single-digit edge with a 175-mph top speed. The clutch has a nicely linear action with easy takeup and good weighting, and the high-mounted gearshift lever is a faithful friend, happy to either lope along or be grabbed by the scruff in anger. If anything, the cogswapper’s throws could be a bit shorter, but they’re not out-of-step long, either.

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Given that this car has all manner of adjustable and active things – moveable aerodynamics, sport modes, dynamic engine mounts, and so on – you might think there’d be a risk of losing fidelity and ultimate driving enjoyment because of some servo motor or software program sticking its nose in and corrupting the lines of communication, but the Cayman isn’t that way at all. That’s particularly true with a manual-transmissioned example like this S, but it’s also worth noting that Porsche hasn’t mucked about with the steering extensively, either. While the action has gone from hydraulic to electric in order to sap less power from the engine (and in turn, improve fuel efficiency), and it’s still a properly accurate and communicative setup. If you don’t opt for Power Steering Plus (PSP) – and I wouldn’t – it doesn’t have various modes for added weight and assist, it just gets it right all the time.

The Cayman is one of only a few cars today that can pull off a crimson hide interior without looking like a cheap bordello.

The brakes – a longtime Porsche stronghold – are something the Cayman always gets right as well. Firm yet feelsome, S models receive 330-mm front and 299-mm rear vented discs, with four-piston aluminum monobloc clampers front and rear (non-S models make do with 315 mm discs up front).

This Aqua Blue-over-Carrera Red natural leather example was a showstopper wherever it went. As non-traditional color combinations go, it’s very odd but not altogether unpleasant, as the Cayman is one of only a few cars today that can pull off a crimson hide interior without looking like a cheap bordello. The high center console design that the company has been favoring as of late works well here, giving the cockpit a more intimate feel, and there are fewer buttons present than on other Porsche models, which helps keep one’s focus on driving. In case the engine doesn’t provide enough music, Porsche now offers ancillary tunes from German audiophile brand Burmester in the form of a 12-speaker stereo with over 800 watts of power emanating through a set of flashy engraved speaker grilles. The audio is predictably great (at a breathless $6,730 packaged with navigation, it had better be), but I was perfectly happy with the 3.4-liter concert hall mounted behind the headrests.

2014 Porsche Cayman S rear 3/4 view

The argument to spend your extra mazuma for the ever-amazing 911 Carrera looks more threadbare by the day.

You’ll only save $270 by skipping out on PSP, but as per usual, Porsche has a cavalcade of options to bloat your Cayman’s bottom line, so exercising good judgment is key. A 2014 S starts at $63,800 (plus $950 delivery) and it’s a wonderful thing, but you’re unlikely to ever see one leave the factory that way. This car rolls up just under $24,000 in options, and that’s not atypical for the brand, nor does it come across as gilding the lily with a ridiculous amount of creature comforts – hell, there isn’t even a proximity key (Entry & Drive in Stuttgart-speak) or a set of redundant controls on the steering wheel (this, despite the aforementioned $6,730 infotainment bundle).

Now that the Cayman has a set of stunning new duds and a handsomely updated interior to go with its scintillating performance, the argument to spend your extra mazuma for the ever-amazing 911 Carrera looks more threadbare by the day. That’s both an incredible accomplishment and something of a shame, but as long as it means Porsche continues to turn out peerless driver’s cars, I’m okay with where this is headed. Yes, at this price point, there are any number of other sports cars that offer more impressive spec sheets to impress those bench-racing buffoons back at the office, but who cares? In an industry seemingly hell-bent on delivering an altogether different sort of “connected drive experience,” I’m still glad that the Cayman is dedicated to firing our synapses the old-fashioned way.

Vital Stats

Engine:
3.4L Flat-6
Power:
325 HP / 273 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Manual
0-60 Time:
4.7 Seconds
Top Speed:
175 MPH
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,910 LBS
Seating:
2
Cargo:
15.0 CU-FT (max)
MPG:
20 City / 28 HWY
Base Price:
$63,800
As-Tested Price:
$88,745

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

Category: Coupe, Performance, Porsche, New Car Reviews, Luxury

Tags: 2014 porsche cayman, 2014 porsche cayman s, featured, porsche, porsche cayman, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport

Performance Is Not Only Reserved For The AMG Badge

2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport

If someone asked you to name a moderately priced, fun-to-drive, compact, rear-wheel-drive sport sedan, the BMW 328i would likely be the first vehicle that pops to mind. After that, other four-door models like the Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS250 and even the Audi A4 (if you are willing to accept its rear-bias all-wheel-drive system) would follow suit. The Mercedes-Benz C250 would eventually make the list, but that luxury-oriented sedan would likely be near the bottom.

But what if an entry-level C-Class could be configured to run with a sporty 3 Series, and not just at the AMG level?

To answer that question, we spent a full week with a 2013 C250 Sport that was fitted with a few choice options that bumped its athletic demeanor several notches, yet still kept its sticker price from hitting the stratosphere.


2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport side view2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport front view2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport rear view

Mercedes-Benz launched the all-new third-generation C-Class (internal code W204) at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show for the 2008 model year. The four-door received a mid-cycle refresh in 2011 (shown at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show) that introduced a revised seven-speed gearbox and a refreshed, more upscale interior to better align it with its more expensive siblings. But that wasn’t all, as Mercedes also treated its smallest sedan to a slew of exterior cosmetic enhancements, new driving assistance systems and next-generation telematics. The upgrades were comprehensive and very stylish, likely explaining why the Mars Red sedan in our driveway turned heads everywhere it went.

Added all up, this car’s grand total was $42,355.

Our particular test car was a 2013 C250 Sedan with a base price of $36,255 (including a $905 destination fee). Its most expensive option was the Dynamic Sport package ($3,050), which added the unique seven split-spoke 18-inch wheels, AMG rear spoiler, sport seats in MB-Tex/Dinamica, red seat belts, red contrasting stitching, sport steering wheel, Advanced Agility Suspension and speed sensitive steering. The Premium 1 package ($2,500) added Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, 10-way power driver’s seat, power lumbar, power steering column, split-folding rear seats, Harmon-Kardon surround sound audio package and other enhancements. The remaining two options were the rear decklid spoiler ($300) and a special order fee ($250). Added all up, this car’s grand total was $42,355.

But our test car was missing a few desirable options. Had we added navigation ($2,790) and xenon headlights ($1,290), our price would have jumped to $46,435 – that’s a big jump over its base price.

2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport grille2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport headlight2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport wheel2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport

While a swelling sticker price may push it near the top of the segment, its physical dimensions keep it at the bottom. The C-Class sedan has a 108.7 inch wheelbase, the shortest in its competitive grouping, and its overall length trails all of the others by an inch or two. While those tiny numbers won’t really affect the ride and handling, they do translate to a slightly smaller passenger cabin, especially for those in the back seat.

During our week, not a single occupant complained about a lack of room.

Yet during our week, not a single occupant complained about a lack of room. Even though some were rubbing their knees on the seatbacks, the passenger cabin of the baby Benz diverted everyone’s attention with its sporty, yet tasteful, appointments. Everyone liked the bold red seatbelts and contrasting upholstery with subtle red stitching. There was just the right amount of bright aluminum trim splashed through the cabin to offset the heaviness of the black carpets, dash and headliner too. We especially liked the heavy-duty fabric floor mats with red piping, which proved very easy to clean.

With regards to the rest of the cabin, the door-mounted seat controls are handy and the large lock/unlock switches next to the door handles logically placed. The primary instruments, with light backgrounds, were easy to read and the steering wheel felt great in our hands. The climate controls were easy to use and the “max cool” and “off” buttons conveniently reduced the number of buttons we had to push. Praises aside, we still don’t like the COMAND infotainment interface and its counterintuitive logic. And why is there a NAV button on the center stack when there is no navigation system? (A reader pointed out that NAV may be added afterwards via the Becker Map Pilot plug-and-play system that hides in the glovebox – Ed.)

2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport interior2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport front seats2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport rear seats2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport floor mat

With the exception of Lexus, which still holds out with a V6 in its entry-level sedan, most in the segment are running inline four-cylinder engines with forced induction. As such, the C250 is fitted with a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder. The thoroughly modern aluminum engine is rated at 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque, making it slightly less powerful than the standard 2.5-liter six in the Lexus and the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder offered by BMW, Audi and Cadillac in the States. Bolted to the back of the longitudinally mounted engine is a seven-speed automatic transmission (7G-Tronic Plus) sending power to the rear wheels.

Sport activated, a full throttle launch will deliver 60 miles per hour in about 6.5 seconds.

This is a good point to mention the “sport” button, found just above the driver’s temperature control about mid-way up the center console. When activated (a red light on the silver face illuminates), the electronically controlled adaptive dampers firm up, the steering becomes heavier and the throttle response is quicker. Most importantly, the C250 launches from a stop in first gear instead of second. That little button is worth its weight in unobtainium, as it completely transforms the character of the sedan.

Sport activated, a full throttle launch will deliver 60 miles per hour in about 6.5 seconds, proving that the turbocharged four-banger works every bit as hard as its burlier rivals – it felt positively underrated from behind the wheel. Shifts from the automatic transmission were firm, maybe too firm for some, but those yearning for sport over luxury won’t mind one bit. We liked the seven-cog gearbox, but found the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters a bit gimmicky as there isn’t enough engine compression to use them for braking. Plus, their response to inputs was a bit lethargic.

2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport engine

The chassis was impressively rigid, and we didn’t hear a squeak from the interior all week.

Those who associate Mercedes-Benz with a cushy ride may be slightly disappointed. The C250 Sport with the Agility Control upgrade has continuously variable electro-hydraulic dampers that deliver a ride on the firm side of the comfort meter. We liked it, as its competent body control complemented excellent grip from the Continental ContiSport tires (turning the Sport button off makes the ride slightly softer, but never mushy). We met zero resistance when tossing the sedan into a corner, and the Gs quickly built when we dialed in more steering to close each turn. The chassis was impressively rigid, and we didn’t hear a squeak from the interior all week. Our only letdown came from the steering effort. It was dead accurate and nicely weighed, but we like more feedback in a vehicle with such a sporty driving demeanor.

When it comes to braking, Mercedes has fitted the C250 with sporty drilled rotors at all four corners. They look cool, but the little holes actually reduce the pad’s friction surface area and make the rotors more expensive to replace. Nevertheless, the pedal feel from the driver’s seat was excellent, braking distances were short and they never let us down. Drilled rotors sometimes make excessive noise, but we found these pleasantly quiet.

2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport rear 3/4 view

We looked forward to turning its key every morning.

It is important to mention fuel economy, thus explaining why today’s entry-level Mercedes is fitted with a four-cylinder engine and not the V6 of its predecessor. The EPA rates the 1.8-liter at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined, on premium gasoline. To see how far we have come in just six years, consider that the 2007 C230, with a 2.5-liter V6, was rated at a much lower 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. We didn’t have any problem hitting the highway numbers during steady-state cruising, but our heavy foot dropped our city driving cycles into the teens. We suggest deactivating the Sport button and wearing lighter shoes to hit the EPA’s numbers. A generous 17.4-gallon fuel tank, the largest among its competitive set, gives the Mercedes a strong cruising range on the highway and reduces the frequency of trips to the gas station.

As you can probably tell, we really liked the Mercedes-Benz C250 Sedan. Even though it receives a few demerits for interior space and some questionable ergonomics, this compact sedan is fuel efficient, sporty and very fun-to-drive – we looked forward to turning its key every morning. While we can’t state that it is definitively better overall than the benchmark BMW 328i without a head-to-head comparison, we will say that the Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport has earned a spot on our vaulted sport sedan podium.

Vital Stats

Engine:
Turbo 1.8L I4
Power:
201 HP / 229 LB-FT
Transmission:
7-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
6.5 Seconds (est.)
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,428 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
12.4 CU-FT
MPG:
22 City / 31 HWY
Base Price:
$35,350
As-Tested Price:
$42,355
Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 Kia Forte

Forte 2.0 Keeps Kia Competitive In The Compact Crop

2014 Kia Forte

Looking back just a few years, America’s compact segment was filled with bland, uninteresting cars that traded largely on low prices and high fuel economy. In today’s landscape, though, things couldn’t be more different – this class now boasts some of the most attractive cars on the market, not to mention features and technologies once reserved for luxury cars.

Filling Kia’s role in this important market, the 2014 Forte has helped make the South Korean automaker a contender among compact cars with the sedan launching earlier in the year and the Koup and Forte5 hatchback hitting dealers soon. When the Forte first launched in 2010, it was a much-needed replacement for the Spectra, but it still had lingering drivetrain refinement issues. In the end, the model didn’t really move the needle for Kia, let alone the segment. Now the second-generation Forte sedan has arrived in an effort to bolster the company’s lineup, a portfolio that includes impressive models like the Optima, Sorento, Soul and even the subcompact Rio.

Compact buyers can range anywhere from first-time drivers to empty nesters, so these cars are required to fill a variety driving needs. To test this out, we strapped into a fully loaded 2014 Kia Forte EX for a long-distance drive that took us from Jacksonville, FL to Atlanta, GA – a 700-mile jaunt that gave us a good mix of interstate and urban driving.

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2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review
2014 Kia Forte2014 Kia Forte2014 Kia Forte

Kia has equipped the 2014 Forte with a stylish cabin with soft-touch materials throughout.

Kia has made a name for itself recently by bringing new levels of vehicle design to the segments in which it competes, which is why it’s surprising that if anything, the Forte’s design might be its sole stumbling point. Don’t get us wrong, the styling is balanced and handsome enough (especially when compared to the first-gen Forte) but it lacks the originality of its sister car, the Hyundai Elantra. Even so, there are plenty of strong points, including the boomerang-shaped crease along the bodyside and the sloped nose with its signature Tiger Nose grille and large headlights. Stepping up to the EX model brings a little more flair by adding features like HID headlights with LED daytime running lamp swooshes, LED taillights, 17-inch wheels, power-folding mirrors and chrome exhaust finisher.

The biggest difference between modern compacts and those from just a handful of years ago tends to center on their interior appointments. For Kia’s part, it has equipped the 2014 Forte with a stylish cabin with soft-touch materials throughout, including the instrument panel and padded door armrests. As great as the materials are on this Forte EX, though, the plasticky faux carbon fiber trim around the driver’s cockpit is a bit on the cheesy side, and the plastic inserts on lower portion of steering wheel are downright awful – disappointing given that the thickness and feel of the steering wheel is otherwise excellent.

2014 Kia Forte grille2014 Kia Forte headlight2014 Kia Forte wheel2014 Kia Forte taillight

The touchscreen navigation system is easy to use and offers outstanding graphics and resolution.

Longer and wider than its predecessor, the 2014 Forte has a slightly roomier interior – something especially noticeable from the rear seats. Front occupants are afforded the most room, of course, and the seats offer a surprising amount of adjustment, while the second row provides enough head, leg and hip room to fit three adults abreast, at least for short rides. If needed, the rear seatbacks fold, but they really don’t add as much to the Forte’s practicality as one might hope, since they aren’t able to fold completely flat – they’re mostly useful for long, bulky items. Between the roomy rear seat and abundant trunk space, though, the Forte’s cabin proved more than comfortable and roomy enough for our weekend-long family road trip.

Stepping up the luxury in Forte EX, our tester included Kia’s $2,600 Premium Package that adds a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel and perforated leather seats (heated front and rear – the driver’s side is also cooled), along with push-button start. Additionally, the $2,300 EX Technology Package bundles navigation, HD radio, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 4.2-inch LCD in the gauge cluster. Kia’s touchscreen navigation system, in addition to the EX’s standard UVO connectivity, is easy to use and offers outstanding graphics and resolution.

2014 Kia Forte interior2014 Kia Forte front seats2014 Kia Forte rear seats2014 Kia Forte trunk

Forte has surprising ride comfort and puts out plenty of power to prevent the car from feeling cheap and underwhelming.

Being the Forte’s sportiest trim level, the EX replaces the base 148-horsepower 1.8-liter engine with a 2.0-liter direct-injected inline four-cylinder putting out 173 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque – about the same power figures as the previous Forte SX that used a thirstier 2.4-liter engine. Thanks in part to the smaller powerplant, this 2014 model is actually lighter than the 2013 Forte SX, and its fuel economy has improved, too, with estimates of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. Unlike the outgoing generation, though, the EX is only offered with a six-speed automatic transmission – if you’re looking for a manual gearbox, you’re stuck with the base LX. For now, it doesn’t sound like there are any plans to put the upcoming 2014 Forte5′s 201-hp turbo engine in the sedan, which is a shame because it could have the makings of an affordable small sport sedan.

That kind of extra power surely wouldn’t go unnoticed, but as we found out during our road trip, the EX might be the perfect blend of what compact buyers want and need. On the practical side, the Forte has surprising ride comfort and puts out plenty of power to prevent the car from feeling cheap and underwhelming. An Active Eco button helps improve fuel economy slightly, albeit at the predictable cost of throttle response.

2014 Kia Forte engine

A well-tuned front strut, rear torsion-beam suspension makes the car surprisingly agile.

On the fun side, though, the Forte has a well-tuned front strut, rear torsion-beam suspension that makes the car surprisingly agile without the penalty of a rough ride. It’s not a sport sedan as-is, but it isn’t meant to be. The Forte’s ride and handling isn’t without complaint, however – the driver-selectable steering modes (used on numerous Kia and Hyundai models) are gimmicky, adding weight but nothing in the way of feel or quickness. And the amount of road noise that makes its way into the Forte’s cabin can be intrusive – a bit disappointing in light of how quiet some compacts’ cabins have gotten recently.

Overall, though, the Forte is engaging to drive and comfortable to ride in. Just as importantly, it’s efficient. At the end of our trip (which included a healthy mix of long interstate runs and plenty of city stop-and-go driving) we averaged an impressive 33 mpg, proving that this sporty, fully loaded sedan still delivers when it comes to one of the biggest reasons people buy small cars.

2014 Kia Forte rear 3/4 view

The difference between mediocrity and greatness can come down to nitpicks.

There’s no shortage of compact cars to choose from these days – even luxury automakers are redoubling their efforts in this segment – but traditional economy car players like Kia aim to prove that you don’t have to spend big money to get a great small car. Avoid checking all of the option boxes, and you can get behind the wheel of a 2014 Forte for just under $16,000 – our heavily optioned EX rang in at an as-tested price of $25,515. Like many other loaded compacts these days, that’s a pretty high price to pay, but you’re also getting loads of content you’d historically find in cars costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

Thanks to the improving overall quality of small cars in general, the difference between mediocrity and greatness can come down to nitpicks at times, and the gripes we can muster for the 2014 Forte are limited. Only in today’s highly competitive market could the 2014 Forte be considered average looking or occasionally noisy, and just about everything else it does, it does exceptionally well. The Forte’s name is derived from the musical term for “loud.” In that spirit, the 2014 Forte definitely has what it takes to make its presence heard – Kia has successfully turned up the volume among America’s compact cars.

Vital Stats

Engine:
2.0L I4
Power:
173 HP / 154 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,857 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
14.9 CU-FT
MPG:
24 City / 36 HWY
Base Price:
$15,900
As-Tested Price:
$25,515
Related Gallery2014 Kia Forte: Review
2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review2014 Kia Forte: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Jeffrey N. Ross / AOL

Category: Budget, Sedan, Kia, New Car Reviews

Tags: 2014 kia forte, featured, kia, kia forte, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2013 Fiat 500e

A Juice Box With Style And Substance

2013 Fiat 500e

It happens nearly every day, and as often as not, I’m the guilty party: someone slips an eBay Motors or Craigslist link into the fetid automotive stew that is the Autoblog editors’ online chatroom. Typically, it’s enough to momentarily derail an otherwise productive dialog about editing a breaking news item or researching an arcane bit of automotive history. Predictably, we’ve all got our favorites. Once dubbed “Mr. Other Makes” by a former coworker and friend who noticed my penchant for four-wheeled eBay esoterica, I can’t help but spend at least a few minutes trawling the online classifieds every night before I go to bed, staring glassy-eyed at some basketcase Bitter SC, Inca-wheeled Saab 99 Turbo, a moonshot Plymouth Road Runner Superbird or resuming my quest to seek out the world’s last remaining unmolested first-gen Nissan Sentra SE-R.

Every Autoblog staffer has their peccadilloes, Editor-in-Chief John Neff among them. His classified quests skew toward larger sport sedans that discreetly package big performance. As the former owner of a first-gen Ford Taurus SHO Plus, Neff is a serial viewer of Pontiac G8, Audi S6, Lincoln LS V8 and BMW M5 listings. Yet the current apple of his eye is the 500E. No, not the bubbly electric Fiat shown here that shares its name, but rather the imposing 1991-1994 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, a hand-built V8 monster developed and assembled with Porsche acting as Daimler’s skunkworks. A rare car, its values are starting to escalate, a reality that has Neff closer than ever to pulling the trigger.

This 2013 Fiat 500e is actually something of a skunkworks project, too. Unable or unwilling to commit the man hours of its own engineers and equipment to a project that it knew was doomed to be a money loser, like Mercedes, Fiat farmed out much of the model’s development process to a German performance specialist, Bosch. The supplier developed the battery, motor and power electronics for the 500e, although Fiat is quick to assert it still had to connect all the disparate divisions of the tier-one company to bring the project together. That sort of development could have yielded a patchwork final product, an embarrassing cut-and-shut Frankensteined version of the standard Cinquecento. Yet word is that the 500e is actually superior to its gas-powered cousins. So which is it? I decided to spend a week with one to find out.

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2013 Fiat 500e
2013 Fiat 500e2013 Fiat 500e

Fiat well and truly nailed updating and upsizing the classic Cinquecento.

I’ve never really had any complaints about the 500′s cheeky looks – Fiat well and truly nailed updating and upsizing the classic Cinquecento’s approachability and good humor, from its round headlights and chrome whisker grille to its tidy overhangs, be it in base Pop form or racier Abarth trim. The 500e doesn’t do anything to stop the fun, fitting model-specific front and rear fascias with a whimsical dot-matrix gradient, a pattern carried through the rocker panels aft of the doors and onto the ‘engine’ cover. Predictably, some enhancements have been made to realize better aerodynamics, including a hardly noticeable matte black smile up front, a rear wing that looks similar to that of the Abarth, albeit with a slight downturn, and a set of 15-inch flush-face alloys. These subtle touches drop the coefficient of drag down to 0.31 – a 13-percent improvement – enough to eke out a further five miles of driving range, says Fiat. They’re also enough to visually set the 500e apart from its petroleum-slurping stablemates, particularly when ordered with the $495 eSport package shown here, an option group that includes matte black alloys with orange accents echoed on the mirror caps and black-trimmed lights. The only missing trick is perhaps a set of model-specific taillamps to make the car stand out at night.

2013 Fiat 500e grille2013 Fiat 500e headlight
2013 Fiat 500e wheel2013 Fiat 500e taillamp

The most important part of the 500′s transformation to electron power takes place under the skin, where Fiat’s 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder has been binned in favor of an 83-kilowatt electric motor offering 111 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque. Fed by a 24-kilowatt-hour, 97-cell lithium-ion battery stack mounted under the floor, the electric motor actually boasts 10 more horsepower than the MultiAir (101) and a whopping 49 more pound-feet than the gas car, which makes do with just 98 lb-ft.

Electric power delivery is nothing short of a transformative agent in this Fiat.

Just as important is how that thrust comes on, because the electric power delivery is nothing short of a transformative agent in this Fiat. Not only is there a lot more torque, it’s all right there for the taking at 0 rpm – you don’t have to buzz up to 4,000 rpm as in the standard 500 to reach peak twist. This translates into seriously brisk off-the-line performance, perfect for the stoplight-to-stoplight cut-and-thrust of city traffic. Torque steer can be a factor off the line, and it’s easy to chirp the 185/55-series Firestone Firehawk GTA rubber if you give the front skinnies the beans, but it’s all in good fun and not disconcerting in the least. With 0-60 happening in about nine seconds, that time places the 500e neatly in between the standard 500 and the 500 Turbo. The 500e certainly isn’t hot hatch quick, but it somehow manages to feel it thanks to the way in which it effortlessly bursts out of the blocks to make you feel like a (momentary) hero. And outside of the prominent motorboat gurgle of the Abarth, the 1.4 MultiAir doesn’t provide a particularly mellifluous soundtrack, so the near-silent whoosh of the 500e may actually be preferable.

2013 Fiat 500e electric motor

It’s that same relative quiet that pays big dividends on the open freeway, where the 500e just plain feels less taxed and skittish than other 500 models. You don’t have the constant four-cylinder din, and since the 500e uses a single-speed transmission, you don’t have to stir Fiat’s rather uncultivated five-speed manual or endure the acceleration-sapping misery that is the Cinquecento’s six-speed automatic. Fiat has also added additional seals and insulators to various parts of the car to improve noise, vibration and harshness, including mastic patches on the floor and acoustic padding on the rear floor behind the rear seats and in the wheel well liners, plus acoustic windshield glass and improved door seals. They’d do well to include these sorts of improvements across the whole family.

This tester saw a consistent Doctor Emmett Brown-Approved 88 mph on the speedo.

Yet it’s not just about noise levels – the 500e actually feels more composed at high speeds. Yes, part of that is the sound level differential, but it’s also the additional weight from the electric drivetrain mounted down low settling the ride. There are moments when the standard 500 can feel nervous and bouncy on broken pavement at freeway speeds, but the 500e is more willing to soak up such imperfections. It’s not a luxury car experience by any means, but given the car’s tiny 90.6-inch wheelbase and relatively low-profile tires, it’s about as good as one can hope for. And the 500e doesn’t strain to reach its top speed, it just zips up there and is happy to sit at the edge of its envelope until the batteries run down. That top speed is supposed to be all of 85 mph, but this Nero Black tester saw a consistent Doctor Emmett Brown-Approved 88 mph on the speedo, a number confirmed by a portable GPS unit.

2013 Fiat 500e badge
2013 Fiat 500e blind spot mirror2013 Fiat 500e graphics2013 Fiat 500e badge

That extra weight ought to hurt the 500e in hot corners more than it does, as it nets out at a massive 617 pounds more than a 500 Pop automatic, tipping the scales at 2,980 pounds versus 2,363. Understeer is still predictably dominant, but overall, the 500e feels friskier than that weight penalty would suggest, partially due to its superior balance, which sits at 57-percent front and 43-percent rear instead of the Pop’s nose-heavy 64/36 arrangement.

Overall, the 500e feels friskier than the weight penalty would suggest.

The larger front brakes (11-inch discs vs. 10.1) help haul the car down from speed reliably and smoothly, with the variable regenerative braking not impeding greatly upon feel or modulation. Speaking of regen, Fiat is justifiably proud of the 500e’s unique “blended braking,” designed to mimic the feeling of a gas car’s deceleration by using 100-percent of its regen capability down to 8 mph. Even so, the 500e lacks a heavy regen mode like its rivals (the sort that encourages one-pedal driving, wherein the car slows precipitously when you take your foot off the accelerator), and having it as a driver-selectable option might not be a bad thing, as it can be fun and efficient way to conduct city driving.

The e-Cinque by and large maintains the same retro-steeped, hard-plastic cabin as its fratello, complete with the dining-chair-height seat position and arms-way-out posture necessitated by the lack of a telescoping steering column. Even so, there are a couple of important distinctions: the most obvious change is that the 500′s analog gauge-within-a-gauge binnacle has been tossed in favor of a round screen. The crisp and bright display keeps tabs on everything from vehicle speed to the battery’s state of charge and predicted range in miles. You can also cycle through the trip computers, charging parameters or gauge how efficient your driving is thanks to a floating blob of light that visually interprets how much you’re asking of the powertrain. It’s a high-quality piece, and the way the information is arranged is arguably more useful than the standard 500, whose gauge cluster can look a bit too busy. It’s actually a shame the audio system can’t augment its tiny head unit display by showing station and track information on the big new screen.

2013 Fiat 500E dashboard
2013 Fiat 500e gear selector2013 Fiat 500e gauges

The interior’s other main change is the absence of a traditional manual or automatic gearshift lever on the raised circular plinth between the seats. In its place are four buttons – P, R, N, D – along with the same center-mounted power window switches as every other 500. Given that this section of the dashboard is a major intrusion on knee room (particularly for the passenger), I wish Fiat would have gone to the extra expense of developing a better, more flush solution, as the space carved out by the protrusion is no longer necessary to accommodate a shift linkage, but the cost was likely prohibitive. Other minor quibbles include a much more limited color palette inside and out than the brand’s famously broad range of choices, and – this is really nitpicking now – a conventional switchblade ignition key that seems oddly yestertech for an electric car.

Fiat claims an entirely believable 116 MPGe combined and an 87-mile envelope.

Of course, the biggest limitation to the 500e’s appeal is the same blind spot that applies to the other electric cars it competes with: range. Fiat claims an entirely believable 116 MPGe combined and an 87-mile envelope, which is actually a bit better than rivals like the Honda Fit EV (82) and Nissan Leaf (75). But if your drive includes a lot of freeway travel, prepare to see a sizable drop off – on an all-highway trip at speeds in keeping with suburban Detroit traffic (read: comfortably above 70 mph), I saw more like 65 miles of range in ideal weather. Given the right conditions in city driving and something short of a lead foot, though, the range seems doable, and frankly, enough for most people’s daily commutes.

When it comes time to charge the depleted battery pack, you’re going to want to have a Level 2 (240 volt) charger installed in your garage. Do so, and you’ll have a sub-four-hour charge time. Leave it up to a standard 120-volt household outlet like you’d charge your cell phone, and you’re staring at the wrong end of 24 hours.

2013 Fiat 500e outlet2013 Fiat 500e plug
2013 Fiat 500e cargo area seats up2013 Fiat 500e cargo area seats folded down

MSRP on the 500e starts at $31,800, but Fiat says that total can plummet to as low as $17,800.

As with all EVs today, when it comes to the issue of price, it’s not as simple as a single figure, what with all of the federal and state tax breaks and sweetheart lease deals designed to get the ball rolling on America’s reluctant electric revolution. MSRP on the 2013 500e starts at $31,800 plus an $800 destination fee, but Fiat says that total can plummet to as low as $17,800 if you’re able to suffer through the local, state and federal paperwork and qualify for all programs and incentives.

If you’re willing to suck up the cost of getting a charger installed, the best route is very likely leasing, provided you can find a cooperative dealer willing to make good on Fiat’s exceptional lease program of $199 a month for 36 months with only $999 down. This, unfortunately, appears to be a problem, as many would-be purchasers have been telling Autoblog that their local franchise won’t honor the deal – apparently Fiat is offering dealers $1,500 for each 500 they sell, and the $199 rate is contingent upon dealers passing that money along to the buyer, something they are reluctant to do because the model is in demand and in short supply.

2013 Fiat 500e rear three-quarter

Fiat must have a big hit on its hands, right? Well, sort of.

Short supply, so Fiat must have a big hit on its hands, right? Well, sort of. The car is only available in California as a way to satisfy the Golden State’s zero-emissions sales mandate, and Fiat probably isn’t terribly keen to make more than is required by the letter of the law, as it expects to lose $10,000 on each example it builds. If you want to own a Fiat 500e outside of California, you’re probably going to have to get pretty creative to make your dream a reality.

It might be worth the effort, though. The Fiat 500e is not only a genuine hoot to drive, it’s effectively the only electric conversion on the market that’s clearly and comprehensively better to drive than the internal combustion machine from which it spawned. While the googly eyed Italian juice box seen in these photos has little in common with the Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing Mercedes 500E beyond its name and four wheels, after spending a week in one, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the staff of Autoblog 2033 is seeing its productivity crimped by at least one staffer trolling the classified ads in search of a good example.

Vital Stats

Engine:
83-kW electric motor
Power:
111 HP / 147 LB-FT
Transmission:
Single-speed
0-60 Time:
9.0 Seconds (est.)
Top Speed:
85 MPH
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,980 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
7.0 CU-FT
MPG:
116 MPGe (combined)
Base Price:
$31,800
As-Tested Price:
$32,995
Related Gallery2013 Fiat 500e: Review
2013 Fiat 500e: Review2013 Fiat 500e: Review2013 Fiat 500e: Review2013 Fiat 500e: Review2013 Fiat 500e: Review2013 Fiat 500e: Review2013 Fiat 500e: Review2013 Fiat 500e: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Chris Paukert / AOL

Category: Hatchback, New Car Reviews, Electric, Fiat

Tags: 2013 fiat 500e, featured, fiat, fiat 500, fiat 500e, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2013 Buick Encore

Ignored On Arrival, But Coming On Strong

2013 Buick Encore

An image exists out there that perfectly conveys the fate we thought would befall the Buick Encore after its world debut at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. The shot shows the just-unveiled Encore on stage, basking in the glow of spotlights but surrounded by a large display area that’s bereft of both cars and people. Two journalists are sitting on a couch over to the side, both facing the Encore but ignoring it as they inspect their swag, and a solitary custodial engineer pushes a vacuum back and forth across a sea of gray carpet.

Like a kid with his birthday cake at a party no one came to, this little crossover’s debut was largely, almost cruelly, ignored. Who can blame us, though? Two shows ago, the Motor City’s main stage welcomed the redesigned Aston Martin-esque Ford Fusion, the 3 Series-assassin ATS from Cadillac and the return of Dodge to the small car game with the Dart. A fourth model for the wayward Buick brand, especially one so arguably un-Buick in form and function, did not seem to deserve the attention paid to its peers that year.

In hindsight, however, maybe we were wrong. Perhaps Buick knew something the rest of us did not, that there exists a niche unfilled in the marketplace, one in which upwardly mobile Millenials are looking for economy, function, style and luxury in a single vehicle. But would they buy it with a Buick badge?

While the Encore’s coming out party was sparsely attended, it’s been making friends in the marketplace. So we recently spent a week with one to find out why our snapshot failed to foretell the model’s future.

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2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review

2013 Buick Encore side view2013 Buick Encore front view2013 Buick Encore rear view

There the Encore sits, the dark horse option on many different shopping lists.

The Encore is a crossover in the most literal sense, combining qualities from so many segments that finding competitors to fairly compare it with can be difficult. Buick might like it placed among the class of premium small crossovers that includes the BMW X1, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class. That’s wishful thinking considering its smaller size, lower price and Buick’s less sterling brand cachet. There are a host of crossovers that line up with the Encore’s mid-$20k-to-low-$30k price range – the Kia Sportage, Chevy Equinox and even mainstream heavyweights like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, for instance. Those models, however, are also larger than the Encore, and generally aren’t in the business of courting luxury dollars. Then there are vehicles that share a similar shape with the Encore, high-riding hatchbacks like the Kia Soul or highly functional five-doors like the Honda Fit. But they are priced far below the Encore, and again lack the luxury features a higher price affords. So there the Encore sits, the dark horse option on many different shopping lists.

2013 Buick Encore grille2013 Buick Encore headlight2013 Buick Encore wheel2013 Buick Encore taillight

Being the wee-est one to wear a Tri-Shield emblem, the Encore dons Buick’s now-familiar styling cues a bit awkwardly. The large headlights, for instance, take up a disproportionate amount of the front end’s real estate. Fortunately, their innards look suitably high-tech for a premium vehicle, particularly the blue transluscent ring that surrounds the main projector beams, and their vast outlines are interrupted by a pair of faux inlet nostrils. Buick has refrained from tacking on strips of LED daytime running lights, but those will probably arrive with the model’s first refresh. And the portholes on the hood are, of course, non-functional and a bit silly.

The Encore does well convincing your eyes it’s an honest crossover.

The Encore, however, does well convincing your eyes it’s an honest crossover. There are small details that help like faux skid plates front and rear that are set off with a brushed aluminum-like finish. The side windows’ lower edge also begins to rise sharply towards the C-pillars, which gave designers more sheetmetal with which to fashion wider shoulders over the rear wheels. What helps the Encore’s crossover cred the most, however, are the body panels painted a darker color that surround the vehicle’s lower extremities. Not only do they look like they’re there to guard the precious paint from scratching, but the dark color is an old designer’s trick that helps reduce visual height and fools the eye into thinking there’s more ground clearance than what’s really there. Buick must think this two-tone treatment is important, as there is no option to have the lowers come in the same color as the body.

No matter how premium or smartly styled the Encore may look to some, there are others who simply equate size with luxury, and for them, this vehicle will always look like an awkwardly styled, 2:3 scale toy version of the larger Enclave. Those people are out there (say hello to them in Comments), but there’s a new group of buyers in the marketplace who grew up in the modern Mini era, and thus know that small and premium aren’t mutually exclusive anymore.

2013 Buick Encore fog light2013 Buick Encore engine vents2013 Buick Encore rear fascia2013 Buick Encore badge

Enter the Encore and this point will be proven in a number of ways, though there are a few niggles that poke holes in the presentation. As expected of any luxury vehicle, the Encore’s interior is comprised of the requisite leather-covered seating surfaces (which come standard on the top two trim levels) and touch points, soft touch plastics, brushed aluminum and wood trim. To be frank, we weren’t wild about the Saddle color scheme of this particular interior, nor the plasticky look of the wood trim, but there are many other combinations available that look better and feel just as nice.

There are many features available we think upwardly mobile buyers are seeking.

The matte plastic used in the center stack feels high quality at your fingertips, but displays fingerprints as clearly as the seven-inch screen above it displays your favorite tracks. And while the latest version of Buick’s Intellilink infotainment system is full-featured enough to be class competitive with systems in other luxury crossovers, its location and input method is stilted. The screen is sunk in high atop the dash, which makes small fonts and numbers difficult to read by tired or aged eyes. It’s also not a touchscreen display; all inputs are entered via a multi-function knob on the face of the center stack that must be reached for to operate. Other larger vehicles with similarly full-featured, non-touchscreen systems use some type of rotary knob or mouse interface laid flat on the center console to fall more readily to hand. Because of the Encore’s slim dimensions, though, the center console is too narrow to accommodate such hardware, with only room enough between the seats for a pair of cupholders in single-file.

That said, there are many features available on the Encore – and standard on our top-trim Premium tester – that we think upwardly mobile buyers are seeking: heated seats, a heated steering wheel, Bose audio system, memory settings, a 120-volt three-prong outlet for rear seat passengers, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a rearview camera. Throw in safety features like our tester’s optional all-wheel-drive system, Lane Departure Warning, Front Collision Alert and front and rear park assist, and the Encore looks on paper like a bonafide luxury ride.

2013 Buick Encore interior2013 Buick Encore gauges2013 Buick Encore infotainment system2013 Buick Encore rear seat outlet

It’s also conspicuously missing some features one might expect in a premium offering.

Buick’s little crossover that can, however, is also conspicuously missing some features one might expect in a premium offering and can find elsewhere. For instance, there’s no pushbutton start available or true keyless entry, the six-way power adjustable driver and passenger seats have to be manually reclined, there’s no option for seat cooling, the rear liftgate isn’t powered and, while the Encore is armed with enough sensors to watch ahead, beside and behind itself, there is no available adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping or active park assist systems. You can’t even get xenon headlamps. Sure, the high-dollar, high-tech stuff is still trickling its way down into smaller, less expensive vehicles, but would a start button have been so hard to add?

Features aside, the mission of a Buick has forever been and always will be to coddle its occupants, and the Encore throws in some legitimate utility, as well. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, though the driver-seat-mounted armrest is a little chintzy and the footwell is narrow enough that one’s right knee often rests, or really bangs, up against the hard plastic of the center console. Rear seat passengers are treated well, too, with a raised seating position and more legroom than in the much longer Verano. Headroom, as you might expect considering the Encore’s tall stature, is abundant. And with that hatchback shape, the rear cargo area can swallow a maximum of 48.4 cubic feet of stuff with the seats folded (their backs are flat, though they don’t fold completely flat after tipping the seat bottoms forward). Even with the seatbacks raised, there’s still 18.8 cu-ft of cargo space available, which is equal to the trunk space of the new 2014 Chevy Impala.

2013 Buick Encore front seats2013 Buick Encore rear seats2013 Buick Encore rear cargo area2013 Buick Encore rear cargo area

The Encore’s Achilles heel, however, is what’s tasked to move around that cargo, plus the weight of the vehicle and its passengers. Under the hood is a turbocharged Ecotec 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which produces 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The same engine is offered in the Cruze and Sonic RS, both of which are significantly lighter than our tester. With all-wheel drive, our Encore is rated at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway, though front-wheel-drive models score 25 mpg city and 33 highway, which Buick claims is class-leading among FWD crossovers.

You won’t be surprised to learn that it hasn’t a sporting bone in its body.

Under orders to move this Buick, the small turbo engine performs just fine in normal daily use, save for passing maneuvers on the highway. Situations like the latter will require some forethought, especially as the transmission is hesitant to downshift when it’s in the zone while highway cruising. Even with four people onboard, though, the Encore is able to move off the line without causing a scene, but more power would be welcome. In the meantime, if your geography doesn’t demand all-wheel-drive traction most of the year, we’d leave that off the option list, which would lighten the engine’s load and quicken the vehicle’s pace, as well as save some money.

Not that a quick pace is the rate at which the Encore likes to move through the world. You won’t be surprised to learn that it hasn’t a sporting bone in its body. The MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension does a fine job flattening the road ahead and making minor potholes disappear, but the Encore’s height means body roll is unavoidable. Still, the ride is comfortable despite the short wheelbase, and the electric power steering is light yet accurate. There are four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes at all four corners, coupled with traction control, electronic stability control and rollover mitigation, as well.

2013 Buick Encore engine

The Encore also features the brand’s well-marketed QuietTuning, including the first application of Bose Active Noise Cancellation Technology in its vehicles. There’s no way to turn the Bose technology off and on for a basis of comparison against which to judge its effectiveness, but the overall levels of noise, vibration and harshness in the Encore, like most recent Buicks, is remarkably low. Wind noise is a whisper and roadways sound carpeted, and the pleasant conversation of companions becomes the cabin’s most dominant decibels. The Bose seven-speaker premium audio system, standard on our tester, doesn’t sound too bad, either. It’s this baked-in calm and serenity, even when it’s hustling, that gives the Encore its most tangible demonstration of luxury. It’s the closing argument that convinces you the Encore is more premium by nature than a Soul or Fit, or even a RAV4 or CR-V.

It’s this baked-in calm and serenity that gives the Encore its most tangible demonstration of luxury.

You’ll need that convincing when pricing an Encore. There are four trim levels, starting with the base Encore at $24,200, excluding a destination charge of $750. Our tester, as previously mentioned, is the most expensive trim with the Premium Group package. It starts at $28,190 for front-wheel-drive models and $29,690 with all-wheel drive, and ours came with the optional 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels for $995 and navigation package for $795. The out-the-door price, with destination charge, was $32,230.

That’s a serious sum for such a small vehicle. The Encore’s case does indeed get harder to make the farther up its trim level tree you climb. Above $30k, those RAV4s, CR-Vs and other mainstream crossovers become well-enough optioned that they also attract the eye of near-luxury window shoppers. In our estimation, the base model or second-level trim with Convenience Group package makes the Encore’s strongest case, as their mid-$20k price range keeps them aligned with lighter-optioned versions of those mainstream crossovers, while still feeling like a higher grade of luxury from behind the wheel.

2013 Buick Encore rear 3/4 view

GM has already increased production to meet the unexpected demand.

The base model’s sub-$25k starting price also isn’t too far above the fully loaded cost of many similarly sized hatchbacks and box-shaped cars that start south of $20k. We suspect there are some shoppers in those segments willing to buy into a higher grade of luxury for the same size vehicle, though that temptation may fade as premium options keep trickling down into less expensive models. Still, while a fully loaded Nissan Versa Note may have many of this Encore’s features, and some it doesn’t even offer (pushbutton start, 360-degree bird’s-eye monitor, etc.), all-wheel drive is off the table and it still feels like a relatively cheap economy car to drive by comparison.

Coming up on two years after the Encore’s debut in Detroit, its sales suggest that the lonely scene through which we inferred its future was false. Industry analysts expected the Encore to achieve annual sales of around 18,000 units, but with 15,428 sold so far this year, GM has already increased production to meet the unexpected demand. And while comparing the Encore’s popularity with other crossovers is difficult, Buick cites the Volkswagen Tiguan and Mini Countryman as direct competitors, both of which this little guy outsold last month.

It’s true that the Encore will never find itself surrounded by a throng of enthusiasts in the bright lights of an auto show, but we’ve learned after spending time with one that it won’t ever have trouble finding friends.

Vital Stats

Engine:
Turbo 1.4L I4
Power:
138 HP / 148 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Auto
Drivetrain:
All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,190 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
18.8 / 48.4 CU-FT
MPG:
23 City / 30 HWY
Base Price:
$24,200
As-Tested Price:
$32,230
Related Gallery2013 Buick Encore: Review
2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review2013 Buick Encore: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 John Neff / AOL

Category: Crossover, Buick, New Car Reviews, Luxury

Tags: 2013 buick encore, buick, buick encore, featured, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2013 Ferrari FF [w/video]

The World’s Fastest Four-Passenger is Frickin’ Fabulous

2013 Ferrari FF

“I miss my mommy.”

Those frightened words floated from the mouth of a five-year-old boy strapped snugly into a booster seat in the backseat of the Ferrari FF I was piloting. Moments earlier, his father had allowed me to take him, and his two brothers, for their first ride in a supercar, and I had apparently failed miserably.

I craned my neck and moved slightly to the right, in an attempt to see him in the rearview mirror, before I asked with a cautionary tone, “What did you just say?” My mind raced during the next few seconds of silence. I wondered if I had unnecessarily traumatized him, or worse – given the little guy his first case of whiplash.

I knew this 651-horsepower Italian was going to get me into trouble.

Related Gallery2013 Ferrari FF: Review
2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF

2013 Ferrari FF side view2013 Ferrari FF front view2013 Ferrari FF rear view

It has impressive stage presence, and as a sculpture, must be grasped face-to-face.

Ferrari pulled the sheets off its FF (“Ferrari Four”) at the Geneva Motor Show in 2011. Unlike its predecessor, the 612 Scaglietti, the all-new FF broke significant ground in several areas. First was its new ‘shooting-brake’ styling – think of it as a two-door wagon – penned by Pininfarina. The unique shape allows two adults to sit comfortably in the second row and bring their luggage in the spacious trunk. Second was its hand-assembled 6.3-liter V12, the largest-capacity engine Ferrari had ever introduced for a street-legal road car. Lastly, and after more than six decades of Ferrari building rear-wheel-drive cars, the FF boasted the automaker’s first all-wheel-drive system.

Autoblog drove the FF for the first time in northeastern Italy nearly two years ago, when European Editor Matt Davis had the pleasure of tossing Ferrari’s newest through the challenging Dolomite Mountains at the vehicle’s launch. This time, I was offered the chance to spend several days with the four-passenger Italian in Southern California, where I had the opportunity to run it on very familiar turf.

Images and videos don’t do the FF justice; it has impressive stage presence, and as a sculpture, it must be grasped face-to-face. In person, it is much larger than most expect, and its length is surprising. As chance would have it, the Ferrari arrived a couple hours before a Bentley Continental GT Speed Le Mans was picked up. Side-by-side, the FF was visibly longer, wider and shorter in height than its British competitor. The Italian’s packaging dictated a long nose for the mighty V12, and a visibly stretched wheelbase to ensure passenger comfort (the Bentley rides on a wheelbase that is a full eight inches shorter).

2013 Ferrari FF headlight2013 Ferrari FF wheel2013 Ferrari FF rear hatch2013 Ferrari FF exhaust tips

The cabin appointments are nothing short of upper deck First Class.

Speaking of occupants, the FF will encapsulate four adults without any having even the slightest feeling of being cramped. Front passengers enjoy wonderful, power-operated, heated and cooled buckets, while those in the back drop into form-fitting seats that may also be folded to increase rear cargo space. Aft of the second row is a real cargo area, with a power-operated tailgate, which is roomy and expansive enough (28.3 cubic feet) to hold multi-night suitcases and even golf clubs.

The cabin appointments are nothing short of upper-deck First Class. Everything that isn’t real carbon fiber or polished aluminum is covered in glove-soft leather, emulating a fine Italian purse in texture and smell. Fit and finish is excellent, too. I invited frank comments about the accommodations, good or bad, but most of my passengers seemed incapacitated by the aroma.

While it was easy for the occupants to gawk over what they could see and feel, few comprehended the technology hidden beneath the alloy floor just inches under their feet. Those who sat through my explanations were overwhelmed, as the innovation is just short of astounding.

2013 Ferrari FF interior2013 Ferrari FF front seats2013 Ferrari FF rear seats2013 Ferrari FF rear cargo area

In the simplest terms, the FF boasts two independent transmissions.

Ferrari has shoehorned a massive powertrain into the FF, with a mid-front-mounted twelve-cylinder engine serving as its nucleus. Displacing 6.3 liters, the naturally aspirated, all-aluminum, twelve-cylinder utilizes direct injection to deliver 651 horsepower and 504 pound-feet of torque. Normally, the automaker would send all the power rearward – as it always has in the past – but not this time, as the FF is fitted with Ferrari’s new ‘4RM‘ all-wheel drive system.

In the simplest terms, the FF boasts two independent transmissions. Up front is a two-speed Power Transfer Unit (PTU) gearbox driven off the nose of the crankshaft by a conical gear, while the rear is equipped with a seven-speed transaxle dual-clutch automated gearbox, fed power through a traditional driveshaft. Even though this sounds like an unusually complex recipe for disaster, the two gearboxes interact with the precision of Circ du Soleil acrobats.

Most of the time, this Ferrari prefers to run unencumbered in rear-wheel drive. But that isn’t always optimal, so a series of sophisticated sensors calculate traction and continuously decide if power needs to be sent elsewhere (the automaker says the predictive software logic that underpins the 4RM Control actually “estimates grip”). If asked to contribute, the PTU splits power to each of the front wheels with electronically controlled hydraulic wet clutches. It uses its first gear to assist the rear transmission’s first and second gear, and its second gear to assist the rear transmission’s third and fourth gear. Above that, when the vehicle will be traveling at triple-digit speeds, the front gearbox is passive and the FF operates only in rear-wheel-drive mode.

2013 Ferrari FF engine

The all-wheel-drive system adds but a mere 90 pounds to the curb weight.

Mixed in with this mechanical symphony are countless electronic overlords, again working as part of the precision team, which include ESC, ABS, EBD an E-Diff and Ferrari’s F1-Trac. Torque vectoring, sending power side-to-side to improve performance, is also a key player. To sum up, Ferrari’s 4RM system is nothing short of magically mind boggling. And the best part of all is that the all-wheel-drive system adds but a mere 90 pounds to the FF’s curb weight.

It is important to note that the human isn’t left completely out of the traction equation, as Ferrari allows the driver to control many of the vehicle’s dynamic settings through the FF’s Evolved GT Manettino – the controls on the steering wheel. The five modes (ESC off, sport, comfort, wet and ice-snow) are calibrated to control both grip and damper settings, and they can be switched on the fly.

Speaking of suspension, the FF is fitted with Ferrari’s third-generation Magnetorheological Suspension System that uses magnetically sensitive fluid and electrical currents to alter damping as often as every millisecond. While the system operates automatically, the driver may override the programming to soften the ride or lift the vehicle for additional ground clearance. At the end of each aluminum suspension arm is a third-generation Brembo carbon-ceramic material (CCM) brake clamped by a multi-piston aluminum monobloc caliper, which is hidden inside a lightweight, forged, 20-inch wheel (tire sizes are staggered, 245/35ZR20 and 295/35ZR20).

2013 Ferrari FF brakes2013 Ferrari FF brakes

Unlike its competitors, the Ferrari FF reeks of a racecar.

After putting countless recent miles on the Aston Martin Vanquish, Bentley Continental GT Speed and Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG (the Ferrari’s short list of natural enemies), I had a vague notion of how the FF was going to drive. As time behind the wheel would prove, I was dead wrong on many levels.

Unlike its aforementioned four-place competitors, the Ferrari FF reeks of a racecar. Dropped into the supportive driver’s seat, I faced an F1-inspired multi-function steering wheel pulled right out of the amazing 458 Italia. Like its smaller sibling, the FF forgoes many traditional column and dashboard controls (e.g., start button, turn signals, wipers, etc.) and places them directly on the wheel. The transmission is controlled via artfully styled, console-mounted buttons and the column-mounted shift paddles, while the blinkers and wipers are push switches. Other interfaces, such as the audio and climate control system, are more traditional in location and operation.

After turning the key and pressing the red Engine Start button, the FF’s powerplant roared to life with a characteristic high-pitched note before dropping back to an anxious deep idle. As expected of a true dual-clutch system, engaging first gear didn’t make the Ferrari move. Instead, light pressure on the drilled accelerator pedal was required to motivate the electronic brake hold to release and the clutch to engage. The gearbox may be left in Auto mode, or operated manually via paddle, depending on mission objectives.

2013 Ferrari FF steering wheel controls2013 Ferrari FF start button2013 Ferrari FF paddle shifter

Its rear tires let out a whimper as 651 free-breathing horsepower began to devour velocity.

With the Manettino set to Comfort and the Auto button engaged, I set out to probe the Ferrari’s disposition.

The V12 engine, purely through generous displacement, provided plenty of power for tooling around at civil speeds. Shifts, both up and down, were silky smooth without any clatter, rattle or jerkiness. In full Auto mode, and when driven with a light foot, I found the FF docile and almost passive in character. There was pent-up excitement deep within, but it required constant prodding with a heavier throttle to find it.

But rather than forcibly dig for the FF’s real talent, I switched the Manettino to Sport and disengaged the Auto mode for full manual control. With the front wheels straight, I slammed the pedal to the floor. Microseconds later, the FF hunkered down and its rear tires let out a whimper as 651 free-breathing horsepower began to devour velocity. With my right hand poised over the alloy shift paddle, and my eyes peripherally watching the tachometer needle, I cracked off the gears, one after the next, as the engine hit 8,000 rpm. The shifts were explosively quick and much smoother than expected. As the Ferrari wailed at the top of its 6.3-liter lungs, the accompanying soundtrack was mind-blowing.

2013 Ferrari FF driving

Had I not known the location of the engine or which wheels were driven, I would have guessed incorrectly.

I angrily cursed public roads, bureaucrats, rules and speed regulations before I pounded the brake pedal. The Ferrari pre-charges the hydraulics when the accelerator is lifted, moving the pads against the rotors to prepare them for their impending action, so the action of my foot was countered instantaneously with deceleration. Within a few seconds, 4,145 pounds of kinetic energy was converted into heat and then absorbed by the massive carbon-ceramic brakes. The FF came to a complete stop, yet its very capable braking system could do very little for my still racing heart. And I still hadn’t taken it into the mountains.

But that changed very quickly as I approached my area’s famed Mulholland Highway. With the Manettino still set to Sport and my fingers doing the shifting, I kept the engine at 4,000 rpm and began to tackle the corners. Initial turn-in was astonishingly quick – more rapid than any four-place vehicle I have ever driven – as the FF responded to steering inputs as if it were a ton lighter. Body roll was negligible, and there wasn’t a peep from the Pirelli rubber at each corner. I mentally praised the seat bolsters as they kept my torso firmly in place.

As my confidence increased, so did my speed. I expected understeer when braking late into a corner, as every single front-engine, all-wheel-drive vehicle I have ever piloted has plowed at the limit, but the FF was surprisingly neutral. There was no cumbersome or unexplained weight to the steering, or unnatural kickback through the wheel, either. Feedback was accurate, precise and nearly perfect. It drove with a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive demeanor. Truth is, had I not known the location of the engine or which wheels were driven, I would have guessed incorrectly.

2013 Ferrari FF driving2013 Ferrari FF driving2013 Ferrari FF driving

With the Manettino set to Comfort, the Italian felt tense, anxious and extremely underutilized.

Yet the all-wheel-drive system was there. The FF carries 53 percent of its weight over the rear wheels, and that helps its ass-end stay planted. Even so, I found that aggressive mid-corner throttle would kick the tail out ever so slightly before the front wheels, which are capable of using up to 20 percent of the engine’s torque, would magically pull everything back in line. The Ferrari is not petite by any stretch of the imagination, but it easily runs with packs of much smaller sports cars.

The next day I loaded my wife and two children into the Ferrari for a daytrip to Ojai. It was only about a hundred miles there and back, hardly a cross-country trek, but the drive allowed me to load all seats of the vehicle and pack the trunk with gear. My son, nearly six-feet tall, sat behind my wife with her seat moved forward slightly, while my daughter sat behind me (I’m six-foot, two-inches tall). With the dual-zone climate control set to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the gearbox in Auto mode, all of us were very comfortable during our four-hour tour. My wife praised the ride compliance and the dual speedometer/tachometer digital display on her side of the dashboard, while the kids boasted about the comfort of the rear buckets and the available foot room beneath our seats for their shoes.

The FF did well on the open road, where it was forced to blend into lifeless traffic flowing at a constant 65 miles per hour. However, even with the Manettino set to Comfort, the Italian felt tense, anxious and extremely underutilized. Compared to its competitive set, most of whom would rather spend their entire operating lives going in a straight line, the Ferrari wanted to take its passengers for a ride on the road less traveled, where the screams from its V12 could echo off the canyon walls. It prefers to be driven.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2013 Ferrari FF

The performance of the FF borders on supernatural.

And that is what separates the FF from the Vanquish, GT Speed and CL65 AMG: operator involvement. All of the cars in this segment are very fast, they all handle well and each is very comfortable and well appointed. Yet the Ferrari stands above the others as the most intense. It is animated, engaging and there are no compromises for its utility or all-weather capabilities. When one considers its size, wheelbase, curb weight and passenger capacity, the performance of the FF borders on supernatural.

A few hours before it was to be picked up, I drove around the corner to a friend’s home and offered his young sons a ride. Their eyes grew to the size of saucers when I lifted the hood and showed them the red crackle-finish intake plenums, and jaws dropped when I knelt down and showed them the huge carbon-ceramic brakes. Visual shock and awe complete, we all climbed on board for a quick spin around the block.

All three boys were quiet for the first few minutes as I patiently navigated surface streets to the edge of town. Finally, as I rounded the last corner, I lowered the windows and really opened it up. The Ferrari wailed as the V12 hit redline. I snapped off one shift… and then another. My young passengers, none of whom had ever experienced such mighty acceleration, were stunned into silence. Task accomplished, I lifted off the throttle and coasted.

2013 Ferrari FF rear 3/4 view

A young frightened voice coming from the five-year-old in the back seat, broke the silence:

“I miss my mommy.”

I craned my neck and moved slightly to the right, in an attempt to see him in the rearview mirror, before I asked with an cautionary tone, “What did you just say?” My mind raced during the next few seconds of silence. I wondered if I had unnecessarily traumatized him or worse – given the little guy his first case of whiplash.

Then, as our eyes met in the reflection and I took notice of his broad smile, my ears heard a budding automotive enthusiast deliver a perfectly timed followup:

“I’m just kidding. Do it again!”

Vital Stats

Engine:
6.3L V12
Power:
651 HP / 504 LB-FT
Transmission:
7-Speed DCT
0-60 Time:
3.5 Seconds (est.)
Top Speed:
208 MPH
Drivetrain:
All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
4,145 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
15.9 / 28.2 CU-FT
MPG:
11 City / 17 HWY
Base Price:
$295,000
As-Tested Price:
$377,341
Related Gallery2013 Ferrari FF: Review
2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF2013 Ferrari FF
Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2013 Ram 1500

Enough Is Enough. Finally.

2013 Ram 1500 - front three-quarter view

Not long ago, the efforts of an automaker to put a six-cylinder engine into a pickup truck went something like this: take the basic bread-and-butter V8, lop two cylinders off one end of the block and call it a day. The resulting engines were generally pretty rough around the edges, and while they were able to churn out reasonable amounts of torque, they generally weren’t good at anything else. Instead of being smooth running, they shook and shimmied; in place of a quiet highway jaunt, they operated well outside their low-rpm comfort zones and sent a corresponding racket throughout the cabin. And, instead of returning significantly superior fuel economy over their V8 counterparts, they guzzled gas and spat noxious vapors out their tailpipes.

In other words, the only reason to choose the base V6 engine over an optional V8 was to save money on the initial purchase, and that usually meant you’d be driving home in a stripped-out machine and would be lucky to have power windows, cruise control and air conditioning.

Those days are long gone, and good riddance, we say. Today’s lineup of full-size trucks are better in every way than ever before, from styling and safety to towing and overall performance. And, for the first time ever, fuel efficiency is a primary selling point for V6-powered pickups. But how does a new, modern-day truck with a V6 engine work in the real world? Does it deliver on the promises of decent efficiency, refined driving manners and adequate performance (both around town and when put to work) all for a palatable price? We spent back-to-back weeks with two 2013 Ram 1500 pickups to find out, one with a Hemi V8 and one with a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Read on, faithful truck buyers.

Related Gallery2013 Ram 1500: Review

2013 Ram 1500
2013 Ram 15002013 Ram 1500

First, a quick history lesson. When the Ram first hit the marketplace in 1981, the base engine was a 225-cubic-inch (3.7-liter) slant-six that offered up 95 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. That straight-six engine was replaced in 1988 with a 3.9-liter V6 that upped the power quotient to 125 ponies, which was further upgraded to Magnum status in 1992, bringing along 180 horsepower. All of these powerplants were proper truck engines – they made a bunch of torque right off idle and didn’t like revving past their low-rpm power peaks. All of this was good news for people who did work with their trucks, but it didn’t do any favors for highway driveability or fuel economy.

The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 in the 2013 Ram goes about its business with the majority of its grunt coming higher up in the rev range.

A big improvement in everyday driving performance came in 2002 when Chrysler’s corporate 3.7-liter V6 mill made it into the engine bay of the Ram. That engine served base Ram customers well enough until 2012, but even then, its 215 hp and 235 lb-ft were only really sufficient for relatively light-duty applications. Unlike past base Ram engines, the 3.7 acted more like a car engine, remaining mostly flat until the needle on the tach soared past 3,000 rpm, hitting its peak power at 5,200.

The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 in the 2013 Ram 1500 goes about its business in a similar manner, with the majority of its grunt coming higher up in the rev range – this kind of performance is common in modern engines that are optimized for power and efficiency. Thing is, it’s not ideal for pickup trucks, which require strong pulling power down low, as close to idle as possible.

2013 Ram 1500

That’s a lot more giddyup and go, especially for a fullsize truck.

And here’s where the rest of the drivetrain comes into play. Hooked up to the V6 engine is an excellent new transmission, with a total of eight forward ratios to play with. The old V6 was paired with a positively ancient four-speed automatic. But this new TorqueFlite 8 transmission – some supplied by ZF and some built by Chrysler under license – works beautifully in this application. Compared to the transmissions Ram used to use, the new eight-speed sends more torque to the wheels using numerically lower gearing while still offering overdrive in the last two gears.

Basically, this means that the V6-powered Ram 1500 feels like it has plenty of power, either to tow loads with or to practice your burnouts while accelerating to highway speed, while still managing EPA-estimated fuel economy figures of 17 miles per gallon city and 25 highway. Adding four-wheel drive lowers those figures to 16/23, which is still very good for a fullsize truck with this sort of capability.

Demonstrating just how impressive this engine and transmission combination feels on the road is the good-ol’ 0-60 measurement. The 2013 Ram V6 sprints to the magic figure in a claimed 7.5 seconds, which makes it an astonishing three seconds quicker than the 2012 model with the old 3.7-liter engine. Put more simply, that’s a lot more giddyup and go, especially for a fullsize truck.

2013 Ram 1500 gear selector

For 2013, the Pentastar-powered Ram 1500 can be had with four doors and four-wheel drive. Our test machine was a V6-powered four-door model equipped with the SLT package, but was not a 4×4. We weren’t able to test the full 4,350-pound towing capability, but predictably had no trouble whatsoever moving five passengers along with a few hundred pounds in the bed on a few occasions. When the going gets tough, use the manual gearshift buttons on the right side of the steering wheel to keep the engine in its upper-rpm sweet spot and we suspect the six-pot Ram will tow your boat gently to the stream just fine.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Ram’s big 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, with 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque, has no trouble at all pulling loads. Max trailer-towing capability is rated at 10,450 pounds. In the 2013-model-year truck we tested, Ram was using a six-speed automatic transmission, which generally offered seamless operation and went about its business unnoticed. For 2014, the excellent eight-speed ZF, as seen in the 2013 V6 Ram, makes its debut with the V8 as well. We’re eager to test out that combination, not to mention the newly available 3.0-liter diesel in the 2014 Ram 1500.

We suspect the six-pot Ram will tow your boat gently to the stream just fine.

Besides the powertrain, there are some other notable improvements to the 2013 Ram 1500 worth mentioning. Exterior looks haven’t changed much, but some stampings, such as the massive hood, are now made from aluminum instead of steel to save weight. Ram also made some changes underneath the skin to improve an already top-shelf frame and suspension setup. The truckmaker has been using coil springs front and rear for a number of years, with a multi-link arrangement in the rear that provides superior ride and handling over the traditional leaf springs of previous Ram trucks. For 2013, there’s a new, optional “Active Level” air-ride suspension system that allows the driver to raise and lower the truck as necessary, with up to 10.7 inches of maximum ground clearance (default mode offers 8.7 inches). The truck also automatically lowers at highway speeds for improved aerodynamics.

2013 Ram 1500 headlight2013 Ram 1500 grille2013 Ram 1500 wheel2013 Ram 1500 taillight

Inside the cabin, buyers are treated to one of the nicest interiors ever put into a pickup truck. Nearly every surface uses attractive plastics and rubbers, most of them covered by soft padding, which is nice, but what’s really appreciated are the excellent ergonomics and overall usability of the switchgear, gauges and storage compartments. Everything the driver needs is within easy reach, without the need to lean forward or make other awkward reaching motions, which is something that can’t be said for all fullsize trucks. There are three massive cupholders along with a generous bin that can swallow anything from a laptop computer to power tools. Or, if you need the room inside, it can seat six passengers with a bench seat up front when properly equipped.

Buyers will be treated to one of the nicest interiors ever put into a pickup truck.

The new rotary shift knob may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we like it. Not only is the dial compact enough so that it doesn’t take up too much space in the dash, it’s also clearly labeled and more intuitive to use than some other electronic gear selectors, including the T-handle shifters used in other eight-speed Chrysler products. The shift dial also removes the necessity of a old-style column-mounted bar, which can sometimes get in the way of other controls. There are optional Uconnect touchscreen infotainment systems that we highly recommend – the 8.4-inch screen looks most appropriate in the center stack, as opposed to the smaller, five-inch Uconnect, and we’ve long been fans of the simple user interface used by Chrysler to control things like climate, audio and navigation settings. Redundant dials are also available if you prefer not to use the touchscreen.

2013 Ram 1500 interior2013 Ram 1500 infotainment system2013 Ram 1500 center storage area2013 Ram 1500 rear seats

Due to the truck’s stiff chassis and coil spring suspension setup, it rides rather well, both unencumbered with just the driver and a passenger, or loaded down with a ton of stuff out back. We tested a Hemi-powered model with the optional air suspension, and it does indeed keep everything level in the face of a full truck bed, but we were also pleased with the smooth feel of the standard suspension.

20-inch rims are available on some trim levels, if that kind of thing is your bag, baby.

Steering is another strong suit of the 2013 Ram 1500. Gone is the old energy-sapping hydraulic-assisted unit of past years in favor of a new fully electronic system. In passenger cars, we often moan about a lack of steering feel when these systems are used, but in a fullsize truck application, the slight numbness and over-assisted feeling isn’t too bothersome, as we’re well aware that we’re piloting a 5,000-plus-pound vehicle with extremely limited sporting intent, and we’ll take every added ounce of fuel efficiency we can muster. In any case, the 17-inch wheels with 265-series tires track straight and true; much larger 20-inch rims are available on some trim levels, if that kind of thing is your bag, baby.

Stopping power feels more than adequate with no load in the bed or trailer attached, and the 13.2-inch rotors with dual-piston calipers up front and 13.8-inch rear discs with single pistons are sized and spec’d appropriately for heavier loads. Braking modulation is good, and we appreciated the pedal feel, which doesn’t have excessively long travel.

2013 Ram 1500 rear three-quarter

We walked away impressed with Chrysler’s light-duty pickup.

The base price for a V6-powered Ram with a standard cab comes in at $23,400 (plus $995 for destination). A four-door Crew Cab model with the SLT package like our tester begins at $34,280 ($37,500 with four-wheel drive). A very well equipped truck with the Hemi V8 engine sits right around the $40,000 mark, which is competitive with its peers.

After a week with a Hemi-powered Ram and another week with a V6-powered Ram, we walked away impressed with Chrysler’s light-duty pickup. Whether you want maximum efficiency along with the ability to carry big loads from Home Depot or a truck that’s capable of pulling the entire Home Depot store off its foundations, Ram has both needs covered.

Our overall opinion can be summed us thusly: if you really need to tow huge loads on a regular basis – say, once a week or so – you should probably throw all your eggs in the Hemi’s sizable basket and drive as economically as you can the rest of the time. If, however, you tow more occasionally – say, once or twice a month – and your trailering needs don’t require you to crest three tons, we think you’ll find plenty to like in the V6-powered Ram 1500. And if you can wait just a little bit longer, we have a good feeling about a certain light-duty diesel that’s about to hit the market for 2014…

Vital Stats

Engine:
3.6L V6
Power:
305 HP / 269 LB-FT
Transmission:
8-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
7.5 Seconds (est.)
Drivetrain:
4WD
Curb Weight:
5,185 LBS
Towing:
4,350 LBS
Seating:
2+3
MPG:
18 City / 25 HWY (2WD)
Base Price:
$23,400
As-Tested Price:
$34,795
Related Gallery2013 Ram 1500: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL

Category: Truck, Work, New Car Reviews, Off-Road, Ram

Tags: 2013 ram 1500, dodge ram, featured, ram, ram 1500, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

2014 GMC Sierra [w/video]

Big And Boxy Might Be Best

2014 GMC Sierra

As immense fans of the Back to the Future trilogy, we sometimes like to envision an alternate timeline in which General Motors had killed off GMC and kept Pontiac instead. The G8 GXP would still be on the road handily beating German sport sedans costing twice as much, while the lowly G3 would morph into a true subcompact-killer based on what is now the Chevrolet Sonic RS. While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and imagine the G6 has become the best-selling car in the US and the Torrent crossover is selling 20,000+ units per month. Far-fetched, we know.

The thing is, these fanciful statements would have to be true to make the case against keeping GMC. Pontiac may have offered more excitement than GMC, but money talks, and a full line of trucks, crossovers and SUVs have made a lot more money for GM than the arrowhead brand ever did. How much? As we learned last month, about two-thirds of GM’s global profits came from its fullsize trucks, and GMC’s trucks typically have thicker margins than their Chevrolet counterparts.

So rather than reviewing the latest Pontiac G8 ST, here we are driving the new 2014 GMC Sierra 1500. During our first drives of both the 2014 Chevy Silverado and 2014 Sierra, it was immediately clear that these trucks are the best they’ve ever been in their 54-year histories, but to see how GM’s new trucks stack up against the likes of the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan, we were looking forward to spending a whole week with a fully loaded Sierra SLT Z71 for this review. Sadly, our time with the Sierra was cut short as it had an unexpected date with a flatbed and a trip to the dealership.

Related Gallery2014 GMC Sierra: Review

2014 GMC Sierra side view2014 GMC Sierra front view2014 GMC Sierra front view

If nothing else, we learned how well OnStar and Roadside Assistance work.

Let’s get that out of the way up front: A “vehicle communication problem” left us stranded in a parking lot during a late-night errand. The truck was just fine getting to the store, but upon returning to it in the parking lot, it wouldn’t start. Everything seemed to be working fine – lights, gauges and stereo – except that when the key was turned, nothing would happen. No crank. No start. Nothing. Even as the Sierra was being loaded onto the flatbed, we tried one more time to start the truck, but no dice. This made it even more frustrating when as soon as the truck was unloaded at the dealer and the after-hours paperwork was filled out, the truck started up just fine. To be safe, we left it for the dealer to analyze. GM’s official response is that our tester experienced a fluke issue with its security system/vehicle immobilizer, though officials have admitted a similar issue had happened once before to another GM-owned Sierra.

This isn’t the first time a vehicle has left our possession hooked up to a tow truck, but it could very well be a record for a vehicle’s untimely exit with the fewest miles on its odometer: just barely past the 600-mile mark. If nothing else, we learned how well OnStar and Roadside Assistance work. Aside from this hiccup, the truck performed without issue, but as it turns out, that late-night encounter was the last time we saw that Stealth Gray Metallic Sierra, which is why the images you see here are of a Fire Red Sierra instead.

2014 GMC Sierra grille2014 GMC Sierra headlight
2014 GMC Sierra wheel2014 GMC Sierra taillight

The best part of the Sierra’s styling is its old-school ethos.

Other than the color, the truck we photographed is all but identical to the Sierra used for the basis of this review, right down to its top SLT trim level and stylish 20-inch wheels. For once, the Sierra is arguably the better looking of GM’s fullsize trucks, and one could even suggest its styling tops that of the Ford F-150 as well as the long-ignored Nissan Titan and the recently redesigned Tundra. Perhaps the best part of the Sierra’s styling is its old-school ethos. GM’s truck styling has improved with each generation, but they have yet to stray too far from the classic boxy look as Ford, Toyota and especially Ram have all done in recent years.

While Chevy toes the line between brand awareness and overkill with its awkwardly stacked headlights on the Silverado, the GMC Sierra has a more imposing face with its oversized grille and LED-trimmed headlights. The Sierra also has a stronger look thanks to its bulging fender arches and enhanced selection of wheel options, including the 20-inch rollers seen here with a V-spoke design. Aside from that, though, the Sierra and Silverado are identical twins right down to their integrated rear bumper steps and upswept beltline on the rear doors that, at least to us, just looks out of place. As is the case with any truck, the Sierra’s money maker is its cargo bed, which welcomes a few compelling features for 2014.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2014 GMC Sierra

The tailgate uses a torsion bar to make it easier to raise and prevents slamming when being opened.

There are the factory spray-in bedliner and adjustable tie-down mounts, but GMC has also added options like LED lights built into the underside of the bed rails and a nifty EZ Lift and Lower tailgate that uses a torsion bar to make it easier to raise and prevents slamming upon opening. One thing we could have done without (or at least less of) is an overabundance of chrome, but the Sierra is also available with front and rear bumpers in body color for no extra charge. Opting for more of the monochromatic look also means dumping the chrome wheels and running boards, but that would have knocked a few thousand dollars from this truck’s as-tested price.

If you’ve been keeping up with our recent truck reviews, you’ll know that the price for a fullsize pickup can get out of control quickly – including $70,285 for a certain Ram 3500. Even so, this SLT 4×4 tester’s price tag went from a $43,910 to a jarringly lofty $50,185 with options and a $995 destination charge included. That is almost double the price of a base 2014 Sierra, which starts at $25,085, and we expect it will be eclipsed by the more luxurious Sierra Denali due out this fall.

2014 GMC Sierra bed2014 GMC Sierra bed light

As one would expect from any vehicle priced this high, the Sierra SLT comes stuffed with plenty of goodies, but GMC has stepped up by giving the new Sierra a cabin design that is both stylish and modern without losing its truck-like practicality. Trucks were made to get work done, so their design needs to put function over form. This is why the toggle switches below are large and other buttons and knobs throughout the cabin are easy to use with work gloves on. There are, however, several pieces of cheap-looking faux wood trim, which stood out as eyesores on the cabin’s dark interior.

One thing to love about the new Sierra is that it still offers a column shifter.

Better yet, just like we’ve seen from recent GM products, the Sierra’s cabin quality puts it near the top of its class, perhaps just barely behind Ram’s recent effort, with an excellent mix of leather throughout the cabin, real aluminum accents and rubberized control knobs and steering wheel buttons. One thing to love about the new Sierra is that it still offers a column shifter while fancy F-150s get a console-mounted shifter and the eight-speed Rams have a questionable rotary shift knob.

The Sierra truly shines with its cabin tech, starting out with the optional ($795) navigation and IntelliLink infotainment system, which has all of the customization and easy-to-use functions that we’ve seen with the latest-gen Chevy MyLink. Like we saw in the 2014 Impala, this large, eight-inch touchscreen display is reconfigurable to offer custom shortcut links at the top of the screen and a large number of “favorite” buttons at the bottom that can be programmed to radio stations, specific artists and songs, navigation destinations and even phone numbers.

2014 GMC Sierra interior2014 GMC Sierra front seats2014 GMC Sierra gauges2014 GMC Sierra infotainment system

Our Sierra also came with seat vibrators built into the seat bottom that are used in conjunction with the lane departure warning, forward collision warning and backup monitoring systems to alert drivers of potential dangers. Finally, the Sierra can also be used as a mobile office – or an excellent family road trip vehicle – with its multitude of connection and power sources, with the lower center stack alone offering three USB ports, two standard power outlets and a household three-prong outlet.

The new powertrain is where this half-ton truck really excels.

While the Sierra is definitely near the top of the pack for its much-improved interior and exterior, the new powertrain is where this half-ton truck really excels. Ford’s EcoBoost V6 uses a lower displacement engine and turbochargers, while Ram gets a little more techy with an eight-speed automatic, active grille shutters and adaptive air suspension. GM’s new trio of Ecotec3 engines rely on aluminum blocks, direct injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing to produce plenty of power while returning respectable fuel economy. Our test truck was fitted with the middle-child Ecotec3 5.3-liter V8, which produces 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque.

At launch, all new Sierras will come with a six-speed automatic, and this combo helps return fuel economy numbers of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway – both easily attainable in real-world driving – while more gears are likely coming in the near future for better efficiency. For a little extra bragging rights, this V8 has the exact same fuel economy as the Ford F-150 with EcoBoost, although Ford’s torquey twin-turbo V6 does lay down a pretty good amount of towing power. The GMC is no slouch, however, as our tester has a tow rating of 9,600 pounds, and the 2014 Sierra tops out at 12,000 pounds with the Max Trailering Package. Since we got all of our towing and off-roading exercises out of the way during our first drives of the Sierra and Silverado, we focused on everyday usability for the big truck this time around.

2014 GMC Sierra engine

The sole disappointment of the driving experience was a sluggish throttle response.

The phrase “It rides like a truck” means something much different today than a decade ago. You still sit up high and have a commanding view of the road, but no longer does a short trip make it feel like you just went a few rounds with Roy Jones, Jr., and the interior is remarkably quiet, even at highway speeds. From a passenger’s perspective, the Sierra is comfortable and spacious with the Crew Cab having plenty of room for five adults, and it offers wide door openings and optional running boards to aid ingress and egress.

As a driver, the Sierra is easy to pilot and might be the smoothest-riding truck on the road. We were so surprised by the Sierra’s comfortable comportment that we took the truck down the worst washboard dirt road we know, which is usually enough to get an empty cargo bed to wag back and forth. No matter the road surface, the Sierra handled itself impressively well, possibly even better than the Ram 1500, which uses coil springs instead of rear leaf springs to attain its smoother ride. And lest we forget, this Sierra was optioned with Chevy’s Z71 off-road package that adds skid plates and Rancho shocks. We found the electric power steering to be evenly weighted in low-speed and highway driving and the big four-wheel disc brakes were well balanced, both of which helped the Sierra drive more like a big sedan than a three-ton, fullsize truck. The sole disappointment of our driving experience was the Sierra’s sluggish throttle response. Whether we were just backing up or trying to pass a car, the throttle always required a little more effort than expected (perhaps that’s part of a tuning strategy to improve fuel economy).

2014 GMC Sierra rear 3/4 view

We did get enough seat time to determine that GMC had done its homework.

Of course, our biggest disappointment with the all-new Sierra 1500 is that we didn’t get to spend a full week with it, but snafu aside, we did get enough seat time to determine that GMC had done its homework when engineering its new truck. In the highly competitive fullsize truck market, though, GMC won’t have any time to catch its breath, as the next-gen F-150 will debut next year and another new Ram should follow shortly thereafter. GM is reportedly already working on upgrades for the Silverado and Sierra over the coming years, focusing on a big shift toward lightweight materials and even better fuel economy.

In the eyes of automakers, fullsize trucks are dollar signs, and the GMC Sierra was the main reason this brand survived while Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn perished. Even though the Sierra outsells the Tundra and Titan combined, its sales fall short of the Ram and F-150 by large margins and it’s outsold by its identical twin by a margin of almost 3:1. The 2014 GMC Sierra may lack the popularity of its domestic competition, but it’s still a top-tier choice for truck buyers, delivering style, technology, size and comfort, whether you’re looking for a family vehicle that can tow just about anything or a rugged truck to get around the job site.

Vital Stats

Engine:
5.3L V8
Power:
355 HP / 383 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Auto
Drivetrain:
Four-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
5,345 LBS
Towing:
9,600 LBS (as tested)
Seating:
2+3
MPG:
16 City / 22 HWY
Base Price:
$25,085
As-Tested Price:
$50,185
Related Gallery2014 GMC Sierra: Review

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

Category: Truck, GMC, New Car Reviews

Tags: 2014 gmc sierra, 2014 gmc sierra 1500, featured, gmc, gmc sierra, gmc sierra 1500, review, reviews

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

How To Find New Car Invoice Prices

Before you buy a new car or truck you need to know the invoice price!

Do not try to negotiate a new car deal without having the right information. Not knowing the dealer invoice price can cost you thousands of dollars and make the car buying process longer and more stressful.

The video below shows you how to find new car invoice prices:

How To Find New Car Invoice Prices

Get the New Car Invoice Price before you visit the dealer!

BuyCarsRight.com is loaded with important car buying tips and links to resources to help you get the right car at the best price.

When shopping for a new or used vehicle, knowledge is power!

Arm yourself with the information you need and get a great deal on your next new car or truck!

How To Find New Car Invoice Price

new car price quotes

Know the Invoice Price Before You Buy a New Car!

If you are in the market for a new car you probably have heard terms like, “invoice price” and “sticker price”. There is a big difference between the two and not understanding the difference could cost you a lot of money.

While a car salesperson will focus on the sticker price when negotiating, you must focus on the invoice price.

Invoice prices used to be a well hidden secret that only the dealer knew. Now, thanks to the Internet, the cat is out of the bag and smart car shoppers should already have the invoice cost in hand when they visit the car dealers lot.

How to find the new car invoice price online

Find Invoice Prices on New Cars 

To effectively negotiate on your new car you must understand the difference between these 2 terms:

  • Sticker Price: This is more commonly called the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). It is the sticker on the new car window and is what the car salesperson wants to negotiate from.
  • Invoice Price: This is a rough price of what the car dealer paid the manufacturer for the vehicle. Although it is not always an exact number, it where you need to negotiate from.

New Car Sticker Price

This price sticker is always displayed on the car window on the dealers lot. It is also the selling price cited in car dealer ads you see or hear in the newspapers, TV, or radio.

This is the target price dealers want you to pay. Salespeople at the dealership are trained to start negotiations at sticker price. The window sticker is designed to catch your attention and signal to you that this is the price of the car.

New Car Invoice price

Car Manufacturers ship cars to dealers with invoices, which is the bill to the dealer for every vehicle. The invoice reflects what the dealer will pay for the car. In most cases, whatever you pay over the invoice is additional profit for the dealer.

It has become common practice for informed car buyers to ask to see the dealer’s invoice and then offer a price  a little over invoice. It is usually around $500. With heavy competition among dealers and some hidden profit unknown to the car buyer, it is becoming more common to try and shoot for paying invoice only, with no added mark up.

Factors that affect what you will pay for a new car

A very popular car with limited supply, or a new release may make it more difficult to get invoice pricing and in some cases you may be looking at paying a price at or near the sticker.

My advice is to avoid these cars because you are overpaying. Remember. most new cars depreciate up to 70% in the first 3 years of ownership. Overpaying puts you in a bad position when you want to sell it or trade it in down the road.

Buying a New Car Below Invoice Price

There are times when you can pay below invoice for a car. Some of the factors involved include incentives like manufacturer to customer rebates or manufacturer to dealer cash rebates.

This occurs most often when an overstocked dealer needs to move stale inventory to make room for new cars hitting the market.

Customer new car rebates are usually well advertised and easy to find by doing a search online. You should factor it into the buying price and still negotiate to get invoice pricing. Buying a car at invoice with a $2500 manufacturer rebate allows you to buy below invoice.

Dealer cash rebates is unadvertised money the manufacturer pays the dealership to help it move cars. Unfortunately, some dealers will hold back this information and use it as a last ditch effort to close the deal.

Dealer incentives are not advertised and not easy to squeeze out of a good car salesperson unless they are really pressed to move cars fast and they feel the deal is dying. A good salesperson will gladly sell the car at invoice knowing there is more profit coming in from the dealer rebate.

Is the Invoice Price Really What the Dealer Pays?

The fact is, the invoice price is only a rough number of what the dealer paid for the car.

Manufacturers pay the dealer what is known as a hold back on every vehicle they sell. The hold back is a percentage of the sticker price or invoice price. This is paid to the dealer after he sells a car.

This means that a dealer could sell you the car at invoice price, say to you that he is not making any money on the deal and still get a check from the manufacturer a month later.

Do not Visit the Car Dealer without the Invoice Price and Option costs in your hand!

Do not assume the dealer will show you the invoice. Do not believe any invoice they may show you without comparing it to the information you have acquired online.

If you do not have the invoice pricing you have no negotiating power and are at the mercy of the dealer. Another tactic veteran salespeople like to use, is once they know you have invoice prices on a particular model, they try to move you to a different model where you have no information.

If you decide to consider a different model while at the dealership, do not even start talking price until you have downloaded the new invoice pricing.

Are you ready to buy a new car?

Get new car price quotes from dealers before you leave your house.

new car price quotesClick here to use our Free New Car Price Quote and compare what local dealers are offering to what the invoice price is.

This is just one tiny piece to the new car buying process. Use all of the resources here a Buy Cars Right to ensure you get the best deal possible!