Monday, June 30, 2014


Unlike the current Civic and Corolla, which are very similar to their predecessors, the new Sentra charts a decidedly different course. It's quieter than the car it replaces and bigger, too, especially in back. Crucially, it's also much more fuel efficient, yielding an estimated 30 mpg city/39 highway (40 mpg highway with the FE+ package) versus last year's subpar 27/34 mpg. And prices have actually dropped, making the Sentra something of a bargain.

One potential drawback is that the Sentra's mandatory 1.8-liter engine is less powerful than the old model's 2.0-liter engine. We're okay with that, though, because the new car has lost over 150 lb, largely balancing out the missing horses. For a no-nonsense economy car, the acceleration seems just about right.

Nissan's newest compact might not be a superstar, but we think it's the company's most well-rounded small sedan in years. With the Civic and Corolla standing pat these days, the 2013 Sentra looks upgrade to the next American idol.

The Sentra sedan is offered in S, SV, SR and SL trims. An FE+ package that mildly enhances fuel economy is available on S and SV.

The base S sedan starts with 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers; LED headlight and taillight accents; power accessories; air conditioning; a tilt-telescopic steering wheel; a height-adjustable driver's seat; full power accessories; and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio jack.

The SV steps up to cruise control, a 6-speaker audio system (still lacking USB/Bluetooth), illuminated steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a security system and upgraded cloth trim.

The edgier SR features 17-in alloy wheels; more aggressive front and rear fascias; side-sill extensions; a rear spoiler; fog lights; a chrome exhaust tip; special silver interior trim; and unique sport cloth upholstery.

The range-topping SL is treated to different 17-in alloys; automatic headlights; heated exterior mirrors with integrated LED turn signals; keyless entry with push-button start; leather steering-wheel and shift-knob trim; wood-tone interior accents; dual-zone automatic climate control; a 4.3-in audio display with SiriusXM satellite radio (subscription sold separately); and USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Depending on trim level, options include some of the SL's standard features, plus a touchscreen navigation system, heated front seats, rear disc brakes (see Safety, below), a sunroof and a rear collision warning system.

As with the cheaper Versa, the Sentra's rear quarters are exceptionally hospitable by segment standards, providing near-midsize passenger accommodations. The trunk is in the mid-size ballpark as well, measuring an impressive 15.1 cu-ft.

Don't look to the entry-level Sentra S for technological leadership, as the best it can do is a 4-speaker stereo with an auxiliary audio input. In fact, USB and Bluetooth connectivity are only standard on the top-of-the-line SL; they'll run you extra on the SV and SR. That's a bit disappointing for an all-new model in 2013.

Although it has some upgrade Nissan Connect features, such as Google point-of-interest integration and automatic read-aloud for text messages, the system's graphics and speed are underwhelming. Also, its 5.8-in display seems a bit small. More satisfying is the decent 8-speaker Bose stereo, which is offered from the SV on up and can be paired with Pandora Internet radio.

Every Sentra is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 130 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. That's about what the Corolla gets out of its 1.8-liter four, but almost every other engine in this class has more juice. Still, the Sentra barely weighs 2,800 lb, so it generally keeps up with traffic well enough.

In most Sentras, the little 1.8 will be overseen by a gear less, continuously variable automatic (CVT). While the base Sentra S offers a 6-speed manual transmission, the rest of the lineup comes only with the CVT. Nissan's been building CVTs for a while now, and this one is a good match for the humble motor, delivering nearly seamless acceleration.

Fuel economy estimates for mainstream models with the CVT are very good at 30 mpg city/39 mpg highway. The CVT-only FE+ package creeps up to 40 mpg highway, while the 6-speed manual drops to a more pedestrian 27/36 mpg.

The 2013 Nissan Sentra comes with anti-lock brakes that use front discs and rear drums. Cheaper and simpler than disc brakes, rear drum brakes are a common feature on entry-level economy cars, but you want discs if you can help it. To this end, note that the Sentra S and SV models come only with rear drums, while the SR and SL have standard rear drums but can be equipped with discs all around if you pay extra.Every Sentra is outfitted with six airbags (front, front-side, and full-length side curtain).

As Nissan rightly points out in its marketing materials, the Sentra is a good deal, with even the SL starting at a hair under $20,000. We'd make ours an SL with the Leather Package, which is the only way to get rear disc brakes on the SL, and we'd still be out the door for an MSRP of less than $21,000. That's refreshing.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


BMW has been busy doing something radical, launching an entire new brand focused on alternative means of propulsion. Its first release from the "i" brand, the i3, is a little EV city car that will surely get your attention. For its changes, the company created something completely different. It's a bit more traditional in some ways, far more radical in others. It's the i8, a plug-in hybrid designed from the ground up to be just that: a plug-in hybrid. It offers two motors, the more traditional being a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder, turbocharged, gas-powered lump that pushes 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque through the rear wheels. (It's a variation of the motor in the Mini Cooper.) In the front is the so-called eDrive motor, a tweaked version of that found in the i3, here producing 129 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. This time it's also running through a two-speed transmission, while there's a six-speed auto box at the rear. (The i3 needed only a single gear.) But wait, there's more. 

To make up for the turbo lag caused by the oversized impeller mounted on the 1.5-liter, a similarly up-rated starter has been installed that not only provides for battery charging and start/stop functionality, but can act as "eBoost" to fill the torque gap when accelerating quickly. This provides another 11 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of torque.

All-told, between the two main motors, the car offers 357 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, but not all the time. Fully-charged (which takes just 90 minutes on a Level 2 charger, or 3.5 hours in a standard 110 outlet), you can cover up to 22 miles at a top speed of 75 in eDrive mode, using just the electric motor. Comfort mode is the default setting, which uses both motors as needed, while a sport mode is there too, which always has the rear motor running and ready.

When it isn't needed for power, the 1.5-liter engine acts as a generator, maintaining the 7.1 kilowatt-hour battery pack that runs along the spine of the car. Batteries sit where a driveshaft would normally be in an all-wheel-drive car, but here you get all the benefits of power on all four corners without a transfer case sitting in the middle, causing friction losses. At least, that's the theory, but sadly our testing was limited to dry asphalt in perfect weather. Hopefully we'll be able to try out the AWD in conditions with less grip in the future.

Not unlike slotting into an '80s supercar your best avenue of approach is to fall backwards into the seat and then pivot your legs in over the wide, high door sill. From here, it's a bit of a reach to pull the scissor doors down, but they close cleanly and with a satisfying thud.

Front seats are comfortable and have basic power adjustment, but they lack the sort of infinite customization found on BMW's more traditional sedans and coupes, not even offering adjustable lumbar support. (Rear seats, meanwhile, are perfectly suitable for small children and circus performers.) The cabin is somewhat simple looking, rather more familiar than the relatively exotic accommodations afforded by the i3, but clean and mostly well put together. Materials feel very good, and controls fall easily to hand. However, we can't help but be disappointed by the lack of storage in here. 

There are no door pockets (for obvious reasons) nor even a glovebox. All you get are a pair of small, shallow compartments in the center console suitable for a wallet, a phone, and little else. (There's also a small trunk in the back that'll manage an overnight bag. Maybe two.) A standard shifter sits between the seats for toggling gears, rather than the dashboard twist mechanism found on the i3, and there are also paddles mounted to the wheel for when you want to try and boss the transmission around. The wheel itself is comfortably fat and leather-wrapped, sitting before an LCD display cluster that offers plenty of info. It also changes from blue to orange when you toggle Sport mode. Sporty.

When driving in eDrive mode, however, and the experience there is quite good. There's plenty of power for zipping into openings in city traffic if you like, and even a short highway jaunt wouldn't be out of the question. Shift into Comfort, or put your foot all the way to the floor, and the gasoline engine lends a hand. This isn't all too dissimilar to the Chevy Volt, but where the Volt makes an awful, groaning sort of sound when the motor spins up, the i8's engine actually sounds good.

Mind you, there's some digital trickery going on here, a microphone in the engine compartment serving to pipe engine sounds in through the car's stereo system. This sort of shenanigans is a bit unfortunate, and unfortunately cannot be disabled, but to reluctantly give credit where credit is due, it works. In Sport mode, give the car some throttle and you'll be greeted with a surprisingly throaty growl that you wouldn't think could come out of such a pint-sized lump. It passes the "windows down in the tunnel and gas it" test with ease.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10 the new i8 gets an 9 from Carwarriors!

Friday, June 27, 2014


Just last week, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] opened its first Supercharger fast-charge stations outside the U.S.--in the Scandinavian country of Norway.

With just six stations and 46 charging points, 90 percent of Norwegians live within 200 miles of a Supercharger--well within the 265-mile EPA range of a Model S sedan. The first one of those outside the U.S. was sold in Norway too--the country has taken electric cars to its heart.With electric cars taking up 3 percent of the market for new car sales in a country of only five million people, Norway is one of the most electric car-friendly countries on the planet.

But how long will Norway's electric car momentum last? While the popularity of electric cars is only set to increase over the coming decades--in August, electric cars took a full six percent of the market's sales in Norway, two thirds of which were Nissan's Leaf--it's less clear whether Norway's heavily incentive-driven methods are sustainable long term.

Quartz links this to Tesla's focus on the country. Unsurprisingly, the car's range is a large factor in why Tesla expects to do well there--it's in a market of one as far as zero-emission, long-distance cars go.

That electric cars are also subject to myriad tax exemptions, incentives and benefits is another factor. The Model S's $73,000 price tag doesn't make it a cheap car, but compared to vehicles with like-for-like performance and features--cars which are subject to the country's heavy sales tax, up to 50%--it looks like a bit of a bargain.

Electric cars also get free parking, free charging and can use bus lanes. There are no road tolls, no tunnel tolls, and with gasoline at twice the price it is in the U.S, charging is proportionately cheaper too. As we've examined before, all these savings add up to over $8,000 per year, per vehicle. For a car like the Model S, it could be more, but it's certainly one reason the Nissan Leaf is doing so well there.

First 2013 Tesla Model S delivered in Europe (Photo: @TeslaMotors on Twitter)First 2013 Tesla Model S delivered in Europe (Photo: @TeslaMotors on Twitter)
Critics say that electric cars aren't quite as green as they're made out to be in Norway, says Quartz--as Norway's European-linked grid isn't always running on hydroelectric power alone.

Others say that as the country's incentive program applies to electric cars only and not other greener vehicles--like hybrids--those who genuinely can't afford an electric car have no incentive to swap their older, dirtier vehicles for something newer and cleaner. There's also the risk that suburban dwellers who might have previously chosen public transport to commute opt for an electric car instead, adding to energy demands and increasing congestion.

Ironically, if bus use declines significantly, Norway's bus lanes could become redundant, and electric cars may be forced to use regular congested lanes with everyone else. Such a scenario isn't imminent, but it's one example of the problems associated with its heavy incentive program.

Of course, there will come a crossover point where electric cars can survive without incentives--but companies like Tesla and Nissan are wisely making hay while the sun shines.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Ford revealed the updated 2015 Ford Focus lineup at the Geneva Motor Show. While the top 2015 Focus ST wasn't revealed, some news after the first day of the show revealed that Ford is going to release a diesel-powered 2.0-litre TDCi  version of the updated ST.

The sports suspension features new front springs and sportier new shock absorber tuning front and rear. The anti-roll bars and rear springs are carried over from the outgoing Focus ST. Ford says the changes deliver "an even sharper dynamic performance".Available in five-door and estate body styles, the revised Ford Focus ST receives most of the updates made to the standard Focus derivatives earlier this year.                      

The sports suspension features new front springs and sportier new shock absorber tuning front and rear. The anti-roll bars and rear springs are carried over from the outgoing Focus ST. Ford says the changes deliver "an even sharper dynamic performance".

The calibration of the electronic power assisted steering (EPAS) has also been revised, which Ford claims provides "a quicker response from the variable ratio steering, improving turn-in and delivering better overall balance".

The three-stage electronic stability program (ESP) has been tweaked, "to maintain optimal precision and control during rapid changes of direction at speed".

Another change is to the electronic torque vectoring control settings to "further optimize wheel torque distribution, maximizing traction through corners and increasing agility" according to Ford.

The Focus ST's engine mounts have been engineered to to refine the power delivery under hard acceleration by improving front-wheel traction and gear-shift quality.

Additionally, Ford worked with Michelin to develop a new 19-inch tire that complements the driving dynamics, especially maximizing lateral grip.

Key cosmetic changes to the Ford Focus ST include a lower, wider stance, sculpted bonnet, proportioned upper grille, slimmer headlamps and rectangular fog lamps.

The sports body kit also includes body‑colored side skirts and diffuser elements either side of the exhaust, and a rear roof spoiler optimized for aerodynamic performance. All new Focus ST models feature twin-hexagonal center tailpipes.

Inside, Ford has redesigned the Focus for a more intuitive dashboard layout, with significantly fewer buttons in the cabin. However, the ST retains the additional bank of three gauges – displaying turbocharger boost pressure, oil temperature and oil pressure – on the instrument binnacle.

The performance model gets a new, flat-base sports steering wheel with a soft-feel leather covered rim. The ST also features sports seats developed jointly by Ford and Recaro, a satin chrome-topped gear lever, sports pedals, satin chrome door grab handles and illuminated aluminium scuff plates.

As with the current car, the Focus ST will be available in three trim levels named ST1, ST2 and ST3. ST1 seats feature grey/charcoal/anthracite black fabric; ST2 adds partial leather with base and side bolsters available in four colors and ST3 seats have a full charcoal black leather finish.

The revised Focus ST comes with the Ford Sync 2 connectivity system, which offers access to audio, navigation, climate control and mobile phones via voice control and a high-definition, eight-inch color touchscreen.

Adaptive front lighting is available for the first time on the Focus ST, while the car also gets Cross Traffic Alert – which warns drivers reversing from parking spaces if other vehicles are about to cross their path – Active City Stop collision avoidance and Lane Keeping Aid.

Ford has sold more than 140,000 Focus ST models in 40 countries worldwide since the first iteration of the car was launched in 2002.

Available to order in Europe from autumn 2014, the first new Focus ST models are scheduled to be in dealerships from early 2015. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


The 2014 Corolla has received perhaps the most thorough redesign in Corolla history. The styling is much bolder, the high-tech cabin's got a bigger back seat and the new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) improves fuel economy and makes the car feel more responsive.

Lest you worry that the new Corolla has lost touch with its roots, we can confirm that plenty of "Corolla-ness" persists. The controls are still laid out sensibly, and the ride is still smooth and compliant. In other words, Corolla loyalists aren't likely to jump ship. But there's a lot more attitude in this redesigned model, no doubt, and Toyota hopes that will enhance the Corolla's crossover appeal.

It still has Excellent fuel economy; improved feature content; upgraded interior with bigger back seat; sharper design; reasonable pricing. All Corollas except the new Eco model come with Toyota's familiar 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. Rated at 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque, it's essentially the same motor that Corolla drivers have depended on for the past decade. Fuel economy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is 28 miles per gallon city/37 mpg hwy with the 6-speed manual transmission, 27 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the 4-speed automatic transmission and 29 mpg city/38 mpg hwy with the CVT. Note that the S trim level, when equipped with its optional sportier CVT with paddle shifters, drops to 37 mpg hwy.

The Eco gets a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, too, but it's a new version with modifications that yield 140 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. Usually, more power means fewer mpg, but the Eco bucks this trend with its impressive 30 mpg city/42 mpg hwy rating. If you opt for the larger 16-inch wheels, though, that highway number falls back to 40 mpg, so the standard 15-in wheels are better for fuel savings.

The 2014 Corolla sedan is offered in four trim levels: L, LE, LE Eco and S:

The entry-level L ($17,610) starts with 15-in steel wheels with plastic covers, LED running lights, power accessories, air conditioning, Bluetooth, an adjustable-height driver seat and a 4-speaker audio system with iPod/USB connectivity and an auxiliary audio input.

The LE ($19,110) adds 16-in steel wheels with plastic covers, keyless entry, cruise control, a 6.1-in touchscreen interface, a rearview camera, automatic climate control and a 6-speaker audio system with Bluetooth audio. The LE Plus package adds 16-in alloy wheels and fog lights, while the LE Premium package tacks on those items plus SofTex faux-leather upholstery.

The LE Eco ($19,510) features the special 140-hp engine with improved fuel economy, aerodynamic tweaks (including a subtle rear spoiler) and eco-biased tires, but otherwise it mostly shares the LE's equipment roster. The LE Eco Plus package adds 16-in alloy wheels, fog lights, chrome exterior trim and an Eco driving mode, while the LE Eco Premium package contributes those items plus SofTex upholstery.

The S ($20,510) adds a sport-tuned suspension, sportier version of the CVT with paddle shifters, a different gauge cluster with a TFT trip computer screen, piano-black dashboard trim, sport front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The S Plus package adds 17-in alloy wheels and rear disc brakes; the S Premium package includes those items plus SofTex upholstery.

Notable options include a sunroof and a Driver Convenience package (including keyless entry/ignition, smartphone-app integration, satellite radio and a navigation system).

The new Corolla comes with anti-lock brakes, stability control and eight airbags (front, driver knee, passenger seat-cushion, front-side, full-length side curtain). Disappointingly, the Corolla continues to be equipped with front disc and rear drum brakes rather than discs all around. Discs are a more modern and generally more effective design employed by many Corolla rivals. You can get a Corolla with rear discs, but only if you opt for the pricey, sporty S model with the Plus or Premium package.

The Corolla's standard front seats provide adequate support, but the S model's sport seats stand out due to their enhanced lateral bolstering. In back, adult passengers will find unprecedented space by Corolla standards; thanks to three extra inches of length, the rear seat provides almost midsize-grade accommodations.

The Corolla's technology offerings are likewise impressive, including a standard 6.1-in touchscreen with optional smartphone-app integration from the LE trim level on up. We also appreciate that every Corolla comes with expected tech features, such as iPod/USB connectivity and Bluetooth, though if you want Bluetooth audio, the base model won't do -- you'll need at least the LE.

On the road, the 2014 Toyota Corolla lets a fair amount of road noise into the cabin at speed, but its ride is pleasantly smooth on most surfaces. Handling is sharper than in past models, and we like how the compact 3-spoke steering wheel feels in our hands. The new CVT is better executed than most, and it does a fairly convincing impression of a regular automatic with its simulated shift points. Although acceleration is basically unchanged from the previous Corolla, the CVT does make the car feel quicker. For this reason, as well as the fuel-economy gap, we'd stay away from the archaic 4-speed automatic that's offered in the L trim.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


For a second consecutive year, white is the most popular color for new cars, according to the 2012 DuPont Automotive Color Popularity Report. Black, silver, gray and red round out the top five.

“White especially has been a constant top runner since really 1998,” says Nancy Lockhart, DuPont color marketing manager. “Silver had its reign from 2001 to 2006 as being the leading color and now black has come up as being the leading color in certain segments, especially luxury.”

Both black and white are seen as denoting status, luxury and quality, in world full of colors.
Trends in the electronics industry had a big impact on car colors over the past decade. For example, silver became the color of choice for cell phones, computers and home entertainment systems in the early to mid-2000s. Consequently, it also became a prominent car color. “It was a color that said, ‘Look, I have a modern piece of technology,

Then, in the mid-2000s and beyond, Apple made a splash with white iBooks, iMacs, iPhones and iPods and helped establish white as a hip color of status. Thus, Apple inadvertently helped propel white to prominence in the auto industry.

But it’s not just electronics that have an impact on car colors. The use of browns and beiges in home decor is influencing automakers too . These earthy tones rank as seventh on the list of most popular car colors this year. They account for 5 percent of the automotive market, both globally and in North America.

Green is also having a resurgence lately, but still only accounts for 1 percent of the world automotive market and 2 percent in the United States. It ranks ninth in popularity.

“Those colors that may be lower popularity, they get the most recognition . “More people notice them because all of these neutral colors kind of pass them by—white, black, silver, gray. They kind of go unnoticed now. And some of these lower popularity colors are getting more news.”

Still, white, silver, gray and black vehicles vastly outnumber cars of other colors, not just in the United States, but the world over. Collectively, they account for 76 percent of the automotive market. But that could change.

“It’s a trend I think people are getting a little tired of, because we’ve had so many of these neutral colors on the road

Benltey offers a vivid hue on its Continental GT Speed called Apple Green. Click the photo to see more new cars in the top 10 most popular colors. (Credit: Bentley)
At least they’re getting more interesting with advances in paint technology that allow manufacturers to use multiple layers to create shimmery silvers, three-dimensional blacks and pearly whites.“Colors were more flat 20 or 30 years ago,” Lockhart says. “So we now have a lot more what we call ‘travel,’ where a color looks very bright from one angle and dark from another.”

This trend is starting to spread from neutral tones to bright colors, like yellow and gold. Using white primer as a base underneath the paint to make hues of all kinds brighter is another trend on the rise.

DuPont puts together a palette of new colors and presents them to car designers every year at a show for them to mull over and consider incorporating into their lineups. This gives the company  insight into what colors consumers will see more of in the future, and Lockhart shared some of the changes that are brewing.

“Typically, it takes anywhere from two to four years for a color to be developed and processed. So we really have to think far in advance in order to get these colors into the designers’ hands so they have time to be developed and made for production,” Lockhart says.

One area of interest for the auto industry is trying to reinterpret colors associated with fuel-efficient vehicles. The intent is to freshen up the colors, but still connote the idea of being “green.”

“When you look at hybrid vehicles at auto shows, you see a lot of bright whites, you see a lot of light blue and maybe some light greens. So we tried to take this a step further and modernize this color group,” Lockhart says. DuPont came up with muted metallic hues that have hints of blue and other cool tones. The new colors also contain varying degrees of metallic flakes.

For the luxury segment, DuPont developed a bold bronze and jewel-like green, the latter of which happens to be similar to the emerald color that Pantone, another paint company, recently unveiled as its color of the year for 2013. Unlike DuPont, which focuses on the auto industry, Pantone focuses primarily on the fashion and home decor industries, where its color of the year is seen as a trendsetter.

The rankings in DuPont’s Automotive Color Popularity Report are based on production numbers from the automakers. In other words, the number of vehicles manufactured in each color for the 2012 model year determines where on the list that color turns up. Prior to white’s two-year streak in the top spot, silver had been the most popular color for 2010.

DuPont announced earlier this year that it will sell its Performance Coatings division to alternative asset manager The Carlyle Group for $4.9 billion in cash. After the sale, expected to close in the first quarter of 2013, Performance Coatings will still develop colors and paint for cars. DuPont will be out of that business, but will continue to develop technologically advanced products for the automotive industry, focusing on lightweight materials, environmentally friendly refrigerants, bio-based seat fabrics, and biofuels.

Monday, June 23, 2014


The 2014 MINI Cooper Coupe is all about fashion. That's rock and roll hill side of LA. Essentially the same car as the traditional MINI Cooper hatchback underneath, the MINI Cooper Coupe differs with its shorter and more steeply raked windshield, two fewer seats, baseball-cap-style roof and, alas, higher price. 

For better or worse, as a 2-seat sport coupe with front-wheel drive, there's nothing else like it on the road. The Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S twins have rear-wheel drive, and the only other sporting 2-seater in this price range is the rear-wheel-drive Mazda MX-5 Miata convertible. Well, that and the 2014 MINI Cooper Roadster, which is essentially this car with a convertible top.

Yes, the Coupe makes little sense for most drivers -- especially given that the Cooper Hardtop delivers a comparable driving experience in a much more useful package. But who says car buying has to be about practicality? The 2014 MINI Cooper Coupe makes a visual statement. And if that's how you like to roll, the Coupe is fun, hip and (somewhat) affordable.

Base-level Cooper models use a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that makes just 121 horsepower. That's not a huge figure, but the benefit is gas mileage. It's rated at 29 miles per gallon city/37 mpg hwy with the manual, or 28 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the automatic.

Step up to the Cooper S Coupe and you get a turbocharged version of the same engine for 181 hp. For that model, fuel economy falls to 26 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the automatic or 26 mpg city/35 mpg hwy with a manual. John Cooper Works models, which add 27 hp for a total of 208, have the same fuel economy ratings as a Cooper S Coupe.

The MINI Cooper Coupe comes in three available trim levels. There's a base model, called simply the Coupe, a mid-level Cooper S Coupe and a high-performance John Cooper Works model. 

Upgrade to the Cooper S Coupe ($25,700) and you get a turbocharged version of the base model's engine, which is good for 181 hp. Other upgrades include fog lights, firmer sport suspension, sport seats and sport pedals.

The 2014 MINI Cooper Coupe comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and four airbags (front and side). The Cooper Coupe had not been crash-tested stateside as of this writing, but other MINI models have generally fared well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests. The Cooper Hardtop was deemed Good, the highest score, in frontal offset and rear impacts. IIHS gave the heavymetal hardtop its second-highest rating of Acceptable in side-impact and roof-strength testing. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2014 FIAT 500L 6MT / 6AT

Although the diminutive Fiat 500 led the brand’s return to the U.S. when it bowed here in 2012, the second product in Fiat showrooms is the new-for-2014 500L. It takes the Cinquecento formula and adds inflated proportions and four proper passenger doors and is aimed squarely at the fast-growing compact-crossover market. More practical but less exciting than the plucky 500 it joins in the lineup, the 500L tests the limits of Italian charm.

The L is more than two feet longer than the subcompact, three-door 500 and nearly six inches taller and wider, casting a similar shadow to those of the Kia Soul, Mini Countryman, and Scion xB. The 500L’s swollen dimensions are good for a usable back seat and 22 cubic feet of seats-up storage versus the 500’s measly 10 cubes. The L is also good for about 800 additional pounds of curb weight. Acres of glass deliver great outward visibility, and the high-roof design provides enough headroom to accommodate an you can head bang to rock roll still have room for friends. 

We didn’t expect much performance from the 500L, what with its weighing about the same as our long-term Dodge Dart Rallye (3300-ish pounds) and saddled with the same 160-hp, 1.4-liter turbo four that has proven frustratingly recalcitrant to throttle inputs unless kept on the boil. As in the Dart, meaningful thrust here doesn’t materialize until the 2500-rpm torque peak, which necessitates excessive prodding with the right foot just to keep up with traffic.

A six-speed manual with a long, ropy shifter is standard on the base $19,995 Pop model and allows the greatest control over the peaky 1.4’s power delivery. Stepping up to the $21,195 Easy trim makes a six-speed dual-clutch automatic available for $1350. But as we learned in a test of a similarly equipped Dart, that pairing leaves room for improvement in shift quality and speed, as well as coordination with the turbo four’s nonlinear power band. EPA city/highway ratings are 25/33 mpg for the manual and 24/33 for the dual-clutch, with our observed, throttle-heavy averages coming in at 23 and 27.

Until Chrysler decides to offer the 184-hp, 2.4-liter Tigershark four and a conventional automatic (the latter is on its way to the options sheet soon), we’d choose the manual transmission over the dual-clutch gearbox if we were forced to live with the turbo 1.4 on a regular basis. Similar to our long-term conclusion of a regular 500 Sport, the L loses much of its Italian charm the further it ventures away from the city.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


If it's been a while since you've bought a car and even if it hasn't you might be surprised to learn about all the cutting-edge new technologies available in many modern cars. Will Show you what we mean, we've listed few of today's most exciting new features that you probably didn't know you could get. We've also named a few cars where they're available for less money than you might think.

Although in-car apps have been around for three or four years, drivers who haven't bought a car in a while might not be aware of the feature. It's exactly like it sounds: In many modern cars, infotainment systems have pre-installed apps that let you carry out various functions. While some apps are common -- such as Pandora and Spotify -- a few automakers take it a step further. Toyota's Entune infotainment system, for instance, includes apps that let you make restaurant reservations and even buy movie tickets.

Automatic braking has been around for a little while now, and we'd be lying if we said we didn't love it. Typically designed to help prevent low-speed collisions, automatic braking can often do what drivers can't: react as quickly as possible to changing circumstances. The feature is especially advanced on modern Volvos, which can detect pedestrians and cyclists in addition to other cars. If a person or a biker walks in front of you, the system can quickly stop your car, potentially preventing serious injury or death to the cyclist or pedestrian.

Say goodbye to the days of turning your high beams on and off constantly so you don't temporarily blind other drivers. Now, a feature called automatic high-beam control will do that for you. Available in many of today's mainstream models from Mazda and Subaru to Toyota, automatic high-beam control uses sensors to monitor when lights are headed in your direction -- other vehicles, for example. Then the system automatically turns off your brights so you don't have to worry about doing it yourself. When the other car has passed, the system turns the brights back on, so you can have the most illumination possible at any given moment.

A head-up display takes certain important items -- such as your speed or directions from the navigation system -- and projects them onto your car's windshield. Through some visual trickery, the display then appears as though it's sitting in front of your car at all times. If that sounds distracting, don't worry: The system can be turned off. But we suggest leaving it on, because it keeps the most important vehicle items right in your line of sight, meaning you don't need to look down for vital details. Many modern cars offer a head-up display, including reasonably priced new vehicles such as the Chevrolet Camaro.

If you ever find yourself driving while drowsy or distracted, you may realize that you're starting to drift out of your lane. Fortunately, many modern cars use new technologies to prevent this from happening, or at least alert you to the issue. Some Nissan and Infiniti vehicles, for instance, offer a system that can actually use the car's brakes to help you stay in your lane. If they detect that you're starting to drift, the system will slow down one wheel and guide the car back into your lane. General Motors has a different solution: It offers a vibrating seat that activates when you start to drift from your lane.

If it's been a while since you've bought a new car, you'll probably be surprised to discover the highly welcome trend of adding heating and cooling to just about every surface. Mercedes-Benz offers heated panels, such as for a center armrest, while many automakers from Kia to Subaru are adding heated steering wheels and heated rear seats. Best of all, it isn't just heat: Cooled seats are starting to become far more common on a wide range of new cars. We happen to think that the feature can be just as refreshing as air conditioning on an especially hot day.

We've all been there: You're trying to get out of a parking spot in a crowded lot. It's late at night. You're inching backwards, but you're surrounded by bigger cars, and there's no way to know if anyone is coming. The solution: rear cross-traffic alert. Offered by several automakers, including Ford, Mazda and Toyota, the feature uses radar to check if anyone is coming from the side as you're backing up. In repeated tests, we've found this feature to be excellent, and we think it can be highly useful for shoppers who spend a lot of time in tight parking lots.


Kia hasn't released many details about the upcoming minivan, its teaser image shows us what to expect from the van's exterior styling. Most importantly, the next Sedona will boast bolder styling than the current model, offering a long hood, LED accent lighting and an aggressive front bumper. The van also looks like it has a lower profile than the current Sedona, giving it a sporty look. 'The 2015 Kia Sedona finally looks like it belongs in the automaker's line up. 

After years of speculation on whether or not Kia's minivan would survive, the automaker's 2015 Sedona will make its debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show with styling and amenities that should finally make it a tough competitor in the segment.Kia has teased an all-new minivan scheduled to make its debut at this year's New York Auto Show. Expected to be called the 2015.Kia Sedona, the new van will replace today's Sedona, which offers the oldest design of any current minivan. .

Based on looks alone, the 2015 Kia Sedona should do pretty well. Kia's corporate Tiger Nose grille dominates the front end, with the back end looking clean and simple thanks to rectangular headlights. Around the side the Sedona showcases a few creases and a beltline that gets an upwards kink at the C-pillar. Kia also made big improvements inside. Available in seven- or eight-passenger configurations, the Sedona will feature a number of seating and storage solutions, including available "First Class" second-row seats that recline and include retractable leg rests. 

The top-of-the-line SXL model comes with standard Nappa leather that Kia says is the same hide used for its flagship K900 sedan (You know, the one Morpheus pitches). Kia is fitting the Sedona with its latest technology, including new eServices like Geo-fencing (allows you to specify zones on a map and get an alert if the vehicle is driven there), Speed Alert, Curfew Alert, and Driving Score.

Kia expects its minivan to earn the highest marks in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations crash tests. Standard safety tech includes electronic brake force distribution and Roll Over Mitigation, while forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot detecting are optional. Meanwhile, Amplitude Selected Dampers, double-seal sliding doors, and plenty of sound deadening foam should keep things smooth and quiet in the cabin. 

Powering the 2015 Kia Sedona will be the automaker's 3.3-liter direct injection V-6 that's also found in the Sorento crossover and Cadenza sedan. Here the engine is tuned to make 276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a six-speed automatic. Unlike the Sienna, however, the Sedona will not have available all-wheel drive.

Kia says to look for the 2015 Sedona to arrive in showrooms towards the end of 2014. The current 2014 Sedona starts at $26,795, but we'll have to wait a bit longer for the next-gen model's complete spec list and pricing details.

Friday, June 20, 2014


The Chrysler Town & Country is one of the best minivans you can buy, but it doesn't make perfect sense, not like its near-twin over at Chrysler's Dodge division. It's a luxury minivan, which runs counter our idea of how minivans should be used. To us, a minivan needs to be able to go from four 10-year-olds to four Costco cartloads in nothing flat; the Town & Country can do it, but its leather seats and $30,000-plus features might never look the same.

The Town & Country is the companion piece to the Dodge Grand Caravan. (For more information on that top minivan pick, see TheCarConnection's 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan page.) In the current plan, the Town & Country is the premium offering--so while the Dodge van has a special edition priced below $20,000, the Chrysler minivan starts at about $30,000, in the search for the same upscale buyers that regularly put their money down on the competitive Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey family haulers.

The 2014 Chrysler Town & Country is spacious and functional, but saddled with more baggage than you could haul in its cavernous 114 cu. ft. of cargo room.

Minivans are not, and never have been, cool.  But a week spent behind the wheel of the Town & Country proved there’s plenty to enjoy in this coolly efficient segment – and that in many situations, a minivan makes infinitely more sense than hipper crossover vehicles.

Chrysler invented the minivan market back in the 1984 model year, and three decades later the automaker still controls more than 40-percent of all minivan sales here in the U.S.. Combined with the mechanically identical Dodge Caravan, Chrysler’s minivan sales exceeded 240,000 units in 2013.

Redesigned in 2011 along with the Dodge, the Town & Country gets its own grille and interior, but shares its V-6 drivetrain, steering, suspension, brakes, and safety cell with the Grand Caravan. Some Caravan options are standard on the Chrysler--must-haves like Bluetooth, a rearview camera, and Stow 'N Go seating, which puts both minivans on a flexibility pedestal in the segment. Stow 'N Go means the two rearmost rows of seats can be folded into the floor, turning the Town & Country into a tall package van in a matter of seconds.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014


If you own a hot-rod or a Classic car you will most likely need special insurance coverage that should be handled by an insurance company that is in the business of covering cars like yours, a company like the American Collectors Insurance company.

American Collectors Insurance is a leader in meeting the insurance needs of the most passionate and dedicated people in the world (collectors!) with a team that delivers excellence in individual service, and possesses in-depth knowledge of collectors’ insurance needs. They are the leading employer in this market, committed to supporting a high-performing team.

American Collectors’ mission is to offer unsurpassed insurance protection for collectors who are passionate about their cherished there yesterday's collectibles. Our service is delivered with excellence by the industry’s leading collectibles insurance team.At American Collectors, They know how much your yesterday's and future day's collector car, motorcycle, truck ,and other collectibles mean to you. That’s why when you need to make a claim, theywill do our best to make the process as quick and painless as possible. They will even let you choose the repair/restoration facility and parts used to make any repairs. 

American Collectors Insurance offers collector vehicle insurance in all states. TX & VA require insurers to use prescribed Bureau (state-mandated) forms that do not provide for an “Agreed Value” settlement option. These two states allow three settlement options: Cost of repair, Actual Cash Value or the amount shown on the declarations page. American Collectors Insurance has been providing collector vehicle coverage in these states for many years.

Even if your still in the restoring phase American Collectors can provide comprehensive coverage for vehicles that are in various stages of restoration, as long as all of the parts are in the owner's care, custody and control (and not scattered about at various vendor shops). What is interesting is that they provide "Agreed Value" coverage, meaning that the full insured value of your vehicle (less any applicable deductible) is paid in the event of total loss. (this is another good reason to have this company insure your car!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


After driving the the 2014 Chevy Spark EV 2LT you will find out it is one of the best electric vehicles besides Tesla. Drivers with a daily commute that takes them through congested Californian and Oregonian cities will start thinking of the Chevy Spark EV as the Chevy Spark SS.

The Spark EV will, not surprisingly, destroy a gas-powered Spark in a straight line. That's where it seems like an SS. The Spark EV will accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, leaving the gas-powered Spark, with its five-speed manual and its 11.3 second 0-60 mph time, in the dust. Were the Spark and Spark EV to line up at the drag strip, the Spark EV would triumph yet again, thanks to its 16.0-second quarter mile time and 87.6 mph trap speed. 

The Spark's massive amounts of torque also help it outperform many in its segment, including the Nissan Leaf and the best-not-mentioned Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Our 2014 Spark EV 2LT tester's 124-foot 60-0 mph braking performance is par for the class. The Spark EV is easily one of the most engaging electric cars in its class, with members of staff preferring it to newcomers like the BMW i3 and comparing it favorably with the 2014 Honda Fit EV.

The Spark's one-speed automatic offers two forward drive modes, giving the car two distinct personalities: Drive and Low. Drive turns the Spark into a normal car. There was next to no regenerative effect from its brakes, and the car sailed along without significantly slowing with your foot off the accelerator. It's the perfect mode for highways. Low, on the other hand, will be much more familiar to Spark EV drivers who've owned or driven other electric cars. In Low, the car behaves more like a slot car, with heavy regeneration from the brakes the moment you take your foot off the accelerator. 

The Spark EV is happiest when driven around town in Low, and on the highway in Drive, and it becomes a fun little game switching the modes back and forth. Other driving impressions: The Spark handles surprisingly well, with good steering feel, and a well-dampened ride that doesn't get upset over violent bumps. The Spark EV (not surprisingly) prefers lower speeds to higher ones, and feels skittish while driving with California's 80-plus mph traffic flow. The brakes took some getting used to, with a sloppy transition from regenerative brakes to the Spark's mechanical discs. 

 The Spark EV comes standard with a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a USB port and Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and smartphone compatibility with voice commands. It also comes standard with 10 air bags, which is more than what most cars in the class have. Test drivers like the MyLink display for its crisp graphics and simple menus, but some say the buttons on the touch screen can fail to respond to inputs. Cargo space is small compared to both electric and gas-only rivals.

Like most subcompact cars, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV’s interior is plain and covered in hard plastics, test drivers note. They say there’s plenty of headroom in the front seats and though the rear seats are predictably tight, there’s adequate room for two adults on short trips. The Spark EV comes standard with a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a USB port and Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and smartphone compatibility with voice commands. It also comes standard with 10 air bags, which is more than what most cars in the class have. 

Test drivers like the MyLink display for its crisp graphics and simple menus, but some say the buttons on the touch screen can fail to respond to inputs. Cargo space is small compared to both electric and gas-only rivals.


The first-generation Nissan Xterra was, to be blunt, a passable product wrapped in a great idea. The Nissan Xterra is an SUV built on the Nissan F-Alpha platform by Nissan Motors. It is based off the Nissan Frontier pickup and is named after the XTERRA off-road triathlon race series that Nissan sponsored from 1998 to 2006. 

Available between 2000 and 2004, that original Xterra was built around the Frontier pickup's ladder frame-a dated platform comprised of C-section rails made from conventional steel-and came with an available V-6 engine that was not only down on power (even the new-for-2002 supercharged 3.3-liter SOHC 12-valve mill put out a middling 210 horses) but also about as refined as raw sugar.

Nissan built the Xterra for slow, deliberate off-roading, and the truck's relatively short wheelbase, solid approach and departure angles and decent break-over make for a happy little billy goat. Of course, I'm piloting a top-of-the-line PRO-4X, complete with the ultimately unnecessary luxury package. While I could do without the leather seats and premium audio, the trim does offer a spate of off-road goodies, including Bilstein dampers and a selectable locking rear differential. 

The Nissan Xterra now features an all-aluminum DOHC 24-valve V-6 and a version of the brand's stout F-Alpha platform, which utilizes stronger, fully boxed frame rails, many of which are made from higher-strength and lighter-weight steel, a move made to offset the new Xterra's higher weight. Our tester weighed 4456 pounds, 265 more pounds than a V-6 Xterra we tested in 2001.

For this generation, Nissan has created new trim levels: the entry-level S, the hard-core Off-Road, and the premium SE. Each comes standard with a potent 265-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 engine, two-wheel drive, and a six-speed manual transmission. Optional are four-wheel drive and a five-speed automatic transmission. Best of all, Nissan says pricing will hover around current levels, which means a new S will start at $21,380, the Off-Road at $23,780, and the SE at $25,880; and add about $2000 to those prices for four-wheel drive.

Some of the new features a 2014 Nissan Xterra has are:

An updated NissanConnect with Navigation system with available NissanConnect Apps smartphone integration for iPhone and Android, allowing the user to connect with Pandora, iHeartRadio, Facebook and more.

To the new app integration, the NissanConnect with Navigation system's capabilities now include SiriusXM Traffic, SiriusXM Travel Link (fuel prices, movie times, stock updates and weather), SiriusXM Weather (SiriusXM subscription required, sold separately), Streaming Audio via Bluetooth, Hands-free Text Messaging Assistant and audio voice recognition.

-New 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheel designs for the S and PRO-4X grades
standard Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System, steering wheel audio controls and sunglass holder (overhead console) on all grade levels;
push-type HVAC controls and upgraded audio system added to X grade;
addition of heated front seats on PRO-4X (standard cloth, available leather-appointed seats);
new Hyper Silver paint added for the grille and underguard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


How do you find the car that will exactly suit your needs for years to come? It just takes a little research and planning. The following steps will help you select, price, locate and test-drive the vehicle that is best for you. Then you can decide whether you want to buy a new car, lease a new car or buy a used car. As much as you might like to dream about what you want in a car, it's best to think more practically about your needs — not just at present, but in the future, too. Functionality should trump flash. 

Here are some practical considerations to keep in mind:
-How many passengers do you need to carry?
-What type of driving do you do: highway, surface streets, off-road?
-Will you drive in ice and snow?
-Do you have a long commute and, because of that, is fuel economy important to you?
-Do you need all-wheel drive?
-What safety features are important to you?
-Do you need a lot of cargo capacity?
-Will you be using children's car seats?
-Will you be doing any towing?
-How much garage or parking space do you have? 

 Before you commit to a car, you should estimate its long-term ownership costs. These include depreciation, insurance, maintenance and fuel costs. presents this information in an easy-to-read table. It can help you make a smart decision up front that can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the car.

Next: Set Your Budget.Unless you're paying cash for your car, you'll need to think about financing your purchase or lease. How much can you really afford to allocate toward a car payment each month? The general rule is no more than 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay. Compare Leasing and Buying. Leasing and buying each have pros and cons, and how you feel about these may help guide your decision on whether to lease or buy.

For example, a lease requires little or no money down and offers lower monthly payments. But when the lease ends, you have no car and will need to go shopping again. On the other hand, buying a car is more expensive initially, and the monthly payments are higher. But when you pay off the loan, you will own a car that you can drive for as long as it runs.

If you already have a car in mind, search for it to see a list of similar cars in the same class. Or, you can search by vehicle segment listed in our New Car Buying Guides. Once you find a worthy prospect, you can easily check for detailed information on pricing, specifications, features and road tests. You can also compare vehicles to discover similar cars you might have overlooked. If, on the other hand, you have no idea where to begin, you can consult the Best Cars section of our site. The New Car Buying Guides are handy here, too.Something shoppers often overlook when considering their next car is that one may be cheaper to buy but more expensive to own. Why? Even if two cars cost about the same to buy, one might depreciate faster or cost more to insure and maintain.

Before you commit to a car, you should estimate its long-term ownership costs. These include depreciation, insurance, maintenance and fuel costs. presents this information in an easy-to-read table. It can help you make a smart decision up front that can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the car.

Monday, June 16, 2014


If fuel economy is high on your list of priorities, know that the naturally aspirated Veloster has better EPA ratings than the boosted version: 27 mpg city with the manual, 28 with the automatic, and 37 highway for both.

The front-drive Veloster is a boldly styled hatchback with two front doors and one forward-opening rear door on the passenger side of the car. Available with a choice of four-cylinder engines, including a turbocharged one, the Veloster has room for up to four people and competes with the Honda CR-Z, Mini Cooper and Scion tC. 

The new things you will find in the 2014 Hyun backup camera, driver-side blind-spot mirror and daytime running lights are now standard, and Hyundai now includes three years of its Assurance Connected Care service that features automatic crash notification and a monthly vehicle health report, among other services. Turbo models gain a torque-vectoring system that can apply the inside front brake when cornering to send more power to the outside wheel, reducing wheelspin, as well as a system that pipes more rock and rolling sound into the cabin. 

There's also a new R-Spec version of the Veloster Turbo. It features unique suspension and steering tuning for improved agility and feedback, a short-throw six-speed manual transmission, red and black sport seats and R-Spec logos. 

Like the other three R-Spec models Hyundai has released (Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec, Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec and Genesis 5.0 R-Spec), the Veloster Turbo R-Spec skimps on interior appointments to keep the price down. But Hyundai thinks that people who buy it don't want that equipment anyway, and would rather install aftermarket goodies. The car is priced at $22,110 (including the $810 destination fee), which makes it the least expensive Veloster Turbo model.

The pared-down hatchback's special features include R-Spec-specific sport suspension, retuned steering and a B&M short-shifter for the six-speed manual transmission (the R-Spec isn't offered with an automatic). That's all great, but we can do without the red-accented side skirts and front splitter, which look just as tacky in person as they do in pictures.

In case you are looking to buy a Veloster remember that Turbos are distinguished from the ordinary Velosters by deeper side skirts, a little more sculpting around the fog lamps, LED accent lights, chrome exhaust tips, and chrome accents on the 18-inch wheels.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


The 2014 Lexus ES 300h hybrid drives like a conventional car, but its overly firm ride is disappointing, its multimedia interface is distracting and its estimated gas mileage trails the competition.

The ES 300h was new for the 2013 model year, and the front-wheel-drive car uses the same hybrid system as the Toyota Camry Hybrid to get its EPA-estimated 40/39/40 mpg city/highway/combined. Changes for 2014 include newly available Siri Eyes Free Mode for compatible iPhones; to see how the 2013 and 2014 models compare, click here, or check out how the ES 300h stacks up against its main competitor, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, here.

The ES 300h starts at $40,410 including a $910 destination charge. Features include aluminum wheels, push-button start, power front seats, a power moonroof, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth and a USB port. Optional features like heated and ventilated front seats, a navigation system with a backup camera, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and bamboo wood trim raised the price of our test car to $44,710.

Lexus has overcome the driving-experience sailaway that have new many hybrids. Acceleration from a stop is smooth and predictable — even when the gas engine turns on for supplemental power. Its performance is similar to a strong, gas four-cylinder drivetrain, as opposed to a V-6 one, but the car is rock rolling enough for city driving, ride in country side's .

Apart from a slight shudder and the associated noise when the gas engine automatically turns on, the only thing that reminds you you're in a hybrid is brake-pedal responsiveness. Hybrids have regenerative braking technology that uses the car's kinetic energy to charge the hybrid battery pack. The ES 300h's brake pedal feels linear, if a little soft, but what's bound to catch drivers by surprise is the immediacy with which the brakes engage. The regenerative braking system starts slowing the car with just the slightest brake-pedal pressure. Unlike most conventional brake systems, there's no initial dead space before the brakes engage.

The most disappointing aspect of the ES 300h is how the car rides. Even small cracks and bumps in the road produce a hard, sharp response. It feels like a high-performance sports car, which is all the more tiresome because the ES 300h doesn't handle like a performance car in the slightest. It's not dynamic or engaging. Lexus seems to be on a mission to make all its cars sporty, but most ES 300h buyers are probably more interested in comfort, and it's lacking here.

The hybrid system includes multiple driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and EV. The car starts in Normal when you turn it on, and I like the gas pedal's responsiveness in this mode. Eco mode severely diminishes gas pedal response, and it wasn't long before I got fed up with it and switched back to Normal. Sport mode switches the hybrid power meter in the instrument panel to a tachometer and makes the steering a little heftier. EV mode lets the car operate on electric power alone at slow speeds for short distances.

The ES 300h's 40/39/40 mpg estimate trails the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid's 45/45/45 mpg, and my observed gas mileage in the Lexus was about 25 percent lower than the EPA combined estimate of 40 mpg. According to the trip computer, I averaged 29.8 mpg during a 108-mile stretch, with an average speed of 19 mph.

That depressing average speed aside, it was very cold during most of my driving, with outside temperatures in the single digits and low teens. Cold temperatures tend to hurt gas mileage, particularly for hybrids, and the ES 300h was rarely operating on just electric power — even during slow-moving rush-hour traffic when you'd expect it to. My driving also included some stretches on fast-moving highways and suburban streets.

The ES 300h's cabin styling emphasizes the car's width with its focus on horizontal lines. The optional Premium Package included light-colored bamboo wood trim that looked great and provided an eye-pleasing contrast to the rest of the cabin, which was finished mostly in black materials.

The front bucket seats are wide and comfortable, and it was especially nice to have optional seat heaters during the chilly days I spent with the car. The seats warmed up quickly, but the center-console dial for setting the heat level was difficult to use when wearing gloves — even thinner fleece ones.

Backseat comfort is very good for a midsize car; it's nearly as comfortable as many full-size sedans. The outer rear seats have the same wide, comfortable feel as the front buckets, and legroom is good for taller passengers. The middle seat's cushioning is harder and you sit a little higher, but the flat floor — there's no center floor hump like many cars have — means more room for your feet.

The familiar interface should give Remote Touch a leg up on some of its competitors, like BMW's iDrive and Mercedes' Comand, but it doesn't. It's not a good interface for a moving vehicle. Even with the system's haptic feedback that draws the cursor to on-screen menus, the cursor still jumps around too much. It's distracting, and the result is that you end up paying extra attention to the system that would be better spent watching the road. This isn't an issue with iDrive or Comand, both of which use knob-based controllers to jump from one on-screen menu to the next.

Bluetooth connectivity isn't standard — surprising for a car that starts at more than $40,000 — but it's included with the optional Display Audio and navigation systems. My iPhone connected easily using Bluetooth, and the multimedia system downloaded my address book quickly. The Bluetooth streaming audio function worked well, too.Cargo & Storage

Optional safety features include a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, a backup camera and a Pre-Collision System that can warn you about oncoming obstacles as well as tighten the seat belts and autonomously brake the car.

Lexus has managed to get the difficult things right with the ES 300h, like relatively seamless hybrid system operation, but the car is lacking in areas you wouldn't necessarily expect, like ride comfort and the standard features list (leather upholstery, Bluetooth and a backup camera are optional).

With hybrids, it's always tempting to see how many years it'll take to recoup the added expense of the technology (comparing base versions of the ES 300h and ES 350, the payback time is 3.4 years). Saving money isn't the only motivating factor when it comes to buying a hybrid, however, especially when there's a luxury badge on the grille.

Fuel efficiency for its own sake matters more for some, and the ES 300h's 40 mpg combined rating lags behind mainstream models like the Honda Accord Hybrid (47 mpg) and Ford Fusion Hybrid (47 mpg) as well as luxury ones like the MKZ Hybrid (45 mpg). This is only the ES 300h's second year on the market, but already Lexus has some catching up to do.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


The new Corolla is more visually exciting than those of the recent past, which goes extra for the S trim. In addition to the scarlet S badges affixed to their posteriors, 2014 S models get a prominent chrome-ringed, piano-black grille and a chrome exhaust tip and can be had with unique 17-inch wheels. (The integrated rear spoiler and fog lamps are shared with the Corolla LE.) 

Thankfully, the super-cheesy, pseudo-aero exterior extrusions glued to previous Corolla S models were left out of the product plan this time. Thus outfitted, the Corolla, for the first time in years, can be seen from 40 paces as something other than a bland four-wheeled transportation device for the indifferent.

Introduced in 1966, the Corolla managed to become the best-selling car worldwide by 1974 and has been one of the best-selling cars in the world since then. In 1997, the Corolla became the best selling nameplate in the world, surpassing the Volkswagen Beetle. Toyota reached the milestone of 40 million Corollas sold over eleven generations in July 2013. The series has undergone several major redesigns.

The name Corolla is part of Toyota's naming tradition of using names derived from the Toyota Crown for sedans. The Corolla has always been exclusive in Japan to Toyota Corolla Store locations, and manufactured in Japan with a twin, called the Toyota Sprinter until 2000.

Early models were mostly rear-wheel drive, while later models have been front-wheel drive. The Corolla's traditional competitors have been the Nissan Sunny, introduced the same year as the Corolla in Japan and the later Honda Civic. The Corolla's chassis designation code is "E", as described in Toyota's chassis and engine codes.

The Corolla  has the space, power, and features to meet most people’s needs. It has the Toyota reputation for reliability, so it can bring a premium, despite not engaging the driver as do some of its competitors. Still, it remains a bestseller. If you’re more interested in the destination than the journey, the Corolla is for you.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Have you seen the new Beetle? The new R-Line is the marketing name for a series of VW trim packages aimed at adding a little more glamour—and customization, and price—to various vehicles, and the recently launched Beetle Turbo convertible is the latest to rock the house.

As with the other R-Line offerings, the rag top Beetle package is composed almost entirely of “performance-inspired” cosmetic enhancements. A set of 19-inch wheels wearing low-profile all-season rubber ContiPro Contacts, sized 235/40 is the only element that could add a small handling advantage on skid pads and freeway ramps. There are no drive line changes.

The Beetle R-Line is more an exercise in aesthetics. Powered by a turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine, it is essentially a 2013 Beetle Turbo, albeit with 10 more horsepower (210, up from 200), some "R-Line" badges and door sill kickplates, and re-styled front and rear bumpers. The test car's Sunroof, Sound and Navigation package also bundled visual cues unique to the R-Line, such as  19in aluminium wheels, leather seating surfaces and a dash clad in a simulacrum of brushed matte gray aluminium. If the Beetle's cosmetic makeover strikes a shopper as somewhat disingenuous, consider that, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, in 2012 US consumers alone spent $12.52bn on styling and appearance accessories that did not do one whit for bottom-line performance. Translation: sportiness is as much a state of mind as it is a state of engine tune.

The rest of heavy metal  are designed to appeal to the eyes and backsides of buyers. Exterior elements include body-colored bumpers (without the chrome trim strip that rock roll  bee ,standard Beetles), a rear rock like hurrycain-style piece, bi-xenon headlamps semi-circled by LED daytime running lights, and, of course, R-Line sailing.

There’s considerably more inside: leather sport seats, a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel (à la GTI), a 400-watt Fender audio system, “metallic finish” dash and door trim, stainless-steel R-Line scuff plates, remote keyless access, and pushbutton starting.

It’s an extensive package, and attractively priced at $700. That would raise the MSRP of a loaded Turbo convertible to $33,790.

Unveiled at the Chicago auto show, the Beetle is the fifth U.S.-market R-Line variant, following the CC sedan, Tiguan, Touareg, and Beetle coupe. The R-Line Beetle coupe will go on sale in May, the convertible version in the fall.