Affordable Luxury Sport Sedans: Nissan Maxima SR vs. Chrysler 300S vs. Acura TLX SH-AWD


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This is the true story of a comparison test between three luxury sport sedans which take very different paths to achieving their performance goals. For those with petrol in their veins, everyone should know that the aggressively styled 2017 Nissan Maxima is front-wheel drive, the 2017 Chrysler 300S is a rear driver with the only honest to goodness V8 on test here and the 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD can send power to any slipping wheels even in dry weather conditions. Both the Acura and Maxima offer V6 engines with the Acura the only one on test which offers an admittedly impressive 4-cylinder engine in base models. .

Unlike many other all-wheel drive or other on-demand systems, SH-AWD is special for being able to send so much engine power to one or two wheels and we are sure it will inspire some attempted hooliganism with owner’s newly licensed children behind the wheel.  But isn’t this InfotainmentExperts.com? Aren’t we obsessed with tech? Well, this is a luxury sport sedan comparison where we judge and grade the tech on offer such as in the sections for Audio, Safety Tech, Technology Ease of Use and Smartphone Connectivity. We will also tell you our opinions on the exterior, interior quality and comfort, fuel efficiency, performance and finally “Is this car worth the price?”

So, with much ado about not much else let’s find out how this comparison test turned out!

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First Place: 2017 Nissan Maxima SR

While we will hold off on proclaiming it the return of the 4DSC (4 door Sports Car), we are amazed at how well the Maxima SR performed across the board be it in its fun to drive nature all the way to its impressive adjustable handling technology. There really is no place where this new Maxima, especially in the aggressive looking SR trim, trails its two competitors most especially in value for money as our vehicle stickered just over $38,000 as opposed to $43,000 and for the Chrysler and just over $45,000 for our top of the line advance trim Acura TLX SH-AWD. Admittedly our Chrysler would have matched the Acura’s price had it only been equipped with the optional all-wheel drive which for those living in snow belt states we presume is a must.

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Impressive among the tech features were Nissan’s terrific Around View Parking Monitor, a full purview of active safety tech from blind spot warning to automatic forward emergency braking, a unique sport tuned suspension enhanced by the Drive Mode Selector and Integrated Dynamics-control Module. The Drive Mode selector when put into “Sport” will sharpen the vehicle’s throttle response, enhance steering feel as well as initiating Active Sound Enhancement for the standard 300-horsepower 3.5 liter V6 which when pushed emits the most glorious staccato vibrato of any V6 out there.

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The Integrated Dynamics Control Module, in a sense, easily explains why we had so much fun driving this admittedly rather large four-door sedan on a long road trip. It has Active Trace Control which automatically optimizes your line through turns by applying the inner or outer brakes as well as Active Engine Braking which automatically “downshifts” the gearless CVT automatic during braking while readying the gearbox to power you out of a freeway off-ramp apex, should that be your desire.

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Of course, the Maxima SR also features Apple Carplay/Android Auto compatibility, heated and ventilated front Ascot leather and alcantara seats, an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2 audio system that provided a terrific driving soundtrack as well as Intelligent Radar Cruise control which can bring the vehicle to a complete stop and then bring you back to your set speed.

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In addition, the 2017 Nissan Maxima was always comfortable for the passengers as well thanks to Active Ride Control which reacts automatically to bumps, potholes and road irregularities by subtly applying the brakes to keep the chassis level. Even the dog we rescued at the end of our road trip loved the 2017 Nissan Maxima SR and we think was rather disappointed when it just disappeared one day. We were too.

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Second Place: 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD

Whereas the 2017 Acura TLX looks a bit like an ancient Japanese Shogun warrior in a neatly pressed suit of armor, the Maxima SR is much more the challengingly styled in the manner of modern Japanese Anime. But with the 2017 Acura TLX you not only get a car with a reputation for reliability as well as top notch resale values but you also get what is easily one of the most advanced all-wheel wheel drive systems out there. It’s called SH-AWD (or Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive) and it not only helps keep you on the road in slick or icy conditions but thanks to its ability to apportion torque to individual wheels it also aids dry weather cornering grip.

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Our 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD came with a 3.5 liter 290 horsepower V6 engine attached to a slick shifting 9-speed automatic gearbox. As is the current luxury brand norm, the TLX with the V6 engine also has a new, utterly unique push button gear changer inside the cabin to annoy people who hate change just for the sake of it. Now, the Acura’s motor makes a swell noise when you rev it out to redline but that is nothing compared to the incomparable 10-speaker ELS Studio Premium Audio System which for years has been our favorite OEM audio system for perfect sound no matter what kind of music you play. Please, always order the Tech Package with an Acura to get the ELS Audio. It is that good.

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The TLX also excels in the area of advanced safety technology with our Tech and Advance Package equipped model boasting bling spot warning, front impact warning, rear cross traffic monitoring, a muti-angle back up camera, automatic rain sensing wipers, a lane keeping assist system which actively will tug on your steering wheel to keep you in your lane, a full collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation (yes, on the highway the TLX can essentially steer itself although if you take your hands off the wheel for too long it will send you a warning) and lastly a highly effective Adaptive Cruise control with low speed follow that had no problem handling terrible Southern California stop and go traffic by itself.

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We can verify that from the very big traffic jam returning from Honda Headquarters on the 405 in this test TLX. It worked flawlessly, managing to both steer and manipulate the brake and throttle without driver assist. We were, however, monitoring everything so don’t think you can take a nap on your morning commute just yet.  And with this 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD managing to be so agile, fun to drive and oh-so very Audi Quattro-like in its buttoned-down cornering behavior, this car is every inch the premium luxury car. As such it deserves to have a special brand.

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The 2017 Acura TLX SH-AWD is the car we would buy first money no object. It is just that good. And it’s styling will appear classically timeless even a decade down the road which is not a sure thing for the Maxima or for that matter the 300S. All that the TLX might appear to be lacking when compared to the Chrysler and Nissan is Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility but frankly, the infotainment system design is excellent as is and does feature Siri Eyes Free for Apple iPhone users. That, and our personal favorite feature which is Song by Voice which allows you to use the voice activation system to have the car play a song, album, artist or playlist from your smartphone or even better, the build in music hard drive storage system. With the 2017 Acura TLX, you really can’t go wrong.

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Third Place: 2017 Chrysler 300S

There are really no losers amongst these three full-size, luxury performance sedans. All of them are enjoyable to drive, refined and offer all the roominess that a Toyota Avalon or Chevy Impala buyer seeks just with a bit more excitement. They all feature cutting edge active safety features like blind spot warning and can even attempt to autonomously stop the car to varying degrees if they detect an impending accident. Even in the center console Chrysler has engineered in an optional wireless charger right beside a couple of USB ports and something called an AUX-in jack.

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So, theoretically, if you have a phone that is capable of wireless recharging you could hop into your 2017 Chrysler 300, toss you phone into the center console armrest cubby and stream your music to the impressive enough, albeit somewhat artificially heavy in the bass department, 10-speaker Beats audio system with a 552-watt amplifier and dual voice coil subwoofer. We can attest to the facts that our test 2017 Chrysler 300S had quite a loud sound system. Almost too loud. Best left at 7/10’s. If you’d like to keep your hearing.

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Since its inception many moons ago, Chrysler’s U-Connect infotainment system has improved with leaps and bounds to the point that the 8.4 touch screen variant in our tester was easily the equal of class best. The screen is high resolution and enormous with both Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility if you choose to go that route. If you buy your 2017 Chrysler 300S with the U-Connect 8.4 with built in navigation you also get 5 years free Sirius XM Travel Link and Traffic Plus which is a great way to sell customers on the Chrysler OEM navigation rather than just using Waze.

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Our test 2017 Chrysler 300S featured dark silver chrome dash inlays contrasting with black leather sport seats nicely embroidered with a red “S” in to the backrest. If you want wood trim, shinier chrome inside and your more traditional Chrysler 300 experience then check out the 300C or top of the line 300C Platinum. But this is our issue with the 2017 Chrysler 300, because even if you select 300C Platinum you still pay more for the 5.7 liter V8 as well as what they refer to the Safety Tec Plus Group—the package that is essential to bring this car up to the active safety tech level of its newer rivals here.

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Oh, yeah, and for all in with every option hitting just over $47,000 we wish that so many interior components from the power window switches to the climate control were not just standard Fiat/Chrysler parts bin items. You do, however, tend to forget all that once you nail the throttle on the 5.7 liter 363 horsepower Hemi V8 which feels most of the time as if it has bottomless amounts of accelerative thrust on offer. Oh, yeah, and it sounds cool doing it. Just don’t tell that to the cop who just caught you doing 120 miles per hour on the freeway.

 

 

Here is Cendrine Marrouat’s new Poetry Book mixing her expert ability in the field of photography!


The new photography book by Cendrine Marrouat! The pictures are so beautiful that I have eight of her prints hanging in my home! If that isn’t a testimonial, I don’t know what is. Her work is both mature, focused and telling. Every picture tells a thousand stories. I love it and it makes a great gift! Click here to order your own copy!

Life’s Little Things – Les petites choses de la vie is a bilingual collection of 50 photos that look at the little things in life.

Life’s Little Things – Les petites choses de la vieUn ouvrage bilingue de 50 photos qui vous invite à apprécier la simplicité du quotidien.

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Video: 2016 BMW X5 with Night Vision and experimental Spotlight Beam Technology


So how does the Autoliv spotlight beam technology work in conjunction with Night Vision, now available on select models from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Rolls Royce and Mercedes Benz? While the technology has yet to be made available in the U.S. market, the spotlights would no doubt prove invaluable in saving both human pedestrian lives as well as those of animals like deer, Moose and even dogs and cats. It’s truly amazing what Autoliv’s spotlight technology can pick up in the dark that the human eye cannot.

The All-New (sort-of) 2016 Volkswagen Passat still makes a splashy Debut


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Written by James Hamel

It was supposed to be a rather standard event, the recent unveiling of the 2016 Volkswagen Passat which received a well conceived mid-life refresh for the new model year. While not as radical a mid-cycle visit to the plastic surgeon that the 2015 Toyota Camry received, VW did manage for 2016 to leapfrog most all of the competition when it comes to in car active safety features plus infotainment availability and ease of use. Otherwise, there wasn’t much wrong with the 2015 Passat as it remains both an excellent motorway cruiser and capable back road curve carver in the true German tradition. Plus, Volkswagen held the line on price while adding content.

The event was held in New York, Brooklyn to be more exact, with the shimmering Freedom Tower visible from the waterfront location FullSizeRender (5)VW had no doubt chosen months ago for this occasion. For some reason, Lenny Kravitz performed a short concert late in the evening, sadly without any wardrobe malfunctions. Volkswagen of America president Michael Horn introduced the Passat but not before giving a long, honest apology about the emissions scandal where he admitted Volkswagen had done wrong to its customers and that they would pay all fines and cooperate to make everything right.

What more do people want exactly? Apparently they want to see you almost fall off stage because while going over the subtle changes to the car he nearly fell off the side of the stage no doubt due to nerves after getting such an icy reception from the media. And because he was on a spinning platform and put one foot where the floor wasn’t moving but that’s not the point. It was only after his goofy pratfall that the crowd softened somewhat and by the end of his presentation the audience applauded his frank approach to a rather tricky situation.

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat in all trim levels (unlike Accord) has mirror play which hooks up to Apple’s Car Play or Google Android Auto with the touch of a button and it comes with Bluetooth sync speed capability and USB port music importing speeds that are unmatched by any car we have ever tested. And we were not told that, we experienced it first hand.

As for the exterior, the lines look even more taut and muscular overall as the roof makes a stronger half-hofmeister kink down towards FullSizeRender (6)the more angular rear tail lamp design. The only point of contention was the enhanced top chrome lip on the front grille which to some appeared too much like a fat upper lip. Maybe its appearance hits too close to home to those who have experienced the personal embarrassment of having their collagen lip injection go wrong and had to live with a larger upper lip for 8 to 10 months. The VW is not that noticeable in person so it shouldn’t be looked upon as a candidate for the next cast of the “Real Housewives” franchise.

If the grille bothers you, check out the new sportier R-Line trim level which makes that design element less noticeable and is a welcome addition to the line-up. At launch the Passat will definitely be available with Volkswagens excellent 1.8 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and the velvety 3.6 liter VR6 engine with the one question mark being when the 2.0 liter TDI will be back on sale. We imagine a company the size of Volkswagen has enough engineers to figure out a solution to the issue sooner rather than later.

Lastly, we also quite impressed with the generous array of advanced safety features now available with the Passat including the usual blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, a self-parking feature, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking assist that works autonomously and a first—something called post collision braking which if you have an impact with either a vehicle or object the car will attempt to keep the driver from losing control by overcorrecting through braking controlled by the onboard computer. That might help put an end to the 15 car interstate pile-up.

Now everyone please try to remember to breathe, relax and remember that the 2016 Volkswagen Passat will not sneak into your home at night, kidnap your children and try to turn them into gingerbread cookies. Not that we know of anyway. But then we do have a herd of magical unicorn so who are we to judge.

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To read the rest of this take on the Volkswagen saga, click here to go to Gaywheels.com. 

2015 Honda Accord Coupe EX-L V6 Manual is roomy, fast and fun to the extreme


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Written by James Hamel

From when we are very young, most of us are taught by our mothers that it’s what’s inside that counts when it comes to how you judge a person. Well, in this case mom appears to have been right even if you never jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge just because your friend was possibly going to do it. Still, mom deserves some kudos for much of her advice but is it possible to find beauty on the inside and outside? Well, live with a 2015 Honda Accord Coupe EX-L V6 with a manual transmission for a while and we are pretty sure you will believe in pure beauty.

The very same is quite true about the long term enjoyment and love you might enjoy from this new car, the type of car you keep garaged for 15 years and make your passengers take off their shoes each time they get in. Now, if the worst thing you can think of to say about the 2015 Accord Coupe V6 is that “it doesn’t look bold enough” then by all means feel free to test drive something flashier in the segment that will no doubt depreciate like a rock once the styling starts to look dated after 6 months on sale.

Furthermore, the Accord can actually accommodate four adults comfortable all the while boasting 13.7 cubic feet of cargo space. This is a sports coupe that doesn’t need to be your third car or the only car of a tuner boy racer—we are talking to you Miata/FR-S/370Z/Mustang EcoBoost and Genesis Coupe. And while the dashboard of the Accord Coupe is lifted pretty much wholesale from the sedan, there was nothing wrong with it in the first place. And having the manual transmission available with the V6 engine helps keep the two door Accord very special indeed.

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So, underneath the 2015 Accord coupe’s understated yet undeniably timeless and handsome exterior sheet metal lies an interior with best in class interior quality materials, unparalleled user friendliness even with its incredibly hi-tech Honda Link system with A-ha, Pandora and more as well as a level of stylistic panache you won’t find in other coupes with no four door kin.

And don’t you spend most of your time inside your car? So really we can’t reiterate how important it is to be comfortable in your driver’s seat. If you aren’t inside your car most of the time, you’re doing something wrong. Because you really shouldn’t be driving from the roof as the Highway Patrol frowns on that kind of thing.

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Driving Experience, Pricing and Features

The 2015 Honda Accord V6 starts at $30,350 and the only available option is in-dash navigation which adds about $2,000. So that includes leather seats, dual zone climate control, premium audio, Bluetooth, 18-inch alloys, heated front seats, power seat, push button start and keyless entry as well as a 3.5 liter 278 horsepower/253 lb. feet of torque V6 engine that makes a positively addicting ad intoxicating growl when pushed. Just be careful, again, around the Highway Patrol. And having the manual transmission available with the V6 engine helps keep the two door Accord very special indeed.

The 2015 Honda Accord is also available in V6 form with an ultra-smooth and buttery 6-speed automatic as well as with a 2.4 187 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder that in decently equipped LX-S trim starts at just a little over $23,000. The 4-cylinder uses a unique belt driven CVT automatic that is the quietest, smoothest and least annoying of its kind in the business.

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Appeared originally on the National Honda and Acura Examiner Page you can visit by clicking here.

Fully Loaded 2015 Family Sedans: Toyota Camry XLE V6 vs. Honda Accord EX-L V6 vs. Chrysler 200C V6 AWD vs. Kia Optima Turbo Limited


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Toyota Camry XLE V6 vs. Honda Accord EX-L V6 vs. Chrysler 200C V6 AWD vs. Kia Optima Turbo Limited

What exactly do we mean in our headline when we say that all of our test family sedans were “fully loaded?” No we didn’t weight them down with five extra-large fans of buffet style meals, we mean that each of our test models was fully loaded with the most powerful engines, most every gadget imaginable and with price tags easily cresting the $30,000 mark to varying degrees. But that’s what is beautiful about the family sedan segment. A buyer is no worse for wear buying a 2015 Honda Accord Sport (especially with the manual gearbox) than if they went for our test Honda-a full fat EX-L model with navigation which stickers for just over $32,000 and up to now was our reigning champ.

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Toyota Responds to Honda’s Sales Resurgence

But in response Toyota has lobbed back at the current success of the Accord with an impressively thorough rethink of the Camry’s styling, interior feel and driving dynamics all of which are definitely improved. The one carryover was one thing that needed no fixing and that is the Camry’s lovely 3.5 liter 268 horsepower/248 lb. feet of torque V6 which always offers plenty of power in an effortless manner mated to a 6-speed automatic. Our tester came to $34,900 but keep in mind the Camry also came with a premium JBL audio system with 10 speakers, subwoofer and amplifier for truly excellent sound quality at all volume levels. You can also wirelessly recharge your cell phone and safety advantages include a lane departure alert system, radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlamps.

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The Dark Horse Entry which will Shock You When You Drive it—The 2015 Chrysler 200C

Are we serious including this car as a competitor against such industry stalwarts? The Chrysler 200 and its forebear the Sebring were always rather the rental car joke of this market segment with not five years ago a Sebring we tested boasting five major mechanical problems during our test. That was then, this is now as our fully loaded 2015 Chrysler 200C V6 AWD wowed us with its technological leadership, interior style and quality which mimicked Jaguar to a degree as well as its lusciously attractive exterior styling. Equipped with a 3.6 liter 295 horsepower V6, a silky 9-speed automatic gearbox as well as an all-wheel drive system which kept the car firmly planted at hooligan-like speeds around corners as we floored the throttle, this new Chrysler family sedan’s new name should be “shock and awe.”

The car can even parallel park and “regular” park itself if you are really, really bad at parking. It also boasted a full length panoramic sunroof, French stitching on the ultra-soft leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, navigation, an excellent 9-speaker Pioneer audio system with a giant subwoofer, HID headlamps, 19-inch chrome alloys and every safety gizmo you could want like advance brake assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise, blind spot warning, automatic high beam control and we believe a kitchen sink. Starting price for a V6 AWD 200C is just over $30,000 but go crazy with the options like we did and the price can go to $37.000. Pick and choose your options a bit more wisely and this car is a great value.

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The Sexy Kia Optima Never Goes Out of Style Especially with its Turbo Engine and Gorgeous Interior

Our top of the line Limited 2015 Kia Optima Turbo came with every available option imaginable from quilted Nappa Leather seats that no lie reminded us of those in a Bentley, a 2.0 liter turbocharged 274 horsepower 4-cylinder, a dual pane panoramic sunroof, dual zone climate, heated front seats and steering wheel, heated rear seats, air conditioned front seats, power adjustable front seats, HID headlamps, LED tail lamps and fog lights and stylish 18-inch alloys. It has an impressively smooth six speed automatic and a nicely sized 15.4 cubic foot trunk.

But the real fun happens when you hit the button by the driver’s left knee to turn off the traction control. Where before you had a car that would cut back the turbo power at the slightest hint of fun you suddenly have a lively, luxury sport sedan that loves to take curves and is easy to correct and modulate as you power out of bends on your favorite twisty road. Just remember to turn off the traction control button when you really want to have fun and leave it on when you are driving the family around.

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So how is the 2015 Honda Accord EX-L V6 Holding up to the Increased Competition? We rank all Four!

We have driven a number of Honda Accord models for a week from a 4-cylinder EX sedan with CVT, a Sport 4-door with a terrific 6-speed manual (a steal at just over $23,000) as well as the uproariously fun to drive 2015 Honda Accord EX-L V6 Coupe with manual transmission (a roomier foil to the latest Ford Mustang Ecoboost) and lastly the 2015 Honda Accord EX-L V6 with navigation which stickers just over $32,000. There is a Touring trim above this which costs $33,630 and adds adaptive cruise control and LED headlamps. Not really necessary when we think the 3.5 liter 278 horsepower/252 lb. feet of torque V6 engine is without question the sportiest sounding and most entertaining motor in this test. As one owner of a V6 equipped Accord stated, “When this engine growls it sounds like a muscle car not like it’s apologizing for itself. Enough said, looks like the Accord wins the sporty crown.

TO FIND OUT WHO WON IN THE END CLICK HERE TO READ THE FINALE ON MY HONDA AND ACURA EXAMINER PAGE ON EXAMINER.COM!!!!!!

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2015 Fiat 500L Trekking vs. 2015 Ford Focus C-Max


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By James Hamel (Excerpts taken from Examiner.com.)

Now we do comparison tests all the time where we declare winners in categories ranging from family sedans to minivans to compact cars to luxury sedans. But what if we decided not to declare a winner but rather point out two unique and tasty alternatives to the gold standard of the subcompact class right now and most likely for a generation—the Honda Fit. It is roomy, fuel efficient, affordable, well equipped, powerful enough, nice looking and beats the snot out of the usual suspects like the Yaris, Versa and Spark. But there must be other options surely?

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Why yes there are in the form of the Italian oddball meatball the five door 2015 Fiat 500L hatchback as well as the hybrid 2015 Ford C-Max which too many people overlook in favor of a Prius. Admittedly, both the Fiat 500L and the Ford C-Max have more than a few awkward styling cues but with all of that comes a tremendous amount of utility for families. Yes, space enough to rival even the Fit with the 500L just beating out the C-Max for cargo capacity due to the Ford hybrid’s batteries are beneath the cargo floor. A fix a flat sealant is located under the passenger seat. We’d say if you buy a C-Max and get a flat tire, call a tow truck.

But let’s check out the C-Max and 500L more closely now…

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Ford Tries to Build a Prius, out comes the C-MAX

Now you could easily construe that as a bad thing that the C-Max is really nothing like the holy and virtuous Prius as a bad thing, we actually meant it in a complementary sense because where the Toyota is a silent, serene and numb isolation chamber you actually find handling liveliness, agility and a peppier feel off the line. Or maybe we were having fun flooring it too often. The C-Max is also down on the Prius EPA fuel economy at 42 city/37 highway. Frankly the only vehicle we have ever gotten 50 miles per gallon in regularly is with VW’s TDI on the freeway.

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Now if when you hop into the 2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid and it seems familiar that’s probably because it shares much of its design and parts with the Focus. So that means you have the luxury of the razor sharp steering from the Focus in a hybrid which in and of itself should be cause for a Government holiday. What we are saying here, people, is fun to drive hybrids do exist. There is also a plug-in hybrid “Energi” variant of the C-Max but if you don’t have much access to charging stations then the regular hybrid will suit most folks just fine.

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The Italian Job—(2015 Fiat 500L)

Whereas the original and admittedly rather cramped Fiat 500 coupe and Fiat 500 Abarth are undeniably cute and/or muscularly adorable, the 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking four door multi-activity wagon can take a bit of getting used to visually. People tend to love it or not so much when they first see it but in a world where people rarely turn their head when $100,000 BMW’s go by, you can bet people will be checking out your 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking which for us after options, delivery and a nice $1,500 discount came to just over $21,000 lavishly equipped. And what’s more, with the standard six-speed manual gearbox and the 1.4 liter 160 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque Multi-Air turbocharged 4-cylinder, this endearingly odd four door hatchback is a laugh riot to drive. But more on that in a minute.

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First off, let’s talk value. The 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking can be differentiated from its brethren thanks to some chunky body cladding, a slightly raised ride height, a unique yet truly well done interior treatment featuring a tan dash fascia and Morrone (brown) heavy duty cloth seats, Sirius XM, cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors as well as some truly styling 17-inch alloy wheels all as standard for a starting price of $20,945. This also includes a generous 4 year/50,000 mile warranty with 3 years of free maintenance.

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As Fiat is relatively new (again) to the U.S. market, if you purchase one of the Trekking options packs you get a back-up camera with rear sensors, a 6.5-inch dash mounted U-Connect screen with integrated USB/i-Pod integration and charge function, AM/FM/CD with 6-premium speakers, navigation, Bluetooth functionality, steering wheel audio controls, heated side mirrors, leather wrapped shift knob and steering wheel and an audio/visual impact system to alert you of possible collisions at low speeds with, perhaps, a curb. Not that you have ever done that. Neither have we.15235957499_780da9b9b5_k

Our Giallo Yellow came equipped with Trekking Group 4 which also added a stylish white roof accent, rear seat armrest with large American sized cupholders, dual zone climate control, power dimming rear view mirror, a year’s subscription to Sirius/XM (standard is 3 months), power driver’s seat and various interior appearance upgrades. Our total? Just a shade over $23,000. For all those features, that’s a steal.

For the rest of this article, click here to go to my Honda and Acura Examiner page

Future Tech Classic? 2015 Honda CR-Z revisited


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By James Hamel

Rumors of the 2015 Honda CR-Z’s demise have been greatly exaggerated many times over (much like me, the original Honda and Acura Examiner) by the motoring press over the course of its rather controversial lifetime. Honestly, who in their right mind would think to build a sporty, two seat hatchback hybrid powered coupe that’s available with a six-speed manual transmission. No other hybrid offers one and although buyers of the CR-Z surprised Honda with a high take rate, don’t hold your breath for a manual gearbox in a Prius any time soon.

Styling of the Honda CR-Z, what with its origins so obviously liked to the classic CR-X, has never been in question as it looks sharp in any color. Even the teal hue of our tester. On a recent Saturday afternoon we were stopped four times as we were entering our 2015 CR-Z and half of those people asked when Honda was going to release a non-hybrid variant.

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Driving the 2015 Honda CR-Z for a Week

So while we had plenty of fun driving our six-speed manual transmission equipped hybrid CR-Z, we could easily see that the chassis could handle a lot more power. Actually, it sort of cries out for it given how many giggles we got out of taking corners in this itsy-bitsy two-seater around tight corners.

The steering is also simply divine in the manner in which it carves tight apexes as sharply as the Ginsu knives of old. Admittedly, you do have to wring the neck of the current 1.5 liter 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain to get the most out of the CR-Z but given how pleasurable it is to use the six-speed manual that is no bad thing.

Power readings from the electric/gas motor together come to 130 horsepower so it’s no surprise that the 2015 CR-Z returns 0-60 times in the 9 second range. However, from stop lights and in around town traffic this little Honda has no trouble keeping up with the cut and thrust of daily commutes. In fact, the 2015 Honda CR-Z’s hidden talent is that it makes an ideal long distance cruiser.

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We took our CR-Z on a long weekend road trip to San Diego and were amazed by how smoothly it rode on the freeway given its minute dimensions. Engine, tire and wind noise were also easily drowned out by the 360-watt 7-speaker audio system which also featured a neat subwoofer built into the back of the surprisingly spacious 25.1 cubic foot cargo area.

The only problem with the CR-Z is that it is so small and low to the ground that drivers of giant SUVs can’t always see as you are trying to merge. But that is more an issue with their design and not that of the CR-Z. Freeway crosswinds also never upset this hybrid Honda and the steering tracks straight and true along long stretches of freeway. So if you are looking for a semi-sporty, efficient commuter the 2015 Honda CR-Z is an excellent choice.

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We averaged 34 miles per gallon over our week with the CR-Z and that is excellent considering we always had the vehicle in Sport mode. Normal mode works decently for around town driving but ECO mode blunts responses to such a degree that it reminds you of watching a drunken celebrity try to stumble out of some trendy LA bar with his friends. Not enjoyable.

If you are looking for the spiritual successor to the old Honda CR-X Si of yore then you will be sorely disappointed by the CR-Z. Having driven a 1985 CR-X Si on the freeway, however, we much prefer the thicker doors, reduced noise and added safety features found in the 2015 Honda CR-Z. Sometimes it’s best to leave classic cars in the past where you can continue to look upon them with rose colored glasses.

The 2015 Honda CR-Z is fun, agile, comfortable and truly affordable at $23,490 for our top of the line EX model with navigation. It returns fuel economy readings in the 30’s, has a terrific six-speed manual transmission and in EX trim boasts luxuries like Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration, automatic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels and even HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlamps.

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And while Honda hasn’t announced if the CR-Z will have a 2016 model year or be redesigned, one thing remains certain. This is a Honda coupe that people will definitely remember due to its overall conceptual daring and very unique capabilities for such a small car. But still signs like the termination of CR-Z sales in Europe don’t give much hope for the car’s long term future.

Another change that may signal it’s the CR-Z’s final year on sale comes from the fact that for 2015 Honda is no longer offering the optional dealer installed HPD supercharger/ultimate sport hybrid package. Only 500 CR-Z HFP (Honda Factory Performance) models were sold as parts were estimated to run about $4,600 prior to installation which pushed the purchase price of this CR-Z on steroids well above $30,000. But if you find a used one out there, the Honda warranties remain valid and you get a supercharger which pushes power to 190 horses, a handy limited slip differential, uprated brakes, uprated clutch, performance suspension bits, sexier 18-inch alloys as well as some modest spoiler for the exterior.

Photos by John Gala

For the Rest of the Review click here to be taken to my Honda And Acura Examiner page.

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2015 Honda Fit vs. 2015 Ford Fiesta Ecoboost vs. 2015 Hyundai Accent battle for Top Spot


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By James Hamel

We spent a large portion of the last year road testing subcompact offerings from every single automaker all the way from Nissan down to Mitsubishi with the following three models standing head and shoulders above the rest. Yes, if you read the headline you would see that they are, in no particular no order, the 2015 Honda Fit, the 2015 Hyundai Accent and the 2015 Ford Fiesta with the impressive 1.0 3-cylinder Ecoboost motor. Too bad more of the car didn’t impress.

Can the 2015 Hyundai Accent fend off the latest Fit and updated Fiesta?

Do consider the incredible feat that this represents considering that none of the subcompact competition for these three exemplary small cars is really bad, unless of course you count the Nissan Versa sedan which is not only inferior to the Versa Note but to most used cars on the market as well. Slow, noisy, bare bones with all of the pleasant feel of a solitary confinement chamber in a third world gulag, we really don’t recommend the 2015 Nissan Versa sedan at all. Otherwise, models like the Toyota Yaris, Mitsubishi Mirage, Chevy Spark, Kia Rio and Chevy Sonic all are fine choices. They just aren’t the best.

Well, you already know who made the top three among the subcompacts we drove this year. But read on to find out who came out on top.

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Exterior Styling

Unfortunately our Fiesta test unit was the sedan which we think is much frumpier looking than the sporty, euro-styled hatchback model. We suggest you go that route. Now, as far as styling goes Hyundai and Honda both took very different yet modern approaches. Admittedly, the 2015 Honda Fit looks the most like a robot from the future that merely has transformed into a roomy hatchback. One could imagine as it drives along that possibly it is humming along to “Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto” by Styx. But we do have overactive imaginations.

Our 2015 Hyundai Accent tester was a GLS sedan which proved to be the most mature and grown up looking vehicle in our trio. For a more European and somewhat sportier look Hyundai offers the Accent also as a five door hatchback this year even with a special Sport model which adds features as well as dresses up the exterior to at least make it look faster. No changes were made to the engine, the same 1.6 liter 137 horsepower/123 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder found in our shapely sedan. So all in all, if you want post-modern future thinking go with the Fit whereas the Accent is perfect for those who want styling that won’t look dated in two years. (1st Place (Tie): 2015 Honda Fit EX and 2015 Hyundai Accent GLS, 3rd Place: 2015 Ford Focus Sedan 1.0 Ecoboost)

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Interior Quality, Layout and Roominess

Both the Honda and Hyundai trump the Ford for that elusive “feel-good” factor as far as interior ambience goes simply because both the Accent and Fit use more soft touch plastics and upscale feeling materials than the Fiesta SE we tested. The Fiesta also had the most cramped back seat that also gave you the odd sensation you were sitting in a ditch. Otherwise trunk space was on a par with the Accent which admittedly had more comfortable seats all around and an airier feel to its cabin.

But seriously, no one can compete with the room, utility and interior comfort offered by the 2015 Honda Fit. Yes, you can still fold the rear seats and fit a Mountain Bike in there thanks to the return of the “Magic Seat.” It’s not magic, Honda just moved the gas tank to under the front seats thereby freeing up room. No matter how it was done, the 2015 Honda Fit offers up 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space when the seats are folded flat which is a figure that beats many small SUVs. Frankly, it’s bigger than some Manhattan apartments in there.  (First: Honda Fit, 2nd: Hyundai Accent, Third: Ford Fiesta)IMG_0246

For the Rest of this Comparison Test Click here for a link to the entire article on my Honda and Acura Examiner page!

Driving the 2014 Acura RLX with Krell Audio


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We didn’t go into our first drive in the new, range-topping 2014 Acura RLX luxury sedan with astronomically high hopes, given the wallflower-like nature of its predecessor, the RL. The old RL was nice enough, but in no way was it revolutionary, sexy, or state of the art. And it certainly wasn’t going to blow the mind of its no doubt slightly bored driver, who probably wondered why he didn’t get a TL instead.

But after experiencing the game-changing wild child that is the 2014 Acura RLX, we think it’s time that Mercedes, Lexus, and even BMW take note of how markedly competitive this new car truly is. This is odd because a GS350, E350 or 5-Series are all rear-wheel-drive, and according to the auto journalism rulebook, RWDs are always superior to front-wheel models like the RLX.

Funny, if we weren’t mistaken we would say that Acura engineered the new RLX as a bitchslap to every repetitive traditionalist to show them front-wheel-drive can be fun too. Plus, if you live somewhere that has seasons and weather you would probably prefer a front driver — unless spinning around in circles after hitting black ice patches is your idea of a good time. Frankly, we’d rather go cow tipping,  and trust us when we say that is not on our bucket list, much less our lunch pail list.

Thankfully, we packed our superhero lunchboxes and headed off for drives on winding Napa Valley back roads, leading us finally to the Sonoma County Raceway, where we really got to put the RLX and back-to-back E350, GS350 and 535i models to test. Make no mistake, we know how great Acura models are and have been in the past, so why were we somewhat reticent to believe in an Acura flagship that appeals to driver pleasure centers as well as those seeking serene comfort? In this case we simply didn’t know how many engineering tricks Acura still has up its sleeve.

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The answers to all of our doubts and questions, dear readers, were found behind the wheel of the new RLX, which proved once and for all that you don’t need to be a rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan to carve corners with the best of them. In fact, we think that the P-AWS four-wheel steering system (which stands for Precision All-Wheel Steer and is not a reference to kitty cat claws) will convince any luxury sport sedan shopper that the RLX handles like no vehicle they have driven before.

Now, without an engineering degree it might be a bit difficult to understand how Acura worked such miracles with its P-AWS system but as you would expect, it allows you to turn the rear wheels in the optimal direction during various driving scenarios. This optimization of the wheel toe-in or toe-out (i.e. when the wheel is pointed inward or outward) provides extremely predictable and stable cornering, even in bad weather. It may also lengthen the life of your tires — though that claim came from Acura, so don’t complain to us if your tires don’t last as long as you had hoped.

The point here, people, is that this P-AWS system makes understeer nearly undetectable and gave us a level of confidence on the rainy race track that may or may not have led to a rather long sideways power slide around one long sweeping turn. Not once did we fear losing control of the vehicle, although we do hope no one at Acura saw us do it.

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Interior and Exterior Judgments

The 2014 Acura RLX is a naturally pretty and well-balanced design when viewed from the outside, with LED front headlamps giving the face a unique appearance akin to someone with the compound eyes of a spider. The traditional Acura grille holds together the handsome corporate face that not only faithfully screams “upscale” but is also capable of looking like a working professional’s car. As for that, the back seat offers best-in-class legroom so this car may be a hit for real estate agents who sell multi-million-dollar homes across the country. Truly, if you take five adults with you for any period of time, then the RLX is your finest choice.

Otherwise, the leather lined interior is quite simply one of Acura’s most stunning pieces of handiwork since the original NSX, what with its refined simplicity that the easy-to-figure-out RLX also manages in a smaller dose. Honestly, the RLX has way too many high tech features not to require some more buttons and at least a control knob when compared to the old NSX which (gasp!) didn’t even have a navigation system. Oh, how quickly automotive expectations change.

The RLX has an interior that is definitely pushing the boundaries. Audiophiles will be interested to know that the once-vaunted Acura/ELS audio system is no longer the top rated unit: this honor now goes to an awesome sounding Krell system available in upper-level trims. Your ears will never want to hear music anywhere else after experiencing this sound system, trust us. Most especially you won’t want to be hearing music at a Justin Bieber concert, since that act renders adult ears deaf from all of the pre-teen shrieking. And his singing.

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THIS REVIEW AND HOW IT DID VS. THE COMPETITION ON Gaywheels.com! Click here!

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2012 VW Passat Intro and pictures


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Windy Tennessee Back Road country suits this car perfectly.

VW has been building the Passat family sedan for sale in the United States for nearly a quarter century but it has always managed to remain a niche player because it was first and foremost designed for the tastes of the European market. So when VW announced that it was going to build a Passat just for North America, the first thing many VW faithful feared was it turning into some monster with huge cupholders, a soggy suspension, numb as Novocain steering and an interior with all of the build quality of your average Ikea bookshelf. So how did it turn out? Click here to read more by Googling the VW Examiner on the National Edition of Examiner.com..

>Bisimoto Engineering 800hp Honda Civic Wagon


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I wrote this article a while ago but it bears re-posting…

Today, for the first time in my life, I went so fast in a car that I momentarily felt like I was flying upside down. And the car in question, a 1988 Honda Civic Wagon tuned by legendary automotive engineering scientist Bisi Ezerioha, wasn’t even at full boost pressure. As I repeated later during my afternoon spent at Bisimoto Engineering in Ontario, California—this was a moment that will forever live in my personal book of “awesome.”

Bisi Ezerioha is best known for his most recent Honda CR-Z tuning job that premiered at this year’s SEMA event and wowed the crowds with his ability to maintain the functionality of the hybrid powertrain all the while giving the car tremendous performance. For more information on the CR-Z stay tuned for part 2 of this 3 part series on the magic of Bisimoto Engineering.

But first, let’s talk about this bad-ass blue 800-horsepower 1988 Honda Civic Super Blue Kick-Ass Wagon (my name, not Bisimoto’s) that left such a tremendous impression on my psyche. It’s got a killer back story, too. Much like everyone who works at Bisimoto Engineering and everything that they lay their golden fingers on, this inconspicuous Honda Civic Wagon could drag you by your hair, kick dust in your face and then kick your ass from here until Tuesday.

Continue reading on Examiner.com.

>What are the Ten Best 2011 Cars for Families by Category?


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Photo by Todd Allen/Courtesy of Tacair Photography

When it comes to buying a new family car nothing but thebest will do. You want to have a vehicle that is not only reliable, fuelefficient and affordable but also one that is very safe and one that your wholefamily will enjoy riding in. As a parent, it’s great to have great crash testsafety records but if you want your kids to ride with you (especially asteenagers), you had better be sure not to buy a “dork mobile.”

This is where this list comes in to play. Having tested eachand every one of these vehicles on the road personally, I can guarantee thatthey offer excellent quality, terrific utility, value for money  and are simply the best at what they do. Andsince everyone has different tastes in regards to what kind of family car theywant to drive, I have divided this list into different categories so that nomatter what your budget there is something here you can afford. You just haveto ask yourself, does your family deserve the best? 
Click here to find out who did and who didn’t make the list.

Original article on Associated Content by Yahoo!