Amazingly Excellent Family Four Doors: 2016 Mazda6 iTouring v. 2015 Volkswagen Passat vs. 2016 Chrysler 200C AWD


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Written by James Hamel (and the conclusion can be found by clicking here onto Examiner.com)

Not everyone lives and dies by the rule that you have three choices in the family sedan segment and they are Accord, Camry or Altima. Really, you rent an Altima you don’t buy one for your family. That car could use a mid-life refresh as badly as if it was one of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” who routinely plump, alter and tinker with their looks. You see, there are cool family sedan options and here are three of the best—the 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL, 2016 Mazda 6 Touring and the 2016 Chrysler 200C AWD.

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Exterior Styling

The latest Mazda6 has always visually tickled us in all the right spots and is more dynamic looking than Accord or the latest Camry. We’d say it’s downright handsome but once the 200C AWD walks in the door you understand the difference between that and sexy. And the Passat, well, its lines have aged very well and in burgundy it looks like a million bucks. If you want your car to look German, that is your family sedan. Still, we can’t believe Chrysler of all brands managed to bring “Sexyback” to family sedans. (1st Place: 2016 Chrysler 200C AWD 2nd Place: 2016 Mazda6, 3rd Place: 2015 VW Passat TDI)

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Interior Layout, Comfort and Materials Quality

Whereas the Passat admittedly is the king and champion when it comes to rear seat roominess (it really the only one suitable to carry five adults) and simply enormous trunk space, sometimes its generosity bordered on overkill. If your groceries rolled all the way forward in the trunk you practically have to climb in just to retrieve them from this VW’s Grand Canyon of cargo capacity. It’s perfect if you are a hoarder. We just wish the interior felt a bit less Spartan and featureless. And the cheap plastic clock on the dash has to go.

Here is where the 2016 Chrysler 200C’s interior shows up the competition and that is in the high quality feel of the leather, plastics and carpets as well as “wow your friends” features like a transmission gear selection knob that looks quite a lot like the one you find exclusively in Jaguars and Range Rovers. A stylish dual pane panoramic sunroof much like the one that really is the cherry on top of the equally sexy Kia Optima also featured in our Chrysler 200 tester and helped it to inch past the Passat and stylishly sporty feeling interior of the 2016 Mazda6 with its new and much improved infotainment system for the win. (1st Place: 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD, 2nd Place: 2016 Mazda6 Touring, 3rd Place: 2015 VW Passat TDI)

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Fuel Economy

Well first off let’s just say the 2015 VW Passat TDI simply walked away with the fuel economy win being that we put 680 miles on the odometer and never had to fill the tank once. And yes, we returned it with just under a quarter tank left. The 2016 Mazda6 with its SkyActiv technology, however, also impressed us for its efficiency given that it has an EPA estimate of 28 city/40 highway and we averaged 38.9 miles per gallon over the course of a week.

Our 200C may have recorded the lowest fuel economy numbers here but it is also the only one equipped with all-wheel drive (the other two don’t offer it) and a far more powerful 3.6 liter 295 horsepower V6 which thankfully does run on regular unleaded. Over the course of a week the 18 city/29 highway rated 200C averaged nearly 22 miles per gallon. Do note there is a more fuel efficient (36 highway) 2.4 liter 184 horsepower 4-cylinder engine available. But what is the fun in that? (1st Place: 2015 VW Passat TDI, 2nd Place: 2016 Mazda6, 3rd Place: 2016 Chrysler 200C AWD)

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Value for Money, Features and Pricing

All three sedans here have starting prices in the low $20,000 range but their as tested prices varied wildly based on how lavishly equipped they were with the latest gadgets and gizmos. But keep in mind our 2016 Mazda6 Touring stickered for just over $23,000 yet still featured dual zone climate control, 19-inch alloys, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, keyless go and push button start as well as very convincing faux cowhide seat upholstery. The 2015 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium TDI was priced just over $34,000 and given its higher feature count the 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD rang up to just over $37,000 once the Chrysler Group LLC had finished lavishing every possible option imaginable onto our test vehicle. Yes, we see that’s a big gap.

If you can live with some of the more over the top features like, oh, say the Chrysler Parallell and Perpendicular Park Assist system which can automatically parallel park and guide you into a regular parking spot for you as well should you one day be rendered utterly incompetent. It’s too bad that feature is lumped into a package with very helpful safety advances like collision advance brake assist, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam headlights. In fact, only the Volkswagen lacked adaptive cruise control which can automatically maintain a set speed for you on the freeway regardless of traffic. It just slows you down then speeds you up again. That used to be the preserve of Lexus models but now even family sedans boast the latest gadgetry. (1st Place: 2016 Mazda6, 2nd Place: 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI, 3rd Place: 2016 Chrysler 200)

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Do any of these Sedans Stir the Senses? (Fun to Drive)

First to go down in this fight is a car that boasts impeccable road manners and noise suppression all while managing to always feel like the faster you drive it the more nailed down you are to the road. This car is, of course, the German Engineered and Tennessee built 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI. This frugal family sedan is a pleasure at a relaxed cruise and can also manage to capably tackle windier roads if the need arises.

The only problem is that the 2016 Mazda6 Touring has the cheetah-like ability the more comfort oriented VW lacks thanks to the most buttoned down suspension tuning of any car in this test and steering that is not only communicative but never feels overly heavy during tight cornering maneuvers. The 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD’s steering felt lighter and somewhat more detached but the car made up for it with the tenacious grip during even the most insanely tight freeway onramp cornering maneuvers. Not that we would test a car in such a way but Southern California where we are based has little need for all-weather traction as a rule but the 200’s system manages to aid grip even in the dry.

As you would imagine, the Chrysler’s 3.6 liter 295 horsepower V6 offered up the most thrilling straight line experience but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum when the roads got twisty and the 200C’s weight problem compared to the Mazda6 became easier to notice. So despite only packing a 2.5 liter 185 horsepower Sky-Activ 4-cylinder, the 6 always felt like a feisty performer thanks to its enthusiastically growling engine note and the slick shift action of the six-speed manual gearbox.. And never once did we wish the Mazda had more horsepower when we took it for some blasts on our favorite back roads. Face it, Mazda knows how to make even a family sedan go “Zoom-Zoom.”

And while we are always enthusiastic about Volkswagen’s 2.0 liter 140 horsepower/236 lb. feet of torque TDI diesel motor, we always feel that particular engine makes for a more engaging drive hen equipped with the manual gearbox. Really the only car priced like the 2016 Mazda6 that will soon have an infotainment system possibly as good as the one in the Mazda will be the soon to be released 2016 Honda Accord EX four door which should feel just as rewarding to drive. (1st Place: 2015 Mazda6, 2nd Place: 2016 Chrysler 200C AWD, 3rd Place: 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI)

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BUT WHO WON? Click here to go to Examiner.com. 

All Chrysler 200C Photos by MaryAnne Wendt Founder and Editor in Chief of WhyThisRide.com

Fun, fast and affordable: 2015 Scion tC vs. 2015 Honda Civic Si vs. 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX Turbo


Written by James Hamel for Examiner.com

IMG_0083While few have ever called the 2015 Scion tC sport coupe the second coming of the Celica, there is no doubt that a similar formula is at play here. This roomy enough for four two door coupe comes loaded with features like an 8-speaker 300 watt Pioneer audio system, air conditioning, panoramic sunroof, power windows, locks and mirrors, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, USB-iPod integration all for comfortably under $20,000. And thanks to a recent headlamp rejuvenation and tail lamp tuck, the tC still is stylish as ever with reliability, fuel economy and build quality all ranking high with the exceptions of the plastics surrounding the A/C vents which felt cheap.

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While you can always jack up the price of your tC with the lengthy dealer installed options, next up in the price range here is the 2015 Honda Civic Si sedan which stickered for just over $23,000 with sticky summer tires and blinding orange paint. Features includes automatic climate control, a 300-watt audio system with amplifier, power moonroof, power windows, locks and mirrors, Bluetooth, USB-i/Port, a 2.4 liter V-TEC 204 horsepower/178 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder mated to the finest six-speed manual anywhere near this price.

Lastly and most surprisingly was the as tested price of our 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX which came to $25,625 albeit that was fully loaded with in-dash navigation, dual zone climate control, a power moon roof, heated seats, heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, power driver’s seat, HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlamps, a 1.6 liter 201 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder and a slick shifting six-speed manual gearbox. In fact all of our testers came equipped with clutch pedals and we couldn’t have been happier!

DSC_0152Exterior Styling

The first generation tC was visually a bit of a wobbly mess, like wax left out in the hot summer sun for too long. For the second generation, Scion took the tC to far more angular and masculine heights especially with the squared off rear windows and hatchback line. The rear styling nicely hides the silhouette of the hatchback which allows this coupe a rather enormous cargo hold whether the rear seats are up or down.

Now the 2015 Honda Civic Si which we think is visually like a sexy and fun boy racer makes it good looking enough to win this category if only it wasn’t painted orange like our tester. Our favorites are red, the dark grey, silver and black Si exterior paint hues which tastefully coexist with the loud red cloth upholstery seat inserts on the inside. Finally, the 2015 Kia Forte SX Turbo may not have the purposeful angularity of the last generation but it has its own unique style. Kind of a like a nicely tailored suit, the 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX Turbo would fit in at any occasion without drawing too much attention to itself. (1st Place: 2015 Scion tC, Tie: 2015 Honda Civic SI (in orange), 3rd Place: 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX)

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The first thing you notice when you hop into the 2015 Scion tC is how roomy it is for four people thanks to plenty of shoulder room and surprising amounts of rear legroom. The standard panoramic sunroof also really gives it a very airy and open feel. The glass extends over the rear passengers so they never feel like they are sitting in a dark pit. The one negative is the rather cheap feeling vinyl sliding cover you can pull over the glass portions. It feels like it’s not made to last as long as the rest of the car and will most likely get stuck or torn within the first year of ownership.

Interior storage is very impressive inside the tC as there are large map pockets in the doors (but who owns a map anymore?) and the glove box is big enough for more than just your owner’s manual (and on the same thought, who stores gloves in their glove box?). The rear seat folds 60/40 offering up 34.5 cubic feet of cargo room. Also, there is enough head and legroom for two rear seat passengers of average height.

IMG_0107The 2015 Scion tC continues the “squared off” design motif from the exterior with a chunky flat bottom steering wheel and a lot of angular lines across the dashboard. Scion was very shrewd about making sure that all of the essential touch points (steering wheel, shift knob, climate controls, turn signals, power window switches, door handles) in the 2015 Scion tC had that essential “feel good factor.” VW specializes in this interior treatment but Scion unfortunately skimped on a few key parts of the dash where the plastics look like they belong in a Yaris. Admittedly, the tC is super affordable and you can’t have everything.

The inside of the 2015 Honda Civic Si feels just as roomy as any Civic sedan which is to mean very, has very high quality interior trim and outward visibility and the black and red cloth sport seats add a touch of pizazz to what is now quite a familiar interior. However, the Civic is the most ergonomically perfect car in regard to its interior compared to the cars on test here. The six speed manual, the clutch pedal and steering wheel are all within perfect and easy reach for seemingly anyone of any height. The seating position is so perfect that it truly makes you feel one with the car and makes the driving experience that more special.

To read the rest of this piece and see who won check out my Honda and Acura Examiner page. 

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

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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My Picks for 15 Compact Family SUVs from Best to Worst!


2012 Kia Sportage

As a rule I get to test a whole lot of compact family SUVs which to many auto journalists is looked upon as a negative experience. However, I seek out afforadble family SUVs whenever I can so that I can let you know which ones are dogs (sorry Daisy Mae) and which ones are great. No, there may be no Ferraris in my future but as long as families need affordable crossovers I will be there to road test them. 

 This may not be as glamorous as testing an expensive luxury sport coupe but in this economy not many people need help with that kind of new car purchase. Sensible, affordable, efficient and relatively compact SUVs are the vehicles that American families actually need.

Forester XT! Yummy!
The following  family SUVs may not share the exact specification, engine design, vehicle layout or MSRP but they are all undeniably mainstream.  Hence, no Lexus, Audi or Mercedes entrants on this list.

Since I spent so much time with these family favorites over my many weeklong car reviews, I learned a lot more than you can glean from one short test drive. Don’t get me wrong, test drives are important when you are buying a new car. But when I get an SUV for a week I am reviewing it in depth for families who are going to rely on it with near religious devotion for years to come.

I quickly realized that during a test drive there is no way for a person to uncover all of the annoying, inconvenient and terrifying weaknesses that can become glaringly obvious after 7 days and nights with an SUV.  Quite tellingly, I rarely feel the same way about a test SUV on both the first and final day I have it.
Ah, take the family or haul junk?

So where do I find problems? To start with, SUV interiors are afforded more  abuse and damage than Alanis Morissette heaped onto the word “ironic” in the lyrics to her 1990’s hit song of the same name. Ah yes, many SUV engineers underestimate the sweet tyranny of children. They also forget about the destructive power of a canine who doesn’t like strangers walking by the family SUV in the parking lot of a grocery store.

Also, if your SUV is going to be a chariot for your family pet then you absolutely must consider how to safely transport them in a buckled harness, crate or other similar option. Different SUVs have differing levels of pet friendliness. For more information about SUVs and pet safety check out the BarkBuckleUp.com website.

CR-V
But there is more to an SUV than its interior. There’s also cargo space, passenger comfort, fuel efficiency, cost of ownership and the all-important value for dollar quotient. I can’t think of many American families who aren’t scrimping and saving nowadays, so who wants to spend too much on their next family SUV?
Now, here in an updated form is my current list of the best (and worst) compact crossover SUV Suburban crawlers for sale in 2012. And to be quite honest, the last three vehicles at the bottom of the list are the only ones that I absolutely would NEVER allow a friend to purchase. Sure, the Liberty rules off-road as I found at a Jeep event on dirt trails but as for on-road comfort it is really lacking.

My  Current Picks for Best Compact Family SUV  from Best to Worst
2012 Honda CR-V
2012 GMC Terrain
2012 Kia Sportage
2012 VW Tiguan
2012 Subaru Forester
2012 Kia Sorento
 2012 Nissan Juke
2012 Hyundai Tucson
2012 Toyota RAV4
 2012 Toyota Highlander
2012 Ford Edge
2012 Jeep Patriot
 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander
2012 Nissan Rogue
2012 Jeep Liberty
And deservedly dead last…
2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara (yes, it’s still for sale…only now with an odd quad-color leather seating design that makes the insides of this SUV look like a pimp exploded.)

Aren’t you dead yet?

Daisy Mae Hamel’s 2012 Civic Sedan and Si Coupe Review as Penned by an 80-Pound Dog


Any dog who has gone to a dog park knows about the concept of piling on a weaker dog which is part of our inherent nature as pack animals. Whether or not we participate in the melee, if some dogs detect even the slightest weakness in another dog there will be more wild growling and paw bitch slaps than you would see during your average episode of “The Jerry Springer Show.” Jerry Springer? I wonder with that last name if he is related to any Springer Spaniels? Just wondering.

The reason I mention this is that the 2012 Honda Civic line has been the victim of a lot of dog park-like media piling on thanks to a variety of factors. There was, of course, the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan that cut off parts supplies just when production was set to ramp up in large numbers. Also, people complained that the 2012 Civic’s redesign wasn’t as revolutionary as it should have been which wouldn’t have been an issue if radically improved offerings like the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze (used to be the Cobalt) were released around the same time.

To read the rest of Daisy Mae’s insightful review of the new Civic, click here for a link to her reviews on BarkBuckleUp.com. Or Check out James Hamel’s in depth weeklong road tests of this vehicle on Autobytel.com.

Consumer Comparison Test: 2011 Chevy Suburban LTZ Vs. 2011 Toyota Sequoia Platinum


We noticed a lot of similarities between the Chevy Suburban and Toyota Sequoia during our road tests of these highly proven family vehicles that are perfect for hauling a boat, 8 people, the entire contents of your studio apartment or all the kids all at once. We saw that not only were these fully loaded gas guzzlers priced to within $1,000 of each other (both around $60,000 fully loaded) but they also are sized to within an inch of each other, so neither one is exactly easy to park.

Both the Suburban and the Sequoia also have what we would call in the real world serious drinking problems, as they both had V8 engines that never topped 14 miles per gallon during our time with them. But our Sequoia definitely could out-muscle the Suburban thanks to its larger displacement engine, additional power and more responsive feeling six-speed automatic.

The Suburban we tested came equipped with a 5.3 liter V8 with 320 horsepower that proved more than adequate when asked to motivate the Chevy but it just didn’t have the insane oomph offered by the Toyota Sequoia’s 5.7 liter 381 horsepower 5.7 liter V8 that is Lexus-like in its refinement. But in the end, does having this much brute accelerative force matter in an SUV that doesn’t exactly corner like its riding on rails (we are talking about both the Toyota and Chevy here).

In fact, both the Chevy and Toyota had very soft suspension tuning directed towards passenger comfort that conspired with rather numb steering racks to create two of the least rewarding to drive vehicles on the market today. It’s also just not fun having to worry about finding a big enough spot to park it unless you live somewhere with lots of open space. Like Texas.

To find out our final choice in this battle of the giant SUVs, click here for a link to Yahoo! Autos

Road Test: 2012 Honda Civic vs. 2012 Hyundai Elantra vs. 2012 Toyota Corolla S


Who would have ever thought that just in one year’s time the Hyuandai Elantra would be a big name player challenging the likes of industry stalwarts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla S. Recently we were able to road test two fully loaded Civic and Elantra automatic models and compare it with the surprisingly delightful 2012 Toyota Corolla S with a five-speed manual transmission. All we can say is that when you equip a Corolla with a stick shift, you truly set its spirit free. Yes, it actually has one.

Although I did discover one very shocking and disappointing truth about the 2011 Elantra during my one week road test, overall I found it to be truly fun to drive, refined, and powerful, thanks to its new 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower/131 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder engine that is Hyundai’s best in-house design yet.

The 2012 Honda Civic comes equipped with a carryover 1.8-liter, 140 horsepower 4-cylinder engine that seemed to be perfectly sufficient a year ago but now is apparently terribly outdated. In reality, this Honda engine is as eager to rev and punchy as ever so take a lot of the media bashing it has received of late with a grain of salt. It’s still a Civic.

We had very low expectations for the 2012 Toyota Corolla S but over the course of a week it truly charmed us thanks to its no nonsense style, easy to understand interior layout, supreme interior comfort and lastly we loved the rev-happy 1.8 liter 132 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque 4-cyiinder that when connected to that sweet manual transmission made every around town errand a delight. It also returned 32 miles per gallon without any real attempts to be frugal.

For more, check out my Honda and Acura Examiner page by clicking here.
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Alternative Energy Alternatives: 2012 VW Passat TDI vs. 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid


When compared to the current generation Toyota Camry Hybrid that is soon going to be replaced with an all-new 2012 model, the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid is actually the superior vehicle with better power, a longer battery range and a more appealing interior with plenty of hi-tech goodies. But no market segment in the car world sits still for long and a 2012 Camry Hybrid looms on the horizon as does the new menace in the high mileage family sedan market known as the 2012 VW Passat TDI.

So will the Fusion Hybrid be able to handle all of the challenges it will face in the coming model year? As we have already driven the 2012 VW Passat TDI already, we can safely already say that the diesel engine VW with the 795 mile range is not only more fun to drive but also competitively fuel efficient with 31 city/43 highway readings to the Fusion’s 41 city/36 highway EPA figures. Either way, both the Fusion Hybrid and 2012 Passat TDI impress in their own unique ways-the VW mainly if you have trouble with the usual “hybrid quirks.”

To read more click here/
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Ten Things You Should Know about the 2012 Honda CR-V | Autobytel.com


Ten Things You Should Know about the 2012 Honda CR-V Autobytel.com

A great overall look at the 2012 Honda CR-V written by me for Autobytel. Click here or above to read it!

The Truth About the 2012 Ford Focus vs. the 2012 Honda Civic


Introductions taken from Autobytel.com and links to both separate reviews are below. I suggest you read them before you do any car shopping. Or believe the media.

Ford Focus Titanium Sedan Road Test

It is a not very well-kept secret in the auto industry that Ford Motor Company used to suffer from “quality glitches” with its new models as a routine matter of course during their first year on sale. But given how consistently innovative and successful it has been in recent years at maintaining Toyota and Honda levels of vehicle quality in surveys, it came as a bit of a shock to see its customer satisfaction ratings plummet dramatically in just the last few months.

Given our experience with the 2012 Ford Focus it’s clear that a lot of the blame lies in a few teething problems with their most recently launched models. To say our test car had “issues” would be to understate the matter quite a bit. Still, the Fusion, Flex, F-150, Taurus, Mustang and many of the Blue Oval’s best sellers, do continue to maintain excellent quality rankings.

So what’s the problem with the 2012 Ford Focus? We are sure that time and little bit of engineering hard work, Ford can fix every wrong thing we experienced. But given the number of problems our 2012 tester suffered from it is very hard to recommend that anyone buy this model at least until Ford gets these quality control issues ironed out.

There were small niggles like a trunk that routinely liked to pop open as you crossed speed bumps and it definitely didn’t help matters that the standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic hesitated for at least five seconds when going from park to reverse and then would only do so with a jarring clunk. This gearbox also routinely shook the car with such abrupt judders through the entire body during various downshifts that it made you wonder if in fact you were piloting the Titanic and had hit an iceberg. No transmission with only 4,500 miles on the odometer should behave that way.

To read on….click here.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Review

As far a new car launches go, the 2012 Honda Civic’s introduction to the North American market couldn’t have been any bumpier or more badly timed. First off, soon after the Civic’s press introduction in Washington, D.C., Japan was devastated by the most costly natural disaster the world has ever seen when an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown put the country into chaos. Honda, unfortunately, has its headquarters in Tochigi, Japan which means it was the closest Japanese automaker to all of the devastation.

Although most Civics are manufactured at plants in North America and only 20 percent of their parts are sourced from Japan (the rest are purchased locally), the company found itself with assembly lines full of partially assembled vehicles that should have already been on dealer lots. Thankfully, things have been steadily improving and Honda tells us that production has returned to near normal levels so if you want a Civic you should be able to find the trim level, body style and color you want at your local dealer.

As if that wasn’t enough, for some reason many in the automotive media decided that Honda’s misfortune was the perfect opportunity to begin relentless and rather misguided attacks on the Civic which has dominated American compact sedan buyer’s hearts for decades. So what, exactly, is wrong with the 2012 Honda Civic? Has Honda, as so many headlines have proclaimed, lost its way with the Civic?

Before we look into that we’ll just make one thing very clear. To paraphrase a sentiment uttered by the similarly iconic author Mark Twain, “rumors of the Honda Civic’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
To check out this or any of our awesome reviews on Autobytel just click here

Autobytel: Intro and Link to My Road Test Review of the 2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6


There’s really only so much that you can learn about a completely new and redesigned car when your only real experience with it is in the controlled environment of a manufacturer sponsored press launch. These events are the best way to find out all of the stats, technical info and pick the brains of the engineers and designers who spent years working on this one automotive project. But only by living with this new model for a week can you be sure to find out how it performs in the real world that buyers of these cars live in.

Now all of that is all that should be expected from an automaker as auto journalists at press launches only get initial impressions out there via test drive routes that are mapped out by automakers in advance. Rumor has it that it isn’t unheard of for these test roads to be specially chosen to mask certain, shall we say, known deficiencies?

For the rest of the article, hit Autobytel.com right here. Like, now!

1 2 3 Ten Best 2012 SUVs for Commuting Which Can Still Handle Family Duties


When it comes to picking out the best new SUV for you and your family, there are a lot of different things to consider besides sticker price and whether or not you think the car salesman you are working with was hired simply because his polyester suit matched his polyester hair. You see, there can be bad salespeople at any dealership and paying the right price for your next SUV will come down to doing your homework when the time comes and then being prepared to be doing a bit of negotiating.

But before you jump ahead to the actual process of “buying” your next 2012 SUV, you must first go out and “shop” for one first. And if you hadn’t noticed lately, there are a lot of choices out there for the average consumer. Admittedly, a 2012 Range Rover might be nice to dream about but can you afford $90,000, a tenacious thirst for premium unleaded and the possibility that something might go wrong with this most complex SUV ever built once it’s out of warranty?                               

Don’t answer that if you have a house in the Hamptons, have live-in help who raise your children, or don’t have the slightest clue why 99% of a population would resent the top 1% of money earners in the populace. While there are some luxurious and upscale choices on this list, even the top level models here lack the showy ostentation that is never popular in a recession.

For the full top ten list, click this link to my Yahoo! article.
Seriously, click here for the top ten list!