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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

The Opposition
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. 

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

First Drive Impressions of 2013 Acura ILX Lineup (Autobytel)


Acura was not only the very first Japanese luxury auto brand in this country but it also has managed to bring a number of other firsts to the U.S. market over the 25 years it has been in business. Acura was the first to introduce an in-dash navigation system, third row seating in a luxury suv, the first company to build a supercar (NSX) with an aluminum monocoque body. They also brought enthusiast performance to the common man and woman with the iconic and affordable Integra.

Fast forward to 2012 and the entry level luxury car is again a hot concept in the market as older baby boomers downsize and Gen-Y is expected to start coming into some money (though we doubt anyone with mountains of college loans to pay off could afford the ILX’s $25,900 starting price on a Starbucks Barista’s salary).

Still, Acura is wise to lower the point of entry into its brand as this so often leads to customers returning to buy TL’s and MDX’s or RDX’s as their needs and wants change over time. But with a hope for 40,000 sales a year, did Acura play it a little bit too safe with the styling of this new entry level luxury model based on the Civic platform? Part of the answer to that question will depend on what you look for in a new car and your perception of what an Acura should be. The only thing we are sure of is that the ILX, for better or worse, is not the rebirth of the Integra. Maybe someday.

To Read The Rest About the Hybrid, 2.4 and 2.0 ILX Click Here to go to Autobytel

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.

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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?

Autobytel’s Review of 2012 Toyota Camry Ends with a Shocker! It’s, well, fun?


For Full Article Click Here to see the full free review click HERE to go to Autobytel.com!

It’s truly amazing how far automotive technology can come in such a very short period of time. Granted, new cars like the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid are the result of an overwhelming amount of cash, man hours and no doubt a fair amount of late night binge drinking in bars and restaurants near Toyota City in Japan. Although we haven’t been inside Toyota City, we imagine it must be enormous since Toyota’s U.S. HQ in Torrance is known just as “Toyota University” and we need a Scion shuttle to get us from one building to the another.

Either way, take our word for it that both places are big. Just like the announcement we are about to make to every person out there who just would never, ever buy a hybrid because of their few but seemingly ever-present driving quirks. Some consider these quirks as annoying as Richard Simmons in a glitter factory but at worst we found most vehicles of this type to merely be guilty of the sin of being “boring to drive.” Sadly, that was practically the sole defining character trait of the last generation Camry Hybrid whose utter lack of any spirit made you want to somehow make it cry. At least a Prius is visually inventive from a design perspective whereas the Camry had reached its bottom in regard to boredom.

We should have known something was up with the new 2012 Camry when Toyota held the launch party at a Hollywood movie studio and part of the vehicle presentation was a cacophony of confetti cannons and young, hip looking flash mob dancers gyrating around the new car. At least 200 of them we estimated but once you’ve seen one slacker they start to blend into one another with time. We are quite sure 178 of these “flashmobbers” had a soul patch.

After rubbing our eyes and pinching ourselves to ensure we were awake, we drove all of the new Camry models and found we were most astonished by the sea change found in the Hybrid version. This called for us to investigate further with a one week real world road test, of course, as we suspected Toyota slipped something funny in our Diet Coke at that party. So, were our impressions of the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid all a dream that day? Read on to find out if we like the Hybrid Camry as much as we anticipated or if disappointment will break our battery powered hearts.

To read detailed impressions about this Camry Hybrid go to the full free review on Autobytel.com

2012 Honda CR-V Put to the Test by Daisy Mae the 80 Pound Dog!


The author Daisy Mae Hamel
No matter what you think about Honda and its line-up of family friendly coupes, sedans, hybrids, SUVs and trucks, there is no way any dog or lover of dogs could spend a week with the 2012 Honda CR-V and not feel confident that this company is just crazy for the four legged set? It positively screams “designed for hounds then humans” with the true accomplishment being that the 2012 CR-V is perfect for both man and his best friends.

People have accused “moi,” Daisy Mae Hamel of loving Honda’s lineup too much but really, isn’t it the other way around? Evidence can be found all around the 2012 Honda CR-V’s easy to access and very solidly built interior be it in the class leadingly low step-in height which allows “older” dogs like me to step into their owner’s vehicle with grace and dignity no matter how many years have passed by according to their “Dog-ometer.” Sorry, bad dog pun. Even we have off days.

CR-V in Suburbia!
Also, we found the CR-V’s front interior roof mounted sunglass holder and built-in rear seat monitoring mirror design to be both brilliant and chilling at the same time. Not only could my owner watch what I was doing in the leather lined rear seats of our test 2012 CR-V EX-L AWD model, but he could also then easily store their sunglasses when they got out of the SUV. That was, perhaps, my only niggle with the vehicle as I am a girl who likes a bit of privacy when riding in her harness in the second row of seats. I might meet a cute Bassett Hound.

Daisy doesn’t ride up here!
The 2012 Honda CR-V is also great for any owner who not only hauls the family dog but also has to haul lots of stuff in the cargo area. If you need more room during your travels in your 2012 CR-V all you need to do is just flip a handle in the cargo hold and the second row of seats folds flat in one fluid and mechanically brilliant motion. With those seats down, the CR-V sure felt like it was easy to load full of kibble bags and I was told that it offered around 79 cubic feet of cargo space. Too bad I don’t know what numbers mean but it sounds impressive.

Our test 2012 Honda CR-V was a top of the line EX-L model with navigation and all-wheel drive yet the sticker price barely creeped past $30,000 which is very impressive considering you also get automatic climate control, Bluetooth, power everything, leather seats, USB/iPod integration, Pandora internet radio, a power moonroof, stylish 17-inch alloy wheels, power 10-way driver’s seat, a back-up camera, tinted windows (so I can avoid the “Dog-arazzi” in LA), heated front seats and a premium AM/FM/CD 7-speaker audio system with subwoofer. Honestly, Honda threw in everything but a color matching restraint harness for me when they built this all-new CR-V.

With its easy to access cabin, wealth of solid feeling interior materials, generous features specification, newfound style and zippy Honda-style driving experience, I whole heartedly recommend the 2012 CR-V if your family is looking for a new SUV. It’s almost like Honda designed it with dogs needs in mind. Imagine that, a car company thinking beforehand about who in the family might most often be riding in the SUV? Honda must be full of geniuses. Or every other car company is run by idiots. I’ll get back to you on that last one.
Daisy Mae can be reached by clicking this link to reach her personal Dogbook Profile!

Also Check out some of Daisy Mae’s other work at her favorite website BarkBuckleUp.com!

2012 Kia Optima SX Road Test and Review | Autobytel.com


We think rather highly of the 2012 Kia Optima, made obvious by its recent win as the Autobytel Sedan of the Year. In just one model cycle, the little South Korean underdog went from tailing most of the entire sedan pack (barring your sister’s ’84 Mitsubishi Galant) in style and sophistication to all but domanitating the entire segment.

Though the Optima itself delivers an overall rewarding experience for most economical buyers, the real crowd pleaser is the Optima SX turbo. New for 2012, the Optima SX is powered by a special 2.0 liter twin-scroll, which pumps out 274 horsepower/269 lb. feet of torque. The unit is mated to one of Kia’s own 6-speed automatics and boasts EPA estimates of 22 city /34 highway – which is an incredibly optimistic figure given how tempting it is to really work the spirited four-banger. In real-word testing, we averaged around 19 mpg.

Click here for full review!

2012 Kia Optima SX Road Test and Review | Autobytel.com