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

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. 

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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2014 Toyota Venza XLE V6 Road Test


When approaching the front end of the 2013 Toyota Venza you could be excused for thinking something along the lines of, “my what big teeth you have!” Now we aren’t saying that the 2013 Toyota Venza XLE V6 was a wolf in granny’s clothing but we would say that when equipped with the 3.5 liter 268 horsepower/246 lb. feet of torque V6 motor which affords this crossover a bit of a growl and a certain accelerative bite.

What We Like
While the chrome grille may be a bit too large for some people’s tastes, the look of the Venza overall is stylish, pert and handsome thanks to nicely judged dimensions and a squat looking rear end. We absolutely love the 3.5 liter V6 and the smooth 6-speed automatic which are seamless and enjoyably responsive during aggressive driving maneuvers. We also love the huge center console mounted cubby hole covered over by a sliding cupholder tray which also has nooks for pens and smart phones. This is a very well laid out cabin.

What’s Not to Like
Our main gripe with the Venza came not from the driver’s seat but rather from

anyone who rode in the back on the rather firm rear bench seat where one’s ears would be assaulted by an overly aggressive amount of road and tire noise. The sound seems to emanate from the rear wheel wells and implies less than generous sound deadening back there. Passengers up front, however, have a quiet and serene driving experience. So make sure you don’t like your back seat passengers.


Tow and Haul
Unlike the more utilitarian, 7-passenger Highlander that we reviewed earlier or the workhorse known as the 4Runner, this 2013 Toyota Venza XLE V6 is rated to tow just 3,500 pounds but that should be plenty for any motorcycle haulers out there. A tow prep package costs only $220 from Toyota and includes an engine oil cooler, larger radiator fan and a heavy duty alternator. We recommend that if you plan to tow anything with your Venza that you invest in this invaluable and smartly priced option.
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating for this crossover is 5,095 pounds for this 3,870

pound vehicle which means you can haul passengers and cargo up to that weight without putting undue stress on the vehicle. This is not the same as how much towing capacity you have to pull a trailer behind your vehicle, of course. Cargo capacity behind the second row is 36.2 cubic feet growing to 70.2 cubic feet with those seats folded flat. 


The Drive
One thing that most impressed us about the Venza was the responsive and communicative steering that made parking lot maneuvers, aggressive cornering and even will make towing a much easier endeavor thanks to removing the usual SUV slop from behind the wheel. Brake pedal feel is mushy at first but gives solid bite when needed. Body roll is also kept nicely in check which is rare among most crossovers and SUVs. One might call the Venza a bit sporty. For a crossover.

Engine and Drivetrain
We never have a complaint about Toyota’s corporate 3.5 liter 268 horsepower/246 lb. feet of torque V6 motor as we think it is truly an under rated gem among many inferior competing 6-cylinder powerplants. The Toyota V6, when mated to a six-speed automatic, can be silky smooth and quiet but as you approach the redline it gives off a snarling growl which is in line with the power on hand. We’d avoid the base 4-cylinder option in this vehicle.

Interesting Vehicle Features
We especially liked the ergonomic, high mounted automatic transmission shift lever which sprouts from high in the center of the dashboard much like one used to see in old Alfa Romeo automobiles. It works well and helps drivers not need to take their eyes off the road as they are changing gears in crowded parking lots which could easily cut down on the likelihood of an accident. Why more vehicles don’t use higher mountings for their shifters is beyond us.

Gas Mileage
The Venza comes with a handy 17.7 gallon fuel tank and boasts EPA fuel economy figures with the V6 engine of 22 city/26 highway. We averaged an impressive 24.7 mile per gallon average over the course of a weeklong stay with us.

Interior and Exterior
Handsome, solidly built if just a little bit plain in an appealingly conservative

manner, this Toyota offers all of these attributes whether you are talking about the interior or the exterior. There are not many boastful or eye catching design features beyond the chrome heavy front end and the attractive rear tail lamp treatment. As for the inside, just picture a more plain Lexus RX350 interior and you will have some idea what you will find in a Venza. Wood paneling and leather rule the day but to good effect.


Pricing
The 2013 Toyota Venza XLE V6 we tested was a front wheel drive model that stickered for $33,180 to which we added the aforementioned tow package ($220), a Premium Package for $1,850 (panoramic sunroof, navigation, entune and JBL audio via center screen, integrated back-up camera, USB/i-Pod connectivity, 13-speakers for the JBL audio system) as well as $900 for a full tow hitch kit and $79 for a rear bumper protector. We also spent $1819 on rear seat DVD entertainment which also includes a separate $41 charge for the wireless headphones. Hey Toyota, why not include the headphones in the price of the DVD entertainment system as they are sort of necessary for parental sanity. The total? $39,189 with destination.

The Verdict

While we really do think the 2013 Toyota Venza XLE V6 is an exemplary crossover, at this price there is also a lot of competition for your hard earned dollar—many of which exist at your local Toyota dealer. The rear seat noise in the Venza is definitely something that Toyota needs to address before this becomes our favorite towing and hauling machine in their line-up. It’s their fault really for building too many good SUVs and crossovers. 
Originally published on DriveApart.com. 

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

Comparison Road Test: 2012 VW Tiguan vs. 2012 Nissan Juke


At first glance, this may seem like an odd SUV comparison to make, considering the fact that the Juke is perhaps the wildest looking vehicle of this type ever built while the 2012 VW Tiguan remains as Teutonic as ever with a restrained yet tasteful new front corporate front end easily noticeable whereas the much improved six-speed automatic now returns 2 miles per gallon more on the highway with EPA ratings of 22 city/27 highway. As the Juke was all-new last year, the vehicle needed nothing more than detail changes and our front-wheel drive manual transmission tester returned EPA figures of 25 city/31 highway. So, again, why the comparison?



This VW motor is one of the best in any vehicle at any price.

First off, both of these SUVs come standard with high revving, quick and quite addicting turbocharged 4-cylinder engines that still manage to return decent fuel economy in real life situations. Also, as Nissan and VW don’t sell these SUVs in Honda, Chevy, Ford or Toyota numbers, you won’t have to suffer the ignominy of seeing your exact same SUV always parked in the Home Depot lot every Saturday right next to you. Not that the Juke or Tiguan were meant for extreme cargo duties, although the VW has the Nissan easily licked in this department. With the Juke, you are buying a style statement to a degree so you take the small sacrifices in substance.

While both aren’t exactly overflowing with legroom in the second row, the big difference comes in how much cargo room is available in the Juke and Tiguan. The Juke, what with its cute and pert rear end design, sacrifices a cargo hold for what amounts to the inside of a teenager’s backback what with this SUV’s paltry 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. Fold those down and you can squeeze in about 35 cubic feet of your junk.

The Tiguan, on the other hand, gives buyers a much more useful 23.8 cubic feet behind the rear passengers growing to over 56 cubic feet when those seats fold (relatively) flat. Seriously VW, should the back seat fold with a giant lump in the middle of it because you didn’t worry about where the cupholders would go during such an occasion? Also, the Tiguan’s cargo hold feels tall and not very deep with the Jetta Sportwagen topping it as a cargo hauler for extreme duty.To read the rest click this sentence.

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 Road Test: 2012 Hyundai Tucson GLS


Nowadays it would be very easy to say that Hyundai, as a car manufacturer, is on a very serious and very long roll when it comes to introducing very successful new models. Not only have these new vehicles been competitive but many have been called the best in their respective classes. A Hyundai? Surely this can’t be the same company that brought us the Hyundai Excel compact which is best remembered as being “not quite as bad” as the Yugo hatch that came to market around the same time.

The Value Equation

As is still always the case with most every Hyundai product, the 2012 Tucson is a terrific value for money. And just because our GLS tester was relatively inexpensive at $22,295, it definitely didn’t lack for features. Spend a few grand more for a Limited model and you can even add leather, cooler looking alloys, navigation and an upgraded premium audio system. But to our way of thinking the GLS is the smartest buy in the Tucson lineup and even the standard 6-speaker audio system does a terrific job in its attempts to sound “premium.”

Standard features on the 2012 Hyundai Tucson GLS includes power windows, door locks and mirrors, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD 6-speaker audio system, USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, a 2.0 liter 176 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque 4 cylinder, a 6-speed automatic, tinted glass, alloy wheels, keyless entry and a whole lot more. It is, in short all of the compact family SUV that most people really need.

To find out more about how we really felt about the 2012 H:yundai Tucson you can go to Yahoo! Automotive Voices by clicking here;

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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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!