Hats off to Lexus. They turned us loose in the new IS sedan on an autocross course yesterday — and supplied a batch of competitors’ cars for comparison.
From the Lexus family, we drove the IS 250 ($35,950), IS 350 ($39,465) and IS 350 F Sport AWD ($45,320).
Lexus throws down the gauntlet today. We’re in San Francisco for the introduction of the third-generation 2014 IS, which is meant to do battle with BMW’s mighty 3 Series. Though it won’t be in showrooms until summer, Lexus hopes to gin up interest early by giving journalists a sneak peak.
Is it possible that Kia has created the best-looking family sedan on the market?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and all the main contenders have stepped up their games lately (think Fusion, Camry, Accord), so I don’t know that I’m prepared to go out on that limb.
The possibility occurred to me Monday. Dusk had morphed into full-on dark and my Titanium Silver tester waited for me in the halogen glow of a nearly empty parking lot.
In that light, and with a clear view of the car’s flanks, its crisp clean lines and ideal proportions cohered in a way that belied its modest roots. Quite elegant. Shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose, since Kia’s lead designer is a fellow named Peter Schreyer*. Schreyer designed for VW/Audi until Kia stole him away.
I do have reservations about the Optima; I find the front fascia/grille underwhelming. In that regard, I much prefer Schreyer's work with Audi. Otherwise, the thing is a home run.
Photos don’t do the Optima justice. Check it out next time you see one sitting by its lonesome in a grocery store parking lot. At dusk. Bathed in a halogen glow.
*Postscript: When I Googled Schreyer to make sure I'd spelled his name correctly, I learned he'd been named president of Kia in December. Two weeks later, it was announced he'd take over lead designer chores for both Kia and its parent company, Hyundai.
In my previous post, I promised the lowdown on the 2014 Acura MDX, which should start arriving in dealerships by summer.
As you may recall, I’d come across a rumor that Acura would dropSuper Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) from upcoming versions of the MDX. PR boss Chuck Shifsky was quick to respond to my query to that effect.
“Bad rumor,” he said.
Acura show the new MDX at the Detroit Auto Show today and, in fact, SH-AWD is still onboard.
The only real change, traction-wise, is that for the first time the MDX will be available in a front-wheel-drive format. This comes in response to requests from Sun Belt dealers.
Otherwise, the ’14 MDX gets a full facelift. Its new “Aero Sculpture” styling not only looks good but also improves aerodynamic efficiency by up to 16 percent.
It will be shorter by 1.5 inches and ride on a longer wheelbase, which should enhance ride quality and boost cabin and cargo space. A new chassis is lighter and more rigid and new front and rear suspension designs are expected to produce in a sportier ride-and-handling package.
There’s a new engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 that’s expected to produce more torque while improving fuel efficiency to class-leading levels.
Acura will load the MDX with a host of safety technologies and expect to see the next generation of Acura’s cloud-based AcuraLink connectivity initiative.
I’m never going to own a large crossover — i.e., one with three rows — but if I did, it would be Acura’s MDX.
The MDX rides well, though it’s not the least bit sporty. It’s strong and handsome, though not at all flashy. It’s comfortable and quiet, though a bit old-school in certain ways.
To wit: Unless I’m misreading the spec sheet, that spiffy, new 2013 MDX you’re eyeing isn’t available with such a commonplace feature as keyless entry and ignition.
This isn’t a huge surprise. Acura is Honda’s up-market division and Honda’s strong suit is engineering. They’re less interested in key-fob transponders than in the greasy bits down below. When they do engage ones and zeros, it's generally in an effort to tackle a pressing need, not whether I can open the car without taking the keys out of my pocket.
Many buyers value Honda's go-slow approach — it tends to reduce failures and increase resale value, though I’m certain it costs the company sales.
There is one piece of Acura tech I’m particularly fond of. Its Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system — is simply the best of the breed. I've never driven a more surefooted car in the snow.
A new, 2014 MDX is coming in 2013 and there are rumors afloat that Acura will drop SH-AWD for a lesser system, presumably in an effort to reduce the price of the MDX.
I’m not a prospective owner, so my vote doesn’t count for much. Still, I look forward to my annual winter test, simply because it’s so much fun to drive a capable rig in ugly conditions. Plus, largely because of SH-AWD It’s a car I never hesitate to recommend.
Let's just say I have an interest.
Today, I reached out to Chuck Shifsky in Acura’s PR office, asking for the official line on the SH-AWD question.
“Bad rumor,” he wrote. “We’ll share more on 14 MDX next week in Detroit.”
I won’t be at the Detroit Auto Show next week, but I’ll look forward to getting the lowdown — and when there’s more to tell, I’ll pass it along.
Today, I give up my 2013 Honda Accord Sport sedan. In its place, I’ll get an Acura MDX, so life isn’t all bad. Still, I’ll miss the Accord.
The ’13 is the first iteration of the 9th-generation Accord, long one of America’s favorite midsize sedans. It’s a bit smaller and lighter this year, but has a roomier interior and larger trunk.
No one buys an Accord for glam or racetrack cred. It’s your basic car. But basic doesn’t have to be boring. Even equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), my tester was nimble, responsive and light on its feet. The electrically assisted steering system felt natural and had a pleasing heft. The suspension, firm enough to limit body lean during turns, was also sufficiently compliant to laugh off our pocked city streets.
The Sport is a new trim level this year and, other than puzzling packaging choices, I’m impressed. The price is right — $24,180 with the standard 6-speed transmission; $24,980, with the CVT — and the features set makes sense.
The base Accord ($23,270/23,780) is equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, cruise control, an 8-inch video display, Bluetooth (phone and audio), a rearview camera, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable manual driver seat, a folding rear seat and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack, iPod/USB audio interface and Pandora functionality.
One step up from the base, the Sport gets a bit more power from the standard 2.4-liter four (189 hp vs. 185), 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift paddles for the CVT.
This is one of the better CVTs I’ve driven — its pseudo shifts are clean and sharp and Honda has dialed out all but a hint of the CVT’s traditional rubber-band responses — but I’d take the stick anyway. Fuel efficiency is a hair better with the CVT but I prefer the superior engagement a stick makes possible.
Here’s what puzzles me about the Sport: a host of desirable options — heated seats, up-level audio system, navigation, etc. — are not available. To qualify for those and other options, buyers must move up to the EX-L trim ($28,785).
There’s more to say, most of which I already said back in October.
In a typical year, Mazda sells fewer total vehicles in the U.S. than Toyota sells Camrys, or Honda sells Accords. Or Civics, for that matter.
I’ve been driving lots but not writing; here's a quick and dirty update:
The GMC Terrain Denali aspires for near-luxury quality in the compact crossover category and largely succeeds. Inattention to important details undermines the effort, though. Hint: If you’re going to indulge in stitched dashboards, sew straight or don’t sew.
I left the Terrain at the Spokane airport and on the other end - the Newark, New Jersey, airport - picked up a Hyundai Elantra Coupe. The coupe, which is new to the Elantra lineup, performed valiantly over 10 days of high-speed New Jersey Turnpike warfare. It 1.8-liter four makes 148 hp, which is plenty, though the optional six-speed automatic is geared for economy and the quick downshifts required by the parry-and-thrust of freeway driving weren’t in the cards.
“Maple-syrup shifts,” my notes read.
Sidebar: New Jersey drivers are fast but also polite and predictable. They understand the art of the merge, get it that letting the other guy into your lane is not a sign of weakness and stay out of the far left lane except when passing.
On Christmas Eve, we were met at the Seattle airport by a 2013 Mazda3 sedan. Smaller even than the Elantra and incredibly efficient (40 mpg highway) the 3 was, as always, a fun drive, lively and responsive. Our tester wore brand-new Goodyear Blizzak winter tires, which earned their keep on a Christmas-night Snoqualmie Pass run. Adaptive Xenon headlights shined up the road like the deck of an aircraft carrier, a complete godsend out on that dark and snow-splotched piece of road.
In October, I wrote admiringly about the ninth-generation, 2013 Honda Accord, a return to form for a car that had lost its edge. Now there’s a new trim, called Sport (from $24,470), which slots into the lineup just above the base LX. On the heels of the short-wheel-base imps I’d been driving, the Accord felt like a grown-ups’ car; quiet, solid and settled on the road. I’ll write more in coming days, but will wrap with the observation that this Accord could reign again as America’s best-selling passenger car.
I’ve been distracted by other chores this week, but I’d be remiss if I were to move on without a parting nod to the Subaru Crosstrek.
Truthfully, it’s such an unassuming little car it’s hard to know where to start.
How about this? With its 8.7 inches of ground clearance (up 3 inches from the base Impreza), the Crosstrek is perfect for those days when the snow piles so deep a normal car turns into a snowplow.
It happens often enough around here — especially at higher elevations — that a little extra ground clearance can be a godsend.
Then there are those times when you find yourself wondering what lies down that goat trail marked “Primitive Road.”
With its extra ground clearance and standard all-wheel-drive, the Crosstrek goes places others can’t.
As we’ve already mentioned, fuel efficiency is exceptional (23/30 with the 5-speed manual; 25/33 with the optional CVT) and the price of entry ($22,000-plus) is attractive.
Just don’t expect fancy. Subaru doesn’t do fancy. Subaru does utilitarian, which is the point of the enterprise.
We'll leave it at that. Watch for a full review Dec. 29.
Though European carmakers dominate the upper end of the automotive market, they are largely absent from the segments where most of us shop.
The chief exception is Volkswagen, which of course made its mark flogging the humble Beetle.
VW has flirted with going upscale — most notably with the excellent but short-lived Phaeton sedan — and yes, one may still drop $60 Large on the hybrid version of the Toureg, but the brand’s offerings tend to fall well below $35,000, even when well equipped.
The compact Jetta starts $16,430, including destination, while the 2013 Passat competes in the family sedan segment with a $21,650 base price.
That fetches a Passat that’s 4 inches longer than its predecessor and rides on a wheelbase that’s grown 3 inches. Its cabin is among the roomiest, quietest and most comfortable in the segment.
The front seats are firm and well bolstered and rear-seat legroom rivals that of some full-size cars. Fit-and-finish and materials quality are very good.
The Passat’s touchscreen-based center console is a model of clarity and crisp efficiency. It’s faster, better designed and less distracting than most. Most importantly, it’s flanked by buttons that simplify its operation.
Passat no longer hangs its hat on razor’s-edge handling but its fully independent suspension (front struts, rear multilinks) produces a lively and controlled ride, while tuning out the harsh impacts of potholes and freeway expansion joints.
In the VW tradition, steering is accurate and responsive, though numb on center and a bit heavy at low speeds.
Three engines are available; a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter five-cylinder; a 140-hp, 2.0-liter turbodiesel that makes 236 pound-feet of torque; and a 280-hp 3.5-liter V-6.
I’ve driven only the six, which is a lovely engine. Quiet and smooth, it possesses a broad power band that VW’s DSG automated manual eagerly exploits.
The base, five-cylinder engine also powers the lighter Jetta, where its output is sufficient. In the heavier Passat, it’s overmatched. For best results it should be paired with the six-speed manual gearbox, not the optional six-speed automatic.
The torque-rich TDI (turbo-diesel) could be the pick of the litter. It’s rated at 31/43 (manual) and 30/40 (DSG) and some testers say real-world numbers are 8-10 mpg better than that.
Herein lies the rub: Take a pass on the 2.5 and soon you’re talking real money. The TDI starts at $26,675 and the six starts at $29,765.
If it’s any consolation — and it should be — the base Passat is equipped with automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a six-way manual driver seat with lumbar adjustment, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, redundant steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, trip computer, Bluetooth with streaming audio and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio input.
Word is VW plans to sweeten the package in 2013, replacing the five with a 200-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged four.
The 2013 Passat is sized, equipped and priced to win the hearts and minds of Americans — and it’s built at a new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. It’s as clear as it can be: This European wants a piece of the action.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2013 Volkswagen Passat SE w/Sunroof
Vehicle base price: $20,845
Trim level base price: $29,235
Optional equipment: Our SE w/Sunroof tester included no optional equipment.
EPA ratings: 20 city/28 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required
“That looks like a fun little car. That’s the kind of car you’d just go out and have fun in.” Uniformed agent of the US gov’t, peering through the coffee shop window at the Subaru XV Crosstrek parked outside.
“That’s the kind of car I’d have bought for myself, but my wife wanted something more comfortable.” Friendly neighborhood barristo
Subaru has done it again. They’ve altered the bones of the compact Impreza, lifted it three inches, bulked up selected suspension bits, added body cladding and created a new model.
Last time it was the Outback; this one they call the XV Crosstrek (from $22,790, including destination). Roomier than the base Impreza — four full-size adults can get comfy — it boasts class-leading fuel efficiency - 23 city/30 highway with the base 5-speed manual; 25/33 with the optional CVT.
Hint: Get the manual. The Crosstrek checks in at a not-svelte 3,100 lbs and the 148-hp flat-four needs all the help it can get.
The postal carrier was right; the Crosstrek looks spry and engaging, though performance isn’t its strong suit.
The barristo was also right: it’s a bit down on power, but with standard AWD, short wheelbase and elevated stance, it will handle light-duty off-roading. Once again, best to avoid the CVT if trail-running is on your agenda.
He was also right on the comfort score. With Its elevated ride height and truncated wheelbase, the Crosstrek’s ride is choppy on city streets, though not bad on the open road.
The little four labors to get to speed and road and wind noise are present at speed. Something has to give when budgets are involved and the compromise between weight and silence is a perpetual challenge.
So is cabin tech, where Subaru lags. The base trim, ironically dubbed “Premium”) fails to quality for navigation, which would have provided the otherwise dour dash with its only splash of color.
People buy Subie’s for qualities other than flash, though, and this one will doubtless find its market.
In 2002, GM debuted a new suspension technology called Magnetic Ride Control (MRC).
For 2013, Toyota set out not to merely update the full-size Avalon; instead, it gave its underachieving flagship a personality transplant.
It's all-GM all-the-time this week here at Seat Time.
For the past few days, we've focused on Chevy's new mini-car, the Spark. For the next few days we'll look at Cadillac's newest and smallest, the ATS sport sedan.
We might as well get this out of the way right up top; Cadillac makes no bones of the fact that it benchmarked BMW's 3 Series during ATS development. And why not? The 3 is the world's compact sport sedan of choice; if you're going to pick a target, make it a good one.
The ATS is a four-passenger sedan available in RWD and AWD configurations. It offers a choice of three powerplants - two fours (one turbocharged) and a six - and a wide range of performance enhancements and options.
By its very nature, it's a temptress, beckoning one to places one should not venture — and making sure you love every moment of it.
But more about performance in a later post. For now, we'll say only that the ATS's talents outstrip those of any Caddy before it, save its big brother, the 556-hp CTS-V. Suffice to say, its capabilities also will surpass those possessed by all but a very exclusive handful of drivers.
It's a good one, but so is the 3 Series. We have a shoot-out on our hands, folks.
Before signing off, we'll note that the ATS:
Check in tomorrow for a more detailed look at the systems that make the littlest Caddy go.
As you would imagine, the base Spark ($12,995, including destination) is relatively spare in the standard-features category. Air-conditioning, power windows, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, a trip computer, OnStar telematics and a four-speaker radio with an auxiliary audio jack are all standard, as are 15-inch alloys.
But whichever Spark you choose, the gauges perch behind the steering wheel in a column-mounted pod, a nod to motorcycle design. There’s an analog speedo, a digital tach and a small driver-information display.
All rather basic and functional.
Body-colored trim bits brighten the interior and rescue it from tedium. Ice-blue ambient lighting comes up gently when a door opens.
The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, which may bring grief to long-legged drivers. Larger folk are likely to find the cabin too cozy.
Predictably, there are minimal storage opportunities, though a small bin beneath the center stack accommodates a cell phone, which otherwise would find its way into a cupholder.
One sits on the smallish, slightly bolstered seats, rather than nestling into them. Despite any obvious lumber support, my back survived pain-free, despite logging several serial hours of drive time.
There’s adequate rear-seat legroom for adults, though the bottom cushions are thin and sit low to the floor. No guarantees from here regarding their comfort on longer jaunts.
As I learned the hard way, folding the rear seats to increase cargo space reduces front-seat legroom.
Chevy's interior designers made a valiant effort to maximize the available space. Fact is, there wasn’t that much to work with.
I suspect that in the final analysis, touchscreen navigation and infotainment systems will be found to be dangerous.
Not even Chevy claims for the Spark the ride and handling package of a German Grand Touring machine.
Twelve feet long and riding on a 93-inch wheelbase, the Spark has more in common size-wise with a washing machine packing crate than an S-class Mercedes.
Fifteen-inch low-rolling-resistance tires paired with a ping-pong-ball-like curb weight of 2,237 pounds promise a third-world ride-and-handling package.
A 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter engine makes the thing go. It can be mated with a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic.
Aside from abundant cabin noise at highway speeds, the Spark acquitted itself well on my thanksgiving-week wanderings, which were not paltry.
Despite an absence of steering feel, the Spark tracks well on the freeway and handles abrupt lane changes with the poise of a larger car. During the nearly three-hour jaunt between Portland and Eugene, I lost track of the fact that I was driving a car the size of a walnut with a glandular disorder.
At 70 mph, the little engine happily revved along at something just over 3,000 RPM, but was smooth and silent at those speeds. The onboard fuel meter consistently read just in excess of 37 mph.
On the winding two-lane Hwy. 38 between Drain, Oregon, and the coast, the Spark carved through curves with minimal body lean and, when I needed to, I could drop a gear or two and get around slower traffic.
Upcoming: Tomorrow, we’ll look at smartphone-base infotainment systems. Further ahead, cabin comfort and amenities.
Chevrolet’s Spark is the company’s first mini-car, a competitor to the Fiat 500, Smart Fortwo and Scion IQ.
The anti-Suburban, if you will.
It’s GM’s smallest car, and also, at $12,995, its most affordable.
Yet the Spark has room for four adults and, so configured, enough cargo space for a handful of grocery bags, a gym bag or a couple of overnightbags. Dropping the rear seatbacks trebles cargo space to 31.5 cubic feet, or a little more than a third of the Suburban’s.
A mere 12 feet long, the Spark rides on a 93.5-inch wheelbase and weighs in at 2,237 lbs with its standard five-speed manual transmission and 2,269 with the optional four-speed automatic.
EPA ratings: 32 city/38 highway, on regular unleaded.
In the spirit of austerity — and weight savings — the Spark does without a CD player (true fact: an in-dash CD player can weigh 7 lbs). Instead, a smartphone-based system called MyLink Radio serves as the entertainment center via Bluetooth, cable or USB.
Instead of a navigation system, Chevy will introduce a new $50 app called BringGo. For now, owners must rely on the optional OnStar Directions & Connections package that, after three trial months, requires a $28.50 monthly subscription charge.
Chevy pegs the Spark as a city car for young, first-time buyers. But there's no reason that older folks, with downsized lifestyles, won't also take a look, especially RVers looking for an affordable toad.
Coming up: We’ll take a deeper look at ride quality, cabin noise and the like, and give some thought to smartphone entertainment systems.
So much cool stuff clings to the 2013 Ford Escape, it would be easy to lose site of how fundamentally good it is.
No doubt you’ve heard about the motion-sensing handsfree tailgate, the torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system and the first-in-class application of active park assist.