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Don Adair's Seat Time

Archive for January 2014

2014 Accord Hybrid: Second-chance sensation

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I once hailed the Honda Accord Hybrid as the car that would bring hybrid technology into the mainstream.

He shoots. He misses.

That car, the original Accord Hybrid, circa 2005-07, had everything going for the one that mattered — fuel efficiency. Apparently wanting it both ways, Honda had built its hybrid system around a V-6 gas engine. The car had the kick of a V-6 but managed just-better-than-average efficiency.

Honda shoots. Honda misses.

Honda is back in the game this year, though, with the 2014 Accord Hybrid ($29,945, including destination). It’s based on a four-cylinder powertrain and marries sterling EPA numbers — 50 mpg city/45 mpg highway/47 mpg combined — with convincing performance.

In the real world, some testers report average mileage of about 44 mpg, while others go as high as 50. My daily drive requires occasional spurts of prolonged acceleration, so my mileage numbers mean nothing. I can offer this, though: The Accord has power when it’s needed. It runs the zero-to-60 sprint in about 7.5 seconds, which is quick by any midsize sedan measure.

Honda’s new hybrid system teams a 141-horsepower 2.0-liter four with two electric motors. The gas engine sends power to the front wheels, while one electric motor sends torque to the rear wheels as needed. 

The other motor acts as a generator, converting gas into electricity and boosting battery charge.

In operation, the system is virtually seamless. If you try hard, it’s possible to feel the point at which the gas engine kicks in to supplement the electrical system, which in ideal conditions can power the car to about 35 mph. The brakes operate with the smooth fluidity of any good system and the continuously variable transmission never lapses into the familiar CVT rubber-band frenzy. 

Ride quality is very good, although the low-rolling-resistance tires give the steering a light and somewhat disconnected feel. Cornering and high-speed handling are excellent.

Inside, rich materials flood the attractive cabin. A three-tier dash effectively segregates a pair of display panels from the control cluster. Front- and rear-seat quality and passenger space are tops among midsize sedans. 

All Accord Hybrids come standard with keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control; full power accessories, including an eight-way power driver’s seat; cruise control, 8-inch video display, Bluetooth phone and audio; rearview camera; and Honda's groundbreaking LaneWatch blind-spot display.

A handful of structural changes — including an all-aluminum front subframe and an aluminum rear bumper beam — are meant primarily to reduce weight. The beam helps offset the weight of the battery pack, which lives behind the rear seat, and improves front-to-rear weight balance.

Hybrid sedans lose about a third of their trunk to the batteries, though the Accord’s trunk  is a bit shallower than most. Complicating matters, the rear seatbacks don’t fold, nor is there a pass-through for long objects.

In the world of compromises, this is not a tough one for most buyers to suffer. And though it’s a bit late to proclaim the Accord Hybrid the first-coming of hybrid sedans, it’s not too late to declare it a second coming of the first order.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Base vehicle price: $29,155
Trim level base price: $34,905
As tested: $35,695
Optional equipment: Our fully loaded Touring tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 50 city/45 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified


2014 Cadenza: Kia growth strategy shapes up

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Kia walked away from the full-size segment in 2009, when it discontinued production of the Amanti sedan.

The late Amanti mirrored the then-current state of affairs at Kia. Its design was confused and derivative, ride and handling were soft and lazy. Still, build quality was sound and fit and finish first-rate. Even the base, $25,000 Amanti impressively showcased new technologies.

Now, just four years after the Amanti’s departure, Kia is back, knocking on the full-size door with a front-drive sedan called Cadenza (from $35,900, including destination).

The all-new Cadenza reflects Kia’s growth over the past half-dozen years. Like its predecessor, it’s nicely assembled and boasts excellent tech and that great warranty.

Unlike the Amanti, the Cadenza is sharply focused. Bearing a clear European imprint, its sweeping roofline caps a shape that manages to be both aggressive and mature. Interior design is contemporary, clean and bold.

Cadenza is powered by a 293-horsepower V-6 that drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The EPA rates fuel efficiency at 19 city/28 highway/22 combined.

Acceleration is reasonably swift. Estimates place the 0-60 sprint at about 7 seconds. While most modern transmissions shift early in the power band for fuel economy benefits, Cadenza’s allows the engine to run up into its upper ranges for performance gains.

Kia tiptoes around the sport-sedan question, with vague allusions to the Autobahn and winding Swiss Alps roads. Despite its European influences, though, the Cadenza is cast in the mold of the original Lexus. Its suspension is nicely sorted, checking body lean in corners while swallowing road-surface irregularities, but the Cadenza won’t have you seeking out the curviest route home. 

At highway speeds, the ride is composed and serene and cabin noise is minimal. Rear-seat legroom is excellent, but the couple-like roofline limits headroom. 

Kia and its parent company Hyundai introduced tech-heavy interiors to the non-luxury classes. Their experience in sorting out the fine — and sometimes contradictory — demands of the human-machine interface pays off in the Cadenza. Kia piles on the tech goodies without forcing the novice to the indignity of the owners manual.

Every Cadenza comes equipped with a rearview camera, rear park assist, an 8-inch touchscreen display, Kia's Uvo voice command system, navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio and a 12-speaker Infinity sound system.

Kia supplements the touchscreen with assorted old-school buttons, preventing the user paralysis that overachieving systems can cause.

Emboldened by recent successes, Kia no longer sweetens the pot with bargain-basement pricing. The Cadenza is available in a single, well-equipped trim whose$35,900 (including destination) price tag sits at the upper end of the midsize spectrum.  

A trio of options packages augments the single-trim strategy, which can create awkward combinations. If you desire the safety benefits of Xenon headlights and the comfort of ventilated seats, you must order the $3,000 Luxury Package. However, the panoramic sunroof it includes reduces headroom, a potential challenge for tall drivers. 

Kia has managed to grow its sales even without being able to offer a credible full-size sedan. Now, the more-than-credible Cadenza gives buyers something entirely new to think about.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

2014 Kia Cadenza
Vehicle base price: $35,100
As tested: $41,900
Optional equipment: Our tester included the Technology ($3,000) and Luxury ($3,000) packages.
EPA ratings: 19 city/28 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Acura MDX: Hitting its stride

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This should be a very good year for Acura’s MDX.

Fully made over, the 7-passenger crossover went on sale last year and enters 2014 already smashing its own sales records. Built on a new platform and featuring a new powertrain, updated cabin tech and more, the MDX is as fresh as the day it debuted in 2001 — and far more modern.

For the first time in its 13-year history, the MDX is available in a front-wheel-drive version. FWD pricing starts at $43,185, while $45,185 fetches Acura’s brilliant SH-AWD system. 

This year’s updates have an efficiency bias, but affect every aspect of the MDX. The new platform is narrower than before, for improved aerodynamics, yet cabin space grows.

A longer wheelbase, stiffer chassis and revised suspension improve driving dynamics and ride quality, already MDX hallmarks. The MDX sheds 275 pounds, due largely to increased use of high-strength steel.

In tandem with a revised steering system, its svelte new form gives the MDX a lighter and more agile feel from behind the wheel. 

It also enables a more efficient powerplant. The 290-horsepower V-6 that powers the new MDX is less powerful on paper than its predecessor but has a broader power band.  Despite a 17-percent efficiency bump, the ’14 MDX is quicker than before and can still tow up to 5,000 pounds.

EPA-estimated fuel economy with front-wheel drive is 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, while the AWD version rates 18/27/21.

Inside the fully redesigned cabin, materials quality improves and new noise-abatement measures — ranging from thicker three-layer acoustic glass to a new floor “sealing plane” and Active Noise Control technology — significantly reduce cabin noise.

A new touchscreen system slashes the instrument-panel button count from 41 to nine. At first blush, the system seems to complicates such simple functions as seat-temperature adjustments but Acura says customizable shortcuts override that concern.

The large and comfortable front seats lose an inch of fore-aft travel, which may bother a handful of long-legged drivers, but second-row legroom grows. Second-row seats have a five-position recline feature and slide 5.9 inches fore and aft. At the touch of a button, second-row seats tip and slide forward to allow easy access to the third-row seating area.

Suspension changes drop the vehicle height by 1.5 inches and step-in height by 1.8 inches, easing ingress and egress and boosting aerodynamics. 
A new Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) offers three driving modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport. Comfort and Normal affect steering effort. Sport firms up steering feel and adjusts throttle response and SH-AWD torque proportioning. 

Good as it is in every other way, SH-AWD is the MDX’s true strength. It uses a network of sensors to anticipates and proactively offset traction losses, instantaneously directing power to the wheel(s) with the best grip. 

SH-AWD provides tremendous cornering power in dry conditions and is matchless in wintery conditions. As of this year, it’s also available in Acura’s all-new midsize RLX sedan.

Now in its thirteenth year and third generation, the MDX is just hitting its stride. A very good year, indeed.

2014 Acura MDX AWD ADV ENT
Vehicle base price: $42,290
Trim level base price: $56,505
As tested: $57,400
Optional equipment: Our AWD tester bundled the optional Tech, Advanced and Entertainment packages.
EPA ratings: 18 city/27 highway
Premium unleaded fuel recommended


Mitsubishi Lancer: AWD on a budget

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Should you be shopping for a compact, all-wheel-drive sedan, you have a choice of two — Subaru’s Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer.

As the entry-level Subie, the Impreza’s bona fides are well established. But Mitsubishi is an enigma in the U.S. After partnering here with Chrysler for many years, the company went solo in 1981 and didn’t mount its first national ad campaign until 1989.

Mitsubishi currently offers seven vehicles here; the iMIEV electric vehicle, the subcompact Mirage (made over for 2014), two crossovers (Outlander and Outlander Sport), and three Lancer variants; the sedan, a five-door hatchback called the Sportback and the high-performance Evo. The Sportback and Evo are marketed as separate vehicles.

The Lancer sedan (from $17,990, including destination) is a frugal, well-built and agreeable five-passenger sedan, with crisp styling, excellent rear-seat legroom and a healthy standard-features list. Some studies call it the most reliable car sold in North America.

Today’s tester, the Lancer SE AWD, occupies the second rung of a four-trim lineup that mixes and matches powertrains and drivetrain configurations.

Below the SE ($21,490, including destination), lies the base, front-drive-only ES ($17,990); above it are the front-drive GT ($21,240) and AWD Ralliart ($29,990).

A 148-hp four-cylinder engine powers the front-drive ES, which is available with either a five-speed manual transmission or optional CVT.

The middle pair, ES and GT, share a 168-horsepower four. ES can be had only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT); GT is available with the CVT or a five-speed manual. 

The Ralliart gets a turbocharged 237-hp four and can be had only with AWD and a dual-clutch automated manual.

Fuel efficiency runs about mid-pack among compact sedans, ranging from the 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29 mpg combined for an automatic-equipped ES to the Ralliart’s 18/25/20.

New this year on all but the ES are a standard touchscreen audio-system interface and rearview camera. Upper trims get new upholstery and soft-touch door panels, help dress up a cabin that otherwise lacks sparkle.

Standard features on the ES include automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, front and rear center armrests, height-adjustable driver seat and steering-wheel audio controls.

Besides the larger engine and all-wheel drive, the SE adds four-wheel disc brakes (the ES runs rear drums), heated front seats and side mirrors, chrome exterior accents and the new 6.1-inch touchscreen audio interface with rearview camera and HD and satellite radio.

The Lancer, which was last made over in 2007, faces stiff new competition and is due for a refresh. Taller drivers may regret the absence of a telescoping steering wheel and the short front-seat cushions provide too little thigh support. Others in the segment feel fresher and more refined. 

Even so, its good looks, top-notch build quality and available all-wheel-drive make the Lancer a solid choice. If an AWD compact sedan is on your shopping list, this is one that must be reckoned with.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

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