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Archive for May 2014

Bentley GT Speed Convertible proves surprisingly approachable

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By the end of my week with Bentley’s Continental GT Speed Convertible, I had learned that, with exposure, the extraordinary can become, if not commonplace, at least comfortable.

The $250,000 Speed Convertible is the flagship of Bentley’s historic Continental family. With a top speed of 202 mph, it’s the world’s fastest four-passenger convertible (though “four-passenger” is a small fiction). It’s beautifully designed inside and out, spare-no-expense opulent and engineered to the automotive world’s highest standards. 

But what stays with me is the ease with which it put itself at my service, the highest task of every great machine.

This helps explain why, after a few days, I no longer felt like an impostor dropping into the hand-stitched, diamond-quilted leather seats, or why the hairs on the back of my neck no longer quivered in expectation whenever the 12-cylinder, 616-horsepower engine burst into life.

I had stopped hyperventilating whenever the eight-speed automatic made an eye-blink-quick and perfectly timed downshift. I’d grown accustomed to trusting the air suspension to neutralize broken pavement, check body roll and keep the 21-inch tires glued to the asphalt when flying into a fast sweeper.

I had expected a lot of the Bentley, but I hadn’t expected it to act like it could be mine.

Most of us inhabit a world in which the thought of spending $50,000 on a car is beyond the pale and $250,000 explodes the head. For those with the resources, though, the Speed Convertible is one of a handful of very pricey, very good alternatives.

As the young people I encountered explained during my week with the car, the Speed Convertible and its 205-mph Coupe sibling are favored by entertainers and athletes. Apparently, the button-down money goes either to Bentley’s top-of-the-line Mulsanne or to one of a variety of Rolls-Royces.

Makes sense. The Speed Convertible is an athletic car that wants to be driven. Its 6.0-liter W-12 engine makes 590 pound feet of torque between 2,000 and 5,000 RPM, rendering its 5,500-pound bulk as invisible as a magician’s rabbit. Zero-to-60 happens in just 4.1 seconds.

All-wheel-drive is standard, with a 40 front/60 rear torque split that replicates the dynamics of a rear-drive car.

The Speed Convertible is outfitted with almost every conceivable extravagance, from high-end quilted leather and real wood veneers to its Naim for Bentley sound system that produces crystal-clear audio with tremendous dynamic range — even with the top down, at speed. 

Instead of a heavier hardtop, Bentley uses a four-layer canvas lid that seals so well that almost no road or wind noise intrudes. It raises and lowers in seconds, and at up speeds of up to 20 mph.

Should you venture out into the cool evening, optional fans blow warm air at the back of your neck. The front seats are heated, with optional ventilation and massage.

Downsides include scant casual storage and cupholders that sit out, uncovered, in the center console, for all the world to see. Bluetooth is not available, relegating the Bentley to a kind of second-tier status among the young and the wealthy.

We all find ways to compensate for our flaws. Fortunately, the Speed Convertible has a deep well of virtues working hard on its behalf.

Contact Don Adair at

2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible
Vehicle base price: $241,100
Trim level base price: $241,100
As tested: $265,270
Optional equipment included Naim premium audio; neck warmer; leather-trimmed shift paddles; ventilated front seats with massage; gas guzzler penalty.
EPA ratings: 12 city/20 highway/15 combined
Premium fuel required

Honda CR-V: Pint-size colossus

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Honda’s CR-V made its US debut in 1997. For most of the intervening years, it has stood like a pint-sized colossus over the compact crossover class, piling up a succession of sales titles.

Honda has proven remarkably surefooted as it tweaked its five-passenger crossover to meet demand and fend off the competition. Relying on solid engineering, efficient powertrains and a stream of passenger-friendly innovations, the CR-V’s tenders have kept it fresh and relevant.

The arrival of the fourth-generation CR-V in 2012 underscored Honda’s commitment to efficiency, safety and practicality. Marquee updates included a more powerful and efficient engine, a proactive new AWD system and an innovative second-row seat design.

A large center console became standard across the line, boosting the CR-V’s casual storage capacity. A revised rear suspension made room for a lower cargo floor that boosts cargo space and improves access. 

Other new features include an “intelligent” Multi-Information Display (i-MID), Pandora Internet radio interface, SMS text messaging function, and available rear entertainment system.

The new Easy Fold-Down 60/40 Split Rear Seat allows each section of seat’s sections to be folded nearly flat by using a pair of small levers located near the tailgate or a pull-strap positioned on the seat side. The operation is quicker and simpler than most other manual methods.

The CR-V also became the second North American Honda (after Civic) to adopt Honda’s new Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering. It works with the vehicle stability program and power steering system to detect the potential for a skid and helps the driver correct for understeer and oversteer, either of which can cause the vehicle to skid out of control.

Finally, Honda dramatically improved the overall feel of the CR-V. It stiffened its chassis, re-calibrated its suspension and added noise-suppressing insulation to reduced noise, harshness and vibration (known in the trade as NVH), within the CR-V cabin.

The new CR-V is more efficient than its predecessor and no less responsiveness or engaging. However, it’s now quieter and more serene underway. New high-capacity shock absorbers contribute to a more sophisticated driving feel.

The CR-V cabin is short on flash but long on practicality. Even when packed with the latest cabin tech, the controls remain intuitive and easy to use, with minimal reliance on a distracting touch screen.

There are more luxurious cabins in the class, but few are better organized, or more comfortable.

A 185-horsepower four-cylinder powers all CR-Vs. The only transmission offered is a five-speed automatic. With front-wheel-drive, the EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. Each number drops by one with AWD.

Large underbody covers and a rear spoiler enhance efficiency and reduce wind noise.

The new AWD system, Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control, improves performance in all conditions, whether slippery or stable. The electronically controlled system anticipates wheel slip and automatically acts to minimize its impact.

No brand clings to its sales lead forever; This year, Fin fact, Ford’s Escape is making a good run at the CR-V. Nevertheless, the little colossus of the compact crossover segment seems like a solid pick to retain its title.

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

2014 Honda CR-V EX-L AWD w Navigation
Vehicle base price: $21,718
Trim level base price: $30,620
As tested: $31,450
Options: Our EX-L tester was a completely equipped trim, with no optional equipment.
Tow rating: 1,500 lb
EPA ratings: 22 city/31 highway/26 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Kia Optima: Midsize rule-breaker

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Though it has to yet find the sales chart’s upper reaches, Kia’s Optima has changed the rules of the midsize sedan market.

Thanks to Kia and its corporate parent Hyundai, the family sedan segment is awash in technology that a short time ago was the exclusive domain of the luxury segments.

Kia was among the first to understand that buyers of compact and midsize family sedans would spring for amenities common among larger cars. Hence the availability of such options as heated steering wheels, high-end leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats and ventilated front seats.

Ventilated seats in a mid-priced family sedan? Never thought I’d see the day.

This year’s Optima updates include available keyless ignition/entry, blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors and new display screens. Outside, the front and rear fascias are updated, with the brand’s signature tabbed grille making its Optima debut.

Standard gear on every 2014 Optima (from $22,300, including destination) includes foglights, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

Fancy electronics don’t make a lackluster car worthy, of course, and Kia aggressively pursues new buyers with cutting-edge design, comfortable cabins and strong engines. A focus on quality has elevated Optima’s reliability ratings to about mid-pack in the segment.

The front-drive sedan is available in four trims — LX ($21,500, including destination), EX ($23,950), SX ($25,500) and Limited ($35,300) — and in gasoline and gas-electric hybrid formats. A 192-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine powers LS, EX and SX trims. A 274-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four is standard on the Limited trim and optional on the SX. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard.

With the 2.4-liter, EPA-estimated fuel economy is 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway); the turbocharged engine is good for 24 mpg combined (20 city/31 highway). 

The 2014 Hybrid debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February but has yet to reach dealerships. Updates include aerodynamic revisions to the front and rear fascias, new wheel designs, and unique grille and LED lighting elements.

Ever since Kia hired VW/Audi designer Peter Schreyer, Kia’s exteriors have grown more rakish and its interiors more Continental. Some interior plastics recall Kia’s old budget-aware days but  most surfaces are covered with soft-touch materials and overall otherwise materials quality is very good.

Kia’s voice-activated Uvo electronics interface system allows vocal control of cell phones, MP3 players and other devices and services, such as navigation points of interest and turn-by-turn directions. It’s among the most intuitive and useful of the systems on the market.

The Optima is reasonably responsive and entertaining to drive. Steering is a bit numb and artificially weighted, but is accurate and has good on-center feel. Ride quality is very good, though some drivers may find the SX and Limited trims’ sport-tuned suspension too firm.

Optima’s coupe-like silhouette curtails rear-seat headroom; otherwise, the cabin is spacious and comfortable.

It may not (yet) be the country’s best-selling midsize sedan, but the Optima is a major-league trend-setter. It belongs on the shopping list of every buyer committed to owning latest and the greatest.

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

2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo
Vehicle base price: $21,500
Trim level base price: $27,500
As tested: $33,900
Optional equipment included panoramic sunroof; UVO telematics; rearview camera; heated and ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; navigation with SIRIUS services; blind-spot warning system; rear parking sensors.
EPA ratings: 20 city/31 highway/24 combined

Honda Civic: Growing its game

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Last year, for what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, Honda’s Civic was the third-best-selling passenger car in the US and its best-selling compact.

This means that more than 350,000 Americans bought a car known for its reliability, not its flash. I find this oddly satisfying.

In recent years, the compact crowd has battled for supremacy with keyless ignitions, smartphone integration and ever-larger color touch screens. Honda, meanwhile, has been largely content to focus on efficiency, safety and comfort.
But Civic’s competitors are stylish and capable and Honda’s reluctance to join the cabin-tech race has seemed increasingly wrongheaded. Now, following a raft of major updates in 2012, the 2014 Civic arrives bearing another round of potential game-changers.

Interiors are freshened across the board, with improved materials, available push-button ignition, larger display screens and enhanced smartphone connectivity. Civic’s cabins are quieter and power and efficiency are improved.

Always one of the category’s most engaging rides, this year’s Civic sees ride-enhancing suspension tweaks on selected trims.

The Civic is available in sedan (from $19,180, including destination), and coupe ($18,980) body styles, and in gasoline, gas/electric hybrid and natural gas formats. The sedan can be had in fuel-efficient HF ($20,730), Hybrid ($25,425) and Natural Gas ($27,430) trims. The hot-shoe Si is available as a coupe ($23,580) or sedan ($23,780).

The 143-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that powers most trims is typically Honda —  smooth, efficient and responsive.

For 2014, Honda replaces last year’s five-speed automatic transmission with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that boosts both fuel efficiency and acceleration. Like a conventional automatic, the Civic’s CVT “kicks down” under heavy throttle to a lower ratio, producing real acceleration and none of the noisy drama of most CVTs.

CVT-equipped Civics earn EPA ratings if 30 mpg city/39 mpg highway/33 mpg combined. with the base five-speed manual, those numbers dip to 28/36/31. The HF runs low-rolling-resistance tires, aerodynamic aluminum wheels, underbody panels and a rear spoiler to achieve 31/41/35.

The Si, with its  205-hp 2.4-liter four and six-speed manual, gets 22/32/25. The hybrid, 44/47/45.

Inside, the Civic retains its unique two-tier dash layout, with a 5-inch top-tier monitor that displays audio, phone and vehicle-system information. 
Four adults ride comfortably inside a cabin that grew dramatically quieter in 2012. There’s abundant incidental storage and the controls are thoughtfully designed and located — with the notable exception of the audio controls on the LX and on models equipped with navigation. Selecting and setting radio station “favorites” is needlessly complicated and the volume-control slide bar is useless. Better to employ the steering-wheel mounted controls.

Honda’s available HondaLink smartphone app includes Aha radio and Apple’s Siri Eyes voice-command functionality. Most functionality requires an iPhone 5.

All Civics include Honda’s new Motion Adaptive power steering system which helps the driver overcome oversteer or understeer, both of which can cause skids. Honda’s clever — and invaluable — LaneWatch passenger-side blind-spot monitor is standard on upper trims. 

With the Civic no longer the Luddite of the compact class, its No. One sales ranking seems more secure than ever. The competition has its work cut out for it. 

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

2014 Honda Civic EX Sedan
Base price: $18,390
Trim level base price: $21.090
As tested: $21,880
Options: Our EX tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 30 city/39 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Santa Fe: Hyundai’s standout crossover

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If you still don’t believe Hyundai is the real deal, it might be time to check out the Santa Fe crossover.

The midsize, seven-passenger Santa Fe (not to be confused with the smaller Santa Fe Sport), shines brightly in a segment that includes such luminaries as the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango and Nissan Pathfinder.

Its 290-horsepower V-6 is one of the most powerful engines in the class and its cabin is among the segment’s most attractive and best equipped. Under everyday conditions, ride and handling are very good.

At $30,775, the Santa Fe is no longer bargain priced, but its standard features list includes several items found only on the other guys’ upper trims, or not at all. They include satellite radio, parking assist, roadside assistance, heated and power-operated front seats, Bluetooth phone and audio, and turn-by-turn navigation.

High-quality materials and soft-touch surfaces dress up the crossover’s roomy cabin. Both front seats are heated and the driver’s seat boasts eight-way adjustability and adjustable four-position lumbar support. 

The 40/20/40-split second-row bench slides for and aft for adult-scale legroom. Taller passengers enjoy plenty of headroom, even with the optional panoramic sunroof in place. Standard second- and third-row HVAC controls, with vents, boost rear-of-the-cabin comfort.

The third row is easily accessed and can accommodate a pair of adults in a pinch.

Up front, gauges are clear and easily readable and the placement of the touchscreen-based controls is logical and ergonomic.

The Santa Fe’s 3.3-liter, 290-hp V-6 is mated with a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel-drive is standard, AWD is optional. EPA estimates are 21 mpg combined (18 mpg city/25 mpg highway) on front-wheel-drive models and 20 mpg combined (18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway) with AWD.

The optional Active Cornering Control All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) system works with the stability management program to anticipate traction losses and distribute torque to any single wheel. Braking force can also be sent to any single wheel.

A three-mode steering system allows the driver to adjust steering feel and power-assist levels. Most drivers will set it and forget it.

Acceleration is on the quick side of average for the class. Underway, the Santa Fe feels nimble and light, even through fast corners. A full load can push the rear suspension to its limits, though, turning handling mushy. 

All Santa Fes are equipped with foglights, rear spoiler, windshield-wiper deicers, cruise control, trip computer, full power accessories, air-conditioning, leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power driver seat (with four-way power lumbar), heated front seats, a 40/20/40-split sliding and reclining second-row seat and a 50/50-split-folding third-row seat.

Also standard are 18-inch alloy wheels, a rearview camera, Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player, satellite radio, HD radio, USB/iPod integration and a 4.3-inch touchscreen display.

Despite robust sales throughout the recession and beyond, Hyundai still faces perception issues. Doubters should know perception is not necessarily reality.

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

2014 Hyundai Santa Fe LTD AWD
Vehicle base price: $29,900
Trim level base price: $35,450
As tested: $41,310
Key options included 19-inch alloy wheels; HID Xenon headlights; LED taillights, panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel; ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; navigation; surround-sound audio.
Tow rating: 5000 lb.
EPA rating: 18 city/24 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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