Mike Herzing’s Automotive Reviews
With its great handling, performance, and quality interior, the ATS finally delivers Cadillac into the ranks of world-class compact sport sedans. Buyers looking for an alternative to a BMW 3 Series or M-B C Class now have a great reason to visit a Cadillac store.
Powered by either a 2.5 liter four cylinder, a 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder, or a 3.6 liter V-6, the ATS has an engine for every taste. My test vehicle was the 172hp 2.0 T Premium model. The 259hp EcoTec I-4 was mated to a slick shifting 6 speed manual transmission. It was everything the ATS needed to supply a ton of excitement. I truly enjoyed driving this car.
Handling is superb courtesy of a 50/50 weight distribution and Cadillac’s next gen Magnetic Ride Control system. The new version of this active suspension is ultra sophisticated. At 60mph, it takes readings from various sensors on the chassis every inch and can adjust the shock dampening from full soft to full hard in 5 inches traveled. I tested it on a racetrack and found it amazingly accurate. It contributes to the ATS’s sports car like handling. The ATS comes with upgraded Brembo brakes and Bridgestone Potenza summer performance tires. I pushed the ATS as hard as I dared and still couldn’t get it to complain. I imagine that handling like this could make a big difference in poor conditions.
The base ATS 2.5L powertrain gives EPA economy ratings of 22/33/26 mpg city/highway/combined. However, I can’t imagine anyone buying the ATS for fuel economy.
Like all Cadillac’s, the ATS has a great interior. Fit and finish are superb and quality of materials is excellent. Interior noise is almost non existent, even with the I-4 engine package. Ride quality is confident and comfortable. Front seat legroom is great for any adult and the rear seat legroom is passable.
The ATS has received scores of five stars out of five in every category of government safety tests. There are airbags all around along with stability control, backup camera, antilock brakes, traction control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and parking sensors in the front and rear. OnStar is included with one year of free service.
When you add Cadillac’s new CUE (Cadillac User Experience) telematics system, I don’t think you can argue with the fact that the ATS is going to be a huge success for Cadillac. Anyone looking for a made in America alternative to a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes should head over to their local Cadillac dealer and check out the ATS. – Mike
Chrysler introduced the minivan to the world in 1983 and has never looked back. They are the big dogs in the market and have outlasted most of their competition by knowing how to make a minivan work. The Chrysler Town and Country is their top trim level and is as good of an upscale people hauler there is. Whether it is for business or family, the Town and Country will handle the task in style.
The Chrysler Town & Country is the upscale cousin of the Dodge Caravan and for 2013, it receives some cool upgrades. The best new feature is their Blu-Ray video system that features second- and third-row screens capable of playing two different DVDs at the same time. This HD system also includes two USB ports, one HDMI port and 115-volt power inverter so that customers can charge their cell phones, MP3 players, laptops, tablets and gaming systems. The system also features a standard RCA input and 12-volt outlet. Two wireless headsets and a wireless remote allow the rear-seat passengers to enjoy their favorite video or gaming systems in the minivans’ second and third rows without disrupting mom or dad in the front seats. Also, the T&C finally gets keyless ignition, heated second row seats, and a heated steering wheel.
In the last few years, the Chrysler Town and Country has begun to look more like a van and less like a mini van. The exterior looks have shed the “soccer mom” look that some of the competition still has.
The interior is very upscale with leather everywhere and a soft touch dash and console. The front seats are very comfortable and the second row captains chairs are just as good. Chryslers Stow ‘n Go fold into the floor seat storage system has revolutionized the segment since introduced in 2005. Having the second and third row of seats fold into the floor is amazingly handy and easy to use. (one hand operation) Of course, with the seats up, the extra in floor storage comes in handy too. The competition has tried to copy the system, but Stow ‘n Go is the best by far.
The Town and Country is powered by Chryslers popular 283hp 3.6 liter Pentastar V6. Power is delivered to the front wheels by a six speed automatic transmission. AWD is available. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
The Chrysler Town & Country is available in three trim levels: Touring, Touring-L and Limited.
The 2013 Chrysler Town & Country is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine that puts out 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The engine drives the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
The 2013 Chrysler Town & Country is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick. Standard safety features include ParkView rear back up camera, airbags everywhere, electronic stability control, including Brake Assist and all-speed traction control. Optional on Touring and standard on Touring L and Limited models is the SafetyTec Group consisting of rain-sensitive windshield wipers, Smartbeam headlamps, ParkSense rear park assist system, Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection.
The Town and Country runs and handles better than I could have imagined and was actually fun to drive. I now count myself as one of the people that can not make fun of guys driving mini vans because I like them too. (Chrysler ones anyway)
As far a people movers go, the Town and Country was great. And, it was amazing that I got BETTER fuel economy than the EPA 17/25 label. I would highly recommend the 2013 Chrysler Town and Country to anyone looking for a great family vehicle. After all, it is the 2012 Family Car of Texas, according to the Texas Auto Writers Association.
2013 Subaru Impreza
The new-generation Subaru Impreza four-door and five-door compact models for 2012 more than doubled sales over the previous model to become one of the brand’s best sellers. For 2013, the Impreza receives some goodies such as standard Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, an auxiliary audio jack and steering wheel controls. A rearview camera is now included with the navigation system.
Subaru is known for making reliable, economical, well priced, quirky cars with all wheel drive. As a matter of fact, for years, they were just about the only choice for people needing an economical AWD car. (the quirkiness was a bonus) The old Impreza seemed a little too “normal” for a Subaru. The updated 2012 model was more shapely, had a dramatically nicer interior, and better fuel economy. For 2013, the Impreza receives a few goodies such as Bluetooth, iPod hookups, and a much improved NAV system with backup camera.
The 2013 Subaru Impreza is powered by a 148 hp 2liter boxer four-cylinder engine that is mated to your choice of a five speed manual or a CVT automatic transmission. The EPA says you should get 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway for the manual transmission model. The CVT option bumps up the mileage numbers to 27 city/ 36 highway. All of this adds up to make the Impreza the most fuel efficient AWD car in the US. As much As I love fuel economy, give me the fun to drive manual transmission anytime. I will give up the fuel economy.
The 2013 Subaru Impreza is available as a sedan or hatchback in 2.0i, 2.0i Premium and 2.0i Limited trim levels. My test vehicle was the sedan, so I need to talk about it. However, let it be noted that I like the hatchback more than the sedan because of its versatility.
Inside, the Impreza has high quality rich looking soft touch materials on the dash, center console, and door panels, and of course, great fit and finish. Big door pockets can hold plastic drink bottles and large maps. Numerous compartments an storage cubbies located in and around the center console hold all manner of today’s personal treasures. There are plenty of power plugs for your electronics too.
The front seats are comfortable, the rear seat is great even for adults, and the truck enormous. The base trim level is pretty basic. At the Premium Limited and Sport Limited trim levels, you have just about anything you could ever ask for. I think that the real story of Subaru is not what trim level you get, but how reliable and capable these cars are.
The 2013 Subaru Impreza comes with a lot of electronic goodies such as stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, and airbags everywhere. In 2012 it was an IIHS Top Pick and I expect the 2013 to be the same.
The 2013 Subaru Impreza has a good road feel, stable and planted at all times. This is thanks to its stiff chassis and great AWD system. Rain, mud, and snow are never a problem. Last year, Subaru decided to feature fuel economy over performance, but it still runs good enough to be fun. The CVT version is not a rocket ship by any means.
Still, with a base model in the low $17k range and a loaded version at $21k, the Impreza is a good candidate for anyone looking for a reliable AWD compact sedan. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars.
2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
I was in Los Angeles recently for the launch of the 2013 Beetle Convertible and came away very impressed. First of all, we can’t call the new Beetle the New Beetle because VW wants us to just call it the Beetle so we don’t confuse it with the last generation Beetle that the called the New Beetle. In the convertibles case, we can call it the third generation Beetle Convertible. No matter what you call it, it is a huge improvement over the last generation version.
VW has aimed this lower, wider, more masculine Beetle more toward the male segment and has hit the target. As a card carrying heterosexual male, I was never really comfortable with the last gen Beetle in any form. Gone are the daisy decals and the flower vase. Enter the Fender Guitar Edition with cool accents, a great sound system, and aggressive styling.
The topless Beetle is powered by either a 170hp 2.5 liter I-5, a 200hp 2.0 liter Turbo I-4, or for just a $100 more, the very cool 2.0 Turbo Diesel that gets 41mpg on the highway. I can’t imagine anyone passing up the diesel for that price point.
Inside, the Beetle Convertible is appointed very well, even in the base $24k trim level. Moving up to the next trim level will get you a great NAV a backup camera, and several other niceties. The top trim level will get you into the low $30’s but that is still pretty good for a four seat convertible this nice and with this much room. One particular cool feature of the Beetle Convertible is that you can drop the top while moving up to 31mph without hurting anything. And it is very quick (9.5 seconds) when it moves too.
Handling and ride quality was top notch and the brakes were more than up to a brisk drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. After driving one of the classic 70’s Beetle Convertibles they had for us, and seeing my life flash before my eyes, I can honestly say that the old versions had horrible brakes and handled even worse. This new generation is light years better.
Safetywise, the Beetle comes off very well with a nifty Automatic Rollover Support System. This adds rollover bars behind the rear seats that automatically deploy along with the airbags in an accident.
Anyone wanting a retro styled four seat convertible that is reasonably priced, well built, and a kick to drive should hightail it to the local VW Emporium and test drive the 2013 Beetle Convertible. Yes, even guys will like it.
I gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
2013 Audi S4 Quattro - The A4s Evil Twin
This week I m driving the popular Audi S4. I have always liked its sibling A4 because of its pleasant demeanor and quality feel. However, I always wished it had a little more. Enter the S4, the A4s evil twin. Terrific handling, great performance, and sexy looks are the things that the S4 is about. The S4 just feels right. It is one of the best European Sport Sedans on the market today. This is a real drivers car.
The S4 is powered by Audis smooth supercharged 333 horsepower 3.0-liter V6. My test vehicle had Audis award winning Quattro AWD system sending the power to all the wheels through a six speed manual transmission. Traction and handling were amazing in every condition I encountered. The S4 is happiest when driven aggressively and rewards the driver with great confidence and performance. Of course, replacing the big (and fast wearing) 245/40-18 tires can put a huge dent in your wallet quicker that you can imagine. If you want to play, you have to pay not only when you buy the $47k base price S4, but when it needs maintenance. Nothing this good is ever cheap. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway, but who buys an S4 for economy?
Outside, the S4 has the look of an edgier A4 and is a real head turner. Everyone loves the signature Audi grille and LED headlight trim. This car looks really good at night.
Inside, the S4s cabin is all about luxury, comfort, and great looks. There is ample seating for four and the trunk space is enormous. I especially appreciated the adjustable thigh bolsters on the front seats. It made a longer trip much more palatable. The interior noise level is good and the 14 speaker B&O sound system was above average. The Audi MMI infotainment system works well, but requires reading the manual before using. I suppose it is a Euro thing that we have to put up with.
Safetywise, the S4 is loaded with electronic goodies to keep you out of trouble, and airbags everywhere. The S4 hasn’t been crash tested by the government yet, but I expect it to get a top rating like the A4.
Performance was amazing, the ride was firm, but palatable. The brakes were great and overall, the car is very well balanced. The AWD system really helped it go faster around corners. I could really tell the difference. I found myself going a lot faster than I thought. I could get in a lot of trouble with this car. It was so smooth and quiet that I often found myself doing 25 mph over on the highway. Have to remember to use cruise control more often! Overall, the S4 is a really fun car to drive and will be best appreciated buy a true automotive enthusiast.
My test S4 had a sticker price of $54k. That puts it in the ring with the Cadillac CTS-V and the Mercedes C63. You may have to really like the S4 to ignore those cars, but the choice over a BMW 335 seems pretty easy. I give the S4 a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
2013 Honda Fit Sport
Honda made its mark with compact cars in the 70’s and has never looked back. The Honda Civic lead the charge in the compact segment until it morphed into the mid size segment. I never have figured out why cars keep getting bigger every few years, but it always happens. When the Civic grew too big, Honda came out with the Fit, and luckily, they have left it the same size, so far.
The Fit follows the usual Honda formula. Sensible, reliable, over engineered, multitalented, and always fun to drive. This formula has worked for Honda for years, but unfortunately, for Honda, other car companies are following the same formula and catching up.
Even though the compact segment is loaded with competition, the Fit has a lot of redeeming qualities. The Fit leads the segment in usefulness courtesy of its spacious (by segment standards) interior and fold flat seats that allow for a flat load floor. The interior room seems even greater because of the abundance of windows. It may be a small car, but it doesn’t feel that way.
The 2013 Honda Fit is available in two trim levels, Fit and Fit Sport. The Sport is the one I tested and I think most buyers will want the additional goodies the Sport trim gives you. Bigger wheels, better sound system, foglamps, aggressive front and rear fascias, and a nicer steering wheel for just a few of the advantages. On a trip, the seats were comfortable, but the interior noise level is a little higher than I like. One of the tradeoffs for having such a cavernous interior I suppose.
The Fit is powered by a 117 hp, 1.5-liter I-4 engine and either a five speed manual or five speed automatic transmission. The Sport package adds paddle shifters to the automatic transmission, but I kept thinking, why? This is not a fast car. Here is a thought, Mr. Honda. Instead of paddle shifters, why not use the money on better sound deadening? Or perhaps adding a sixth gear to each transmission would be a worthwhile thing too. Just adding my two cents.
Safetywise, the Fit is loaded with airbags and electronic stability and traction control. Last year, the Fit received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, and I imagine 2013 will be just as good.
The Fit is a good car for a family that can appreciate the legendary Honda reliability and versatility the Fit has to offer. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars.
2013 Hyundai Elantra GT
Hyundai has really been on a roll for the last few years. After making a splash in the market in the 80’s as a value brand, they still push value, but now they are making their mark with style, innovation, and a great warranty.
One of Hyundai’s best success stories is the family of Elantras. They make a coupe, sedan, and the 5 door GG Hatchback. I have always been a fan of hatchbacks because of their versatility. Of course, if you need the added security of a lockable trunk, don’t get the hatchback. For 2013, Hyundai gives the Elantra GT a few slight styling touches and upgrades the interior.
The Elantra GT continues the Hyundai value concept that has been working so well. Build safe, reliable, and fun to drive cars, put them in an appealing package, give them a great warranty, and sell them for a lower price and then sit back and start talking orders. Their sales numbers show that this is working, so why mess with success?
Most buyers first impression of the Elantra GT is that it looks sporty, fast, and fun. First impressions are usually right on, and so is this one. This car is a blast to zip around with. The 148hp, 1.8liter I-4 hooks up great with the 6 speed automatic transmission.
Inside, the Elantra GT is roomy and comfortable, even on longer trips. This is the type of car that is mainly aimed for around town driving, but works well on a longer trip. My test car was loaded with extras such as: Keyless entry and start, blue tooth and iPod interface, power drivers seat, heated front seats, leather, adjustable pedals, tilting and telescoping steering wheel, NAV, backup camera, automatic climate control, a huge panoramic moonroof, power windows and locks, trip computer, steering wheel mounted audio and handsfree phone buttons, and something called Bluelink. (this is Hyundai’s version of OnStar)
The dash and center stack are laid out well and all of the switches and controls are easy to learn and to use. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time reading the owners manual just to do simple things. I like that!
On the road, the interior noise level is good for its class, as is power and handling. Fuel ecomomy was good and there was always plenty of passing power. Back seat passengers were comfortable and it was easy to hold a conversation on the highway.
Safety wise, the GT hasn’t been government tested yet, but it has stability controls, traction controls and a ton of airbags, so I am sure the rating will be a good one. With a base price in the $19k range, the Elantra GT is a great value for anyone looking for a good, safe, and fun compact car. Check out the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT.
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee
As a vehicle reviewer, I always get asked what my favorite vehicle is. I then reply that I have several favorites out there and it is usually really hard to choose. When I narrow it down to my favorite SUV, the answer is an easy one, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Grand Cherokee is my overall first choice followed by the Jeep Wrangler if I was doing anything extreme. I am not in the minority because the Grand Cherokee is the Texas Auto Writers Associations current SUV of Texas and also the most awarded SUV in history.
2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE AWC
Mitsubishi seems to be struggling in the United States. They have always built pretty good vehicles, but many of us wish they would just bring back the Eclipse and the Montero and get back to normal. All in all, they still build good cars, just not enough of them that buyers want.
The Lancer SE AWC that I tested this week was both surprising and disappointing. The surprising thing was the fun to drive factor that the car had. The disappointing thing was the company continuing to use the CVT transmission that I dislike, (because of its rubber band feel) and also the car sounded “tinny” when you closed the doors. Please add some insulation there, would you? And put in a transmission that is as sporty as this car looks.
The new AWC system on my test vehicle should appeal to the snow belters that can take advantage of the extra traction. Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel-Control system is well thought of in the industry and it works well. Power was provided by their peppy but not fast 168 horsepower 2.4-liter I-4 engine. Performance was ok, and fuel economy is rated at a respectable 22 city/ 29 hwy. Brakes and handling were fine.
Inside, the seating was basic, but comfortable. There was adequate legroom in the rear for adults. It has 60/40 folding rear seats that open up into the truck for good cargo capacity. The interior noise level was higher than I like, so lets hope they add some insulation next year.
My test vehicle didn’t have a lot of extras, but it did have the $1550 premium package that consists of a great Rockford Fosgate Sound System and an upgraded radio/mp3/6cd system.
Base MSRP on the Lancer SE AWC is $20,295, with the premium package it had an MSRP of $21845. This is a good value for this car. The Lancer carries a 5 year/60K bumper to bumper warranty and a 10 year/ 100k mile powertrain warranty. And that is really great!
While the Lancer SE is not the prettiest girl at the dance, you should put it on your list of compact cars to look at. I would bet that there are some good deals at your local Mitsubishi dealer. It looks like Mitsubishi is taking steps in the right direction and I wish them luck.
I give the Lancer a 4 out of 5 star rating.
2013 Nissan Pathfinder Review
The old Nissan Pathfinder is gone. Long live he NEW Nissan Pathfinder. Everything must come to an end. Pathfinder had to become family friendly or die, it was that simple. Nissan knew this and morphed their old school body on frame SUV Pathfinder into a unibody SUV with better ride, lighter weight, (500 pounds less) bigger size, and much better fuel economy. (class leading to be exact) Off –roaders that loved the old Pathfinder should probably look at the Xterra for comfort and quit whining.
The new 2013 Pathfinder is a much more refined vehicle. Outside, the Pathfinder is lower, wider, and longer than the old one. It can fit 7 passengers comfortably and people can afford to buy fuel for it. Sure, it looks more like a minivan, but not enough to lose sales. I like to think that it still looks like a Nissan Pathfinder, just a good looking one this time. (unlike the old Pathfinder)
The interior is the big story here. Inside, everything is bigger and better. The seats are more comfortable, it is easier to climb in to, and best of all, the third row of seats is easily accessible! I don’t know why some companies put in third row seats that people can’t get to. Nissan made the second row slide out of the way with a flick of the wrist to provide plenty of room for big guys to get back there. (I even did it) The second row seats recline, very nice.
The dash is well configured and the controls are easy to learn and use. Interior noise level is good, the quality of materials used is very good, and the seats are comfortable. All in all, and big step up from the old Pathfinder.
The 2013 Pathfinder is powered by Nissans popular 260 hp 3.5-liter VQ V6. It is mated to a CVT transmission that works well. I think that Nissan makes the only CVT that I would consider owning. (that is a compliment) Front wheel drive is standard and four wheel drive is available. The Pathfinder has good power and even better fuel economy. EPA estimates are 20 city/26 highway and 22 combined for the standard FWD version. Nissan says that the Pathfinder can tow 5,000 pounds, but I wouldn’t do it very much.
Standard safety features include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, and airbags all around. The biggest safety improvement is the fact that it handles better then the old one.
The Pathfinder is offered in four trim levels: S, SV, SL and Platinum. The base model S sells in the $28k range and the top of the line Platinum version for $39k. Most sales will be the $31k SV model.
I like the Pathfinder, but think it will struggle against the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Ford Explorer. Lets hope Nissan treats it well. I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
2013 Lexus LS
A few weeks ago, I was in Tucson to drive the new Lexus LS. If you are wondering which Lexus is the LS, let me tell you it was the Flagship of Lexus in 1989 and continues that role for 2013. If you want to know what is the heart and soul of Lexus, just look at the LS.
Back in 1989, Lexus turned the Luxury Car world upside down with the LS400. When European luxury car customers realized they could buy a car that was every bit as luxurious, powerful, and beautiful as their Mercedes, Jaguar, or BMW for less money, they took notice. (after all, it was Japanese) When they found about the Lexus policy of taking care of their customers in every way, they began looking even harder. After finding out from their friends that Lexus had an amazing car that was RELIABLE and the Dealers were actually courteous and helpful, then they started buying everything Lexus offered. The Lexus sales staff were resigned to being well paid order takers because the cars sold themselves.
Of course, eventually the competition started treating their customers better and building better cars to catch up, but Lexus has held its own. Best of all, Lexus made every other car company look at their ENTIRE buying experience, and not just the product. Dealer service sells cars too, and Lexus showed everyone that.
For 2013, this fifth generation LS has been refreshed enough that half of the parts in the entire vehicle are new. More aggressive front and rear fascias, new headlights, new hourglass shaped grille, and sexy LED taillights give the LS a sharper, more serious look. The LS comes in several versions: The stretched LS460L, the shorter LS460, the F Sport, and a what-were-they thinking Hybrid LS600HL.
Inside, the LS is amazingly elegant, luxurious, advanced, and unbelievably detailed. There is now way that I can tell you everything that is in this car, but suffice it to say that it doesn’t matter if you have not even thought of it, I would bet they included it.
Here is a small taste of what this car includes: How about 16-way power driver’s seat (including 4-way lumbar) a 12-way front power passenger’s seat (including 2-way lumbar) climate controlled power reclining rear seats with heat/cool knob, power-adjustable butterfly headrests, and memory 4-way lumbar adjustment for outboard rear seats along with a multifunction massager and leg rest. 4-zone climate control with interior air filter, smog sensor and automatic recirculation mode, Rear-seat air purifier, Rear-seat audio controls, Rear-seat refrigerated beverage box, Power reardoor sunshades, and of course, a rear-seat wood-trimmed table.
One of the higher tech features are the Infra red sensors in the seats that detects the occupants’ body temperature as well as that of the seat and interior surfaces via infrared rays. It sends this information to the air conditioner computer to adjust the blower temperature, blower mode and airflow volume to warm or cool you rapidly. There are 12 a/c vents around the vehicle, not including the ceiling. Overall, the fit and finish on the LS is the best you can find anywhere. The comfort and overall interior experience is unbelievable.
Safety wise, the LS has the latest and greatest of everything. Special radar that can stop the vehicle at lower speeds for you, special headlights that shine brighter and farther, warning signals for blind sports and lane divergence. And it goes on and on.
Although this is a big heavy car, the handling is pretty good. Sport mode causes a definite personality change from the standard comfort “floating on a cloud” ride. Brakes are superb and performance is better that expected.
If you want a race car, buy another model. If you want the ultimate in luxury, and reliability, then check out the LS. Prices start in the mid $70k for the Standard LS and can reach $119K for the Hybrid L models. I give it a 5 out of 5 stars.
2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Hyundai has really been on a roll for the last few years. After making a splash in the market in the 80’s as a value brand, they still push value, but now they are making their mark with style, innovation, and a great warranty.
When the Veloster launched last year, it certainly made an impression on me. I loved the three door hatchback concept, and loved almost everything about the car, but the lack of power, (only 138hp) was terrible. For 2013, Hyundai gives the 201hp Veloster Turbo to right the wrong. My test car was equipped with a slick six speed manual transmission that seemed a great match to the car. I am not sure that the automatic transmission is as fun to drive, but many will buy it anyway. The car has enough power now to take on any Civic or GTI and hold its own.
Outside, the Veloster is good looking in standard trim, but the Turbo version has a more aggressive front and rear fascias, fog lamps, Projection headlights with unique LED headlight accents, and ground effects. The twin center placed exhaust tips are a nice touch also. I just wish they were as loud as they looked. I want a hot looking car to sound hot.
Inside, the Veloster gives a value statement. I don’t know of another low $20k car with as many goodies as the Veloster. Goodies such as: heated leather front seats, push-button starting, multifunction seven-inch touch-screen display, Pandora internet radio, 450-watt audio system with eight speakers, external amplifier and iPod/USB/auxiliary input jacks, and Hyundai Blue Link.
Blue Link is Hyundai’s service, safety, and infotainment package. Blue Link brings connectivity directly into the car with technology like voice to text messaging, an important feature in today’s text happy world. Blue Link also brings the Geo Fence. This feature tells you, by text or e-mail, when the vehicle is driven out of an area designated by you. (great chaperone) It also will notify you if the vehicle is driven past a speed designated by you. (another great feature for parents)
Blue Link also brings: Automatic Crash Notification (ACN) and Assistance, SOS Emergency Assistance, and Enhanced Roadside Assistance.
On the road, the Veloster is stable and good handling. Interior noise level is good for its segment. Comfort is about average also. The Veloster Turbo’s fun to drive rating is very good! All in all, the turbo makes this car an entirely different vehicle from the standard model. That extra 63hp the turbo brings sure made a world of difference.
The Veloster is loaded with value, a great warranty, and good looks. The Veloster Turbo starts in the $20k range. EPA fuel numbers are 27 city / 38 hwy. I give the Veloster a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
2013 Buick Enclave
The Enclave is one of Buick’s real success stories. Buick sold a record 57,783 Enclaves in 2011, making it more popular than the three-row crossovers from Acura, Audi and Lincoln. More importantly, nearly half of all Enclave buyers switched from non-General Motors brands. So far this year, that trend has become even more prevalent.
With seating for eight, an interior just inches smaller than the ever popular GMC Yukon, the Enclave was just what Buick needed when gas prices went sky high. Buyers in need of three rows of seating without buying a gas guzzling SUV or a Soccer Mom Mini Van, the Enclave is a great choice.
For 2013, the Enclave receives some much needed refinement all around. Most noticeable is the aggressive new exterior design that includes a bolder signature Buick waterfall grille and new LED taillights. I think overall, the look is dramatically better. Not that the 2012 version was bad, but some called it a little conservative.
Inside, the Enclave is just beautiful. The new dash, center console, new contrast stitching, new wood accents, more soft touch surfaces, and really cool ambient lighting are amazing. The Enclave was always upscale, but Buick has gone to a whole new level in 2013. Controls have been changed to be simpler and easier to learn and use. GM’s new My Link telematics system performed flawlessly and, coupled with the latest version of OnStar, is a big plus. It will do almost anything you ask and is not hard to learn. It links up with your smartphone to allow Bluetooth streaming of internet favorites Pandora and Stitcher. Best of all, IT WORKS!
The Enclave is powered by GM’s 3.6-liter 288hp V-6 and a six speed automatic transmission. For 2013, the powertrain is reprogrammed for more performance without any change in fuel economy. The 2013 model feels more powerful and is a lot more enjoyable to drive. When I said the new Enclave is more refined, this is one of the improvements I was talking about. To increase driveability this much without losing any fuel economy is a big win for GM engineers.
Here is a great feature: The Enclave receives GM’s new front center side airbag. Added to the drivers seat, the center airbag protects against driver- passenger collisions during side impact events. (like a big catchers mitt between the occupants) This should decrease injuries and usher in copycat products in the competition. Other safety features include parking sensors, backup camera, lane divergence, crash alert, stability control, and crash alert.
With a very useable third row of seats and 12 cupholders, the Enclave is a great family friendly large luxury vehicle. With a great ride and quiet interior, the Enclave is great on a trip, and an EPA rating of 17 city and 24 highway means little stopping for fuel.
For those of you wanting to exchange your big SUV for something with a better ride and fuel economy without sacrificing capacity or luxury, perhaps a look at the 2013 Enclave is in order. I gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
2013 Buick Verano Turbo
Overview: With GM’s reorganization a few years ago, Buick has been given a chance to evolve. The Verano has been called the poster child of the “new” Buick. It is part of the new generation of smaller, economical, good handling, and fun to drive Buicks. The latest version of the Verano is the Verano Turbo. While I like the other versions of the Verano, I think the turbo version stands out as my favorite.
With gas prices rising every day, many Americans are downsizing to smaller cars. Naturally, we still want all of the electronic gadgets, and the upscale of the cars we gave up. Buick shows we can downsize and still enjoy driving.
Outside, the Verano looks upscale and sporty. Its sleek roofline and new bolder signature Buick waterfall grille, LED headlight trim, and new LED taillights make it stand out from the 2012 version. While the Verano shares some of the same architecture as the Chevy Volt and Cruze, it doesn’t resemble them in many ways.
Inside, the 2013 Verano Turbo has seating for five, four very comfortably. The Verano is loaded with sound absorbing interior materials and thicker acoustic glass than most of the competition. The Verano is most likely the quietest car in its class. Add in comfortable heated power leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, nine-speaker Bose audio system, Intellilink, Dual exhaust, sport pedals, and the cool little rear spoiler. The Buick IntelliLink system is very slick and connects your smartphone with a color touch screen to allow streaming audio services through Pandora and Stitcher. Best of all, it works!
Safety wise, my test Verano Turbo had 10 standard airbags, anti lock brakes, traction and brake controls, standard Rearview camera, Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and of course, the latest version of OnStar.
The Verano Turbo achieves EPA fuel economy estimates of 20 city / 31 hwy. with the manual transmission and 21 city / 30 hwy with the automatic transmission. It had plenty of power for anything I asked it to do and was always fun to drive. To me, the drivability of a car is most important. If I am going to be driving a lot, I want the most enjoyable and comfortable car I can get for my investment. The Verano works well for this on many levels. Quality wise, the cars fit and finish, ride, handling, and performance, were first rate.
2013 Acura RDX
The RDX is Acura’s entry into the highly competitive Mid Size Luxury CUV segment. Acura didn’t seem to hit the mark on the last generation RDX, but I think this version could be a lot more successful.
For 2013, the RDX receives its first full redesign since its debut in 2007. The New RDX is bigger outside, roomier inside, quieter, has much more useable power, and best of all, better fuel economy.
Outside, the new RDX receives a “beak” trim for 2013. While some say it makes it look more conservative, I say it is time to go completely “beakless.” Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard for this year.
Inside, the RDX has a new dash and much appreciated added interior space from last generation. Seats are comfortable and provide good support on a trip. Rear seat legroom is surprisingly good. Cargo capacity is over 26 cu. ft. behind the rear seats. The only negative is that the rear seats do not recline or slide. The dash is new and a big improvement. Soft touch materials are used and the trim looks more upscale than before. Acura’s multifunction controller has been updated and the control panel layout has been improved. The RDX is loaded with standard goodies such as: Leather upholstery, heated front seats, push button start, backup camera, iPod and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity, 5-inch color display, and a 360-watt audio system.
Safetywise, the RDX is loaded with airbags, stability control, anti lock brakes with brakeforce distribution, TPMS, and daytime running lights. There is no crash rating as of yet, but I bet it is a good one.
Under the hood, the RDSX has Honda’s great 273hp 3.5-liter V-6, replacing the turbo four-cyl that I didn’t like. Acura replaced the old five speed automatic with a six speed mated to a new all-wheel-drive system. These welcome changes give the RDX an EPA rating of 20/28 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive and 19/27 mpg with all-wheel drive. Dramatically better than last years numbers. Better yet, the V6’s good mid range power makes the RDX much more fun to drive.
On the road, the RDX is quiet, comfortable, fuel efficient and fun to drive. The engine -transmission combination provides good power for either spirited driving or traffic conditions.
The RDX remains one of the better priced entries in the Mid Sized Luxury CUV segment with a base price in the mid $30k range. My test AWD Tech model was priced at $40,315, not bad either when compared to BMW, M-B, or Infiniti.
With the right marketing and promotion, I think that the 2013 Acura RDX could become a player in its segment. It certainly compares well to the competition and is overall a good choice for anyone wanting a reliable, comfortable fun to drive CUV. – Mike Herzing
2013 Chevrolet Traverse
The traverse is one of Chevy’s true success stories. With seating for eight, an interior just inches smaller than the ever popular Tahoe, and great fuel economy, the Traverse was just what Chevy needed when gas prices went sky high. Buyers in need of three rows of seating without buying a gas guzzling SUV or a Soccer Mom Mini Van, the Traverse is a great choice.
For 2013, the Traverse receives some much needed refinement all around. Most noticeable is the aggressive new exterior design that includes a signature Chevy grille and Camero inspired LED taillights. I think overall, the look is dramatically better. Not that the 2012 version was bad, but some called it a little boring, and I agreed.
Inside, the Traverse receives some needed refinement. New dash, center console, new contrast stitching, new wood accents, more soft touch surfaces, and new silver trim are welcome upgrades. Controls have been made simpler and placed better. GM’s new My Link telematics system performed flawlessly and, coupled with the latest version of OnStar, is a big upgrade also. It will do almost anything you ask and is not hard to learn. It also links up with your smartphone and allows Bluetooth streaming of internet favorites Pandora and Stitcher.
The Traverse is powered by GM’s 3.6-liter 288hp V-6 and a six speed automatic transmission. For 2012, the powertrain has been reprogrammed for more performance without any change in fuel economy. After driving a 2012 and then a 2013 in succession, I found the difference significant. The 2013 model feels more powerful and is a lot more enjoyable to drive. When I said the new Traverse is more refined, this is one of the improvements I was talking about. To increase driveability this much without losing any fuel economy is a big win for Chevrolet engineers.
The Traverse, together with its GM cousins, are pioneering the addition of a front center side airbag. Added to the drivers seat, the center airbag protects against driver/ passenger collisions during side impact events. (like a big catchers mitt between the occupants) This should decrease injuries and usher in copycat products in the competition. Other safety features include parking sensors, backup camera, lane divergence, crash alert, stability control, and crash alert.
With a very useable third row of seats and 12 cupholders, the Traverse is a great Family Truckster with a ton of room. With a great ride and quiet interior, the Traverse is great on a trip, and an EPA rating of 17 city and 24 highway means little stopping for fuel.
For those of you wanting to exchange your big SUV for something with a better ride and fuel economy without sacrificing capacity, perhaps a look at the 2013 Traverse is in order. I gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Mike Herzing
2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
When auto designers are tasked to update a car that is an American icon like the Ford Mustang, to say that there is a lot of pressure to get right is an understatement. The best thing about the 2013 Mustang Shelby GT500 is that may be a huge upgrade, but it still looks, drives, and feels like a Mustang. The Ford SVT Engineering Team wanted to make a statement and this car does it, in spades.
Rather than doing it yourself, why wouldn’t you let Ford build you a 662 hp, 200-plus-mph hot Mustang that has a factory warranty? And price it less than $53K? All you can say is God Bless America!
The first thing you notice about the 2013 Shelby GT500 is the huge air intake. I am wondering if it could suck up a small child or the family pet if they get too close. On the 2013 GT500, everything is bigger and better: horsepower, (662) more engine displacement, (5.8 liter) bigger turbocharger, a stronger 6 speed manual transmission, stiffer suspension, bigger Brembo brakes, a lighter and stronger driveshaft, bigger radiator and intercooler, computerized Launch Control, and more. Everything is better than before, except, they STILL didn’t give the Mustang independent rear suspension. Lets hope the SVT Team has it on their Christmas list for 2014.
The GT500 is ungodly fast, temperamental in traffic, fantastic looking, rough riding, and tough not to burn the tires off of. However, I and almost anyone that has ever driven a GT500 would tell you that they wouldn’t have it any other way. This car is part of the Shelby family, and that is real automotive royalty.
Not all drivers can truly handle a 200 mph Supercar with the worlds most powerful production V8. I highly recommend that anyone buying a GT500 attend a performance driving school so they can truly enjoy what the car has to offer. And then attend some track days to really appreciate what this car can do.
Any serious drivers in the market for a bargain basement priced true Supercar would be foolish to overlook the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang. Not only is it an amazing American Icon, it could prove to be a great investment.
2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
For as long as I can remember, Land Rover has been at the pinnacle of the SUV world. With gorgeous interiors followed up with amazing off road capability, owning a Land Rover made a statement to the neighborhood that “you have arrived.”
Land Rover goes a little different direction with the Range Rover Evoque. While it is still capable, the Evoque proves that Land Rover wants to make a “style” statement at the same time. In the Compact Luxury SUV segment, The Evoque is head and shoulders ahead of the competition. For one, the Evoque is the only vehicle in the compact luxury SUV segment with two door and four door versions.
Land Rover has also dropped traditional trim levels, instead using “design themes” on the Evoque. This idea may be the contribution of Land Rover’s Evoque style consultant, Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice. If there is one thing that the Evoque has plenty of, it is style. The Evoque look, its colors, and design are a major change for this company.
Another big change with the Evoque is its 240 hp 2.0 liter turbo 4cyl engine. I can’t remember a modern day Land Rover with a four cylinder engine. As always, AWD is standard, as is Land Rover’s award winning Terrain Response System. EPA fuel economy numbers are 18 city/28 highway/ and 22 mpg combined. During my week with the Range Rover Evoque, I loved the sharp handling and felt the performance up to the task. Of course, I always love the comfort and quality of English interiors. So quiet, plush, and accommodating, what’s not to love? (besides the $41k base price)
No matter how different it is, the Range Rover Evoque is still a Land Rover and loaded with features such as: NAV, Backup Camera, a huge panoramic moonroof, push button start, power tailgate, power leather front seats, dual-zone climate controls, Bluetooth phone and audio with multiple USB and iPod hookups, and of course, a great 11 speaker audio system.
Compared to its boxier BMW and Mercedes Benz competition, the Evoque falls short in rear seat headroom and cargo space, but makes it up with better looks.(tall people sit up front please) The Evoque costs more that some of the competition, but to get a Land Rover and its legendary capability, most think it is worth it. I give the Evoque a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
2013 Ford Taurus SHO
A quick word about My Ford Touch. Ford has taken a beating in the press over the My Ford Touch system. Ford says that the new upgrade makes it an easier learning curve. In my limited time with the system, I have gotten frustrated, but as I started to learn it, those frustrations have vanished. Note: BMW still uses the I Drive system that is twice as hard to use, (and makes me crazy) and the press doesn’t hound them about it. Could it be because Ford is an American brand?
Outside, the 2013 Taurus SHO gets a version of the Fusion’s great looking grille, new hood, new lower fascia, new LED taillights, and wider tires. Still a great looking car, but this upgrade distinguishes the SHO from the rest a little more.
Under the hood, Ford continues with what works, the 365 hp twin turbo 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6. This engine is mated to a six speed automatic transmission and a torque vectoring AWD system. Ford’s stability-control technology introduces what Ford calls “curve control.” This is where the AWD system uses sensors and brake controls to prevent understeer or oversteer on hard corners. Ford realizes that this is a fast and big sedan that could get away from a driver at some point. Sensors tell the car’s computer when the car may be getting out of control, and the system gives the driver a little assistance. This is one time that I agree that it could really help with keeping someone on the road after getting into a corner “hotter” than expected.
While I didn’t think that last years Taurus SHO was noisy, someone at Ford decided that the car needed more sound deadening. Since they were upgrading the interior, they decided to include more soft touch surfaces and some carbon fiber dash panels to add to the already good look. One casualty, was the SHO’s great exhaust growl, which is now mainly gone.
While I am disappointed that the SHO’s exhaust note has been subdued, I am glad they kept one of my favorite features, the massaging front seats. (Ford calls them “Active Motion” seats and they are class exclusive.) Being somewhat self indulgent, I love to get a massage when driving. Perhaps we can get them to add and Oriental or Swedish massage option on future models.
The Taurus is a great full size sedan with a quiet, comfortable interior, huge trunk, and room for five adults. The SHO version adds better brakes, suspension, hotter looks, and a LOT more performance to an already good car. Best of all, it is fun to drive and reasonably priced with a base MSRP in the $39k range
Anyone looking for a full size sports sedan should check out the 2013 Ford Taurus SHO before making a decision. I give it a 5 out of 5 star rating.
2013 Ford Fusion
My review this week is the 2013 Ford Fusion. Five years ago, Ford Execs tasked their designers to develop “ the New Face of Ford” for the next decade. The Fusion is the first of the new breed of Fords.
The first thing you notice about the Fusion is it’s looks. It has great lines and a fantastic looking front end. I think that the Fusion has a grille that is a cross between Jaguar and an Aston Martin. Funny thing, didn’t Ford own those two brands at one time? Curious…
Any way you look at it, the Fusion is smokin’ hot. While driving around Southern California this week, I was stopped three times by people asking what car I was driving and how they could get one. One lady parked her two old week Camry next to the Fusion and said she could kick herself for not waiting for the Fusion.
Keep in mind that this was happening in the land of “buy an import Californians” none the less.
Of course, the Fusion is more than just a pretty face. Loaded with technology and more choices than a Burger King menu, the Fusion is all about having it your way. The Fusion is available with five different powertrains. The base model is a 2.5 liter 4cyl engine. Then you can upgrade to either a 1.6 liter EcoBoost 4 cylinder, a 1.6 liter EcoBoost engine with Start Stop technology, a 2.0 liter EcoBoost engine, or a Gas Electric Hybrid Fusion. Then we go into 6 speed automatic or 6 speed automatic transmissions. This is before we even talk about the S, SE or Titanium trim levels. It seems that Ford is determined to offer a Fusion for every taste.
The Fusion goes right after the Camry, Accord, and Altima. With great fuel economy and room for five adults, the Fusion hits the competition right where they live. The Fusion has an upscale interior, comfortable seats, a quiet ride, great handling and a powertrain for everyone. When you add the My Ford Touch telematics, Bluetooth, iPod, and USB connectivity, and of course, multiple power plugs and cupholders, the Fusion seems much more user friendly than the imports.
I drove all of the Fusion versions and was particularly impressed with the Hybrid model. Power and response were great and handling was good. I was even impressed with the Fusion’s regenerative brake system because it wasn’t grabby at low speeds like most.
With an EPA certification of 47mpg Hwy/ 47mpg City/ 47mpg Combined, the Fusion beasts the Camry Hybrid by a whopping 8 mpg highway and 4 mpg city. The Fusion Hybrid has been certified as the most fuel efficient mid-sized sedan in America. And yes, there is a plug in hybrid on the way soon.
The Fusion is not some goofy looking econobox like many Hybrids. The Fusion is a nice, comfortable, roomy, great looking car. No more sacrificing style and comfort in the name of fuel economy. The Fusion is a “green” car that you can appreciate for its looks. Although, many say that some people love the goofy looking “green” cars because it shots out “look at me, I’m saving the planet.” I think the Fusion says the same thing while looking great.
The Fusion has a $21k starting price for the base model with the 2.5 liter engine. However, most of those will be fleet cars. (rental or company cars) The main sellers will be the EcoBoost and Hybrid models in the mid to upper $20k range. The most loaded Titanium version will sell in the low $30s, which is ultra competitive for the segment.
Ford has made a huge statement with the new Fusion. Buyers that once considered an Accord, Camry, or Altima will have to give the 2013 Fusion a serious look before making a choice. Comparing apples to apples, the Fusion is at the top of the list. Lets see how open minded the American consumer really is.
I give the Fusion a 5 out of 5 star rating.
If the Fusion is the new face of Ford, then it should be smiling. Mike Herzing
2013 GMC Terrain Denali
The Terrain, and its cousin, the Chevy Equinox, have been huge hits for GM since their inception in 2010. The midsize CUV segment is growing and it is logical that an upscale brand like GMC would tend to sell higher end vehicles. The Denali is GMC’s top trim level and a new trim level for the Terrain. With a base price of $34,525, THE Terrain Denali is priced right with the competition and I think it offers more “bang for the buck.”
One thing I like about the Terrain is that, unlike the competition, GM isn’t trying to make an SUV/ CUV look like a car. The Terrain’s styling is boxy and masculine like a truck and utility vehicle should look. However, the Denali trim level includes a lot more “bling” than the standard model.
The Terrain is a mid sized CUV with seating for five. Inside, the cargo area is generous, and the 60/40 split rear seats fold down to increase the room to carry even more. The front seats are some of the best in its class and the rear seat room is good for any adults. Overall, the interior is very upscale with tasteful use of leather and satin chrome trim.
Of course, the Denali trim level includes just about every option you could want. Great power leather heated front seats, leather wrapped wood accented steering wheel, multiple power outlets, a great audio system with iPod, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity, an excellent audio system, NAV with 7” color display, power programmable liftgate, rear backup camera, dual zone climate control, and much more.
Safety wise, not only is the Terrain is a 2012 IIHS Top Safety Pick, it has more electronic features than most in its class. Features like: OnStar, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Alert, Airbags everywhere, Anti Lock Brakes, Stabilitrak w/ Traction Control, and Tire Pressure Monitors. In other words, GM wants you to be safe even if you drive like an automotive journalist.
My test Terrain Denali was upgraded to GM’s 3.6 liter V6 mated to a six speed automatic transmission. Power was great for any use, but the standard 2.4 liter DOHC 4 cylinder is a good engine too. I just like the V6 a little more. EPA fuel numbers for the V6 are 17/24. The 4 cyl model is rated 22/32. If MPG numbers are important, the 2.4 may be better for you.
The Terrain handles good for a CUV and is fun to drive. What more do you need? Fun to drive, great fuel economy, quiet ride, comfortable interior, and a ton of features make the 2013 Terrain Denali a must see when shopping for Luxury Mid Size CUVs.
2013 Ford Flex
The first thing you notice about the Ford Flex is its looks. You either love it or you hate it. The Flex is one of the most polarizing vehicles on the market today. When I first saw the Flex in Southern California I was wondering if Ford was going to sell any of these. However, like me, the Flex grows on you until you have to appreciate its uniqueness. I am now one of the biggest fans of the Flex.
With a look only a mother could love, the Flex won me over with its unbelievably nice interior and its ability to be a family truckster. As soon as you slide into the Flex’s 10 way adjustable front seats, you are won over. It is so comfortable and well appointed with soft touch materials that you keep thinking that this is a luxury sedan and not a station wagon. Not only are the front seats good, but the second and third row of seats are just as good. Legroom is comparable to a minivan, with plenty of legroom in even the third row. Ford has managed to give is a utility vehicle that looks pretty cool without having the mini van stigma attached to it. On the road, the Flex is one of the quietest vehicles in its class.
For 2013, the Flex receives a slight makeover. Gone is the Ford Blue Oval from the grille and replaced with a sleek new headlight and grille design. Other additions include park assist, radar-based adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake intervention, and a redesigned Sync and My Ford Touch. Other safety features such as inflatable rear seat belts are now included on the Flex.
On the highway, the Flex really shines. The standard 285 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 has plenty of power for any need. EPA fuel economy ratings are 18 city/25 highway for the front wheel drive version. The AWD Flex is rated 17/23. My AWD test model Flex was equipped with the 355 HP 3.5 Liter EcoBoost V6 that had an EPA rating of 16/23. All powertrains are mated to a six speed automatic transmission. The EcoBoost package is only available in AWD. The standard Flex runs great and the EcoBoost Flex is almost too fast. (did I say that?) Really, this car is a real sleeper.
All in all, the Flex is a great vehicle for families that need lots of room and appreciate a vehicle that has such good highway manners. – Mike Herzing
2013 Ford Flex
MSRP : $30,885 (SE) $43,850 (Limited EcoBoost AWD)
EPA Fuel Rating: 18/26 or 16/23 (AWD EcoBoost)
Trim Levels: Se SEL Limited Titanium
Star Rating: 4.75 out of 5
2012 Ford SVT Raptor
Many think that the Ford F-Series pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for several decades because they offer the models we ask for. For 2012, Ford continues that trend, with a truck for everyone’s needs. Of course, a lot of us love to go fast off-road, and the Ford SVT Raptor is the best of the best in that regard.
For 2012, Ford has added a Torsen front differential, a front grille mounted off-road camera and an even more extreme interior and exterior styling.
Rock crawling enthusiasts love the forward-looking camera mounted that provides a live video feed via the eight-inch dash screen of exactly what lies ahead of the truck when traveling below 15 miles per hour. This feature gives drivers the ability to have a spotter-like function without needing to get out of the truck, helping to avoid rocks, ruts or other obstacles when crawling through serious obstacles.
Besides being unbelievably fast, the SVT Raptor sounds like a race truck. Ford says that the exhaust for the 411 horsepower, 6.2-liter engine was specially tuned to deliver the deep growling exhaust note we all love. Part of the unique exhaust sound is derived from a unique firing order with the 6.2-liter SVT powerplant. Ford’s popular SelectShift six-seed automatic transmission is a huge plus because it gives off-roaders a special switch that will engage a special mode where the transmission will give the driver total control over gear selection.
In the event that the standard fare Supercab Raptor just isn’t enough for the most discerning buyers, Ford also offers two new packages, Raptor Plus Package and Raptor Luxury Package. Raptor Plus Package is for that use the Raptor for trailer towing. (Why?) The Luxury Package is for those that want a really foo foo Off Road Racer type truck. (again why if it is for off roading anyway?) They also offer a Raptor Crew Cab, but it limits performance.
I think that the best feature the Raptor has is its amazing suspension. This truck is like a motocross motorcycle with four wheels. A great deal of R&D went into the truck’s chassis and suspension. With 13.4 inches of usable travel in the rear suspension and 11.2 in the front, the Raptor is a off the lot race truck – if you want it to be.
Raptor’s wider track (seven inches wider than a stock F150) and longer travel suspension means it can glide over obstacles at high speeds. (Like tall buildings in a single bound) The Raptor’s shocks were designed by Fox Racing Shox, giving the Raptor the only internal bypass shocks offered on a street truck.
The last component of the Raptor’s connection to the ground comes in the form of huge 35-inch BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires that are great on, and off-road.
If you can fathom a super fast and capable F150 that is faster, wider, has super sophisticated suspension, and the best tires available, then you have the SVT Raptor.
Off Roaders have spent tens of thousands for years trying to make their trucks the best there is for off roading. A few years ago, Ford recognized this need and tasked the SVT Engineers to make something that is unbeatable in price and performance in the dirt. The SVT Raptor is the end result, and spectacular it is. If you want an off road crazy fast great handling truck, the SVT Raptor is your only stop. – Mike Herzing
Base Price: $45,625 as tested $53,660
Engine: 411 HP, 6.2 liter V8
Transmission: 6 speed AT
Fuel Economy: 11/16
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
I was in Park City Utah last week to drive the all-new third-generation Santa Fe. There are two versions of the 2013 Santa Fe. A five-passenger model similar in size to today’s Santa Fe, called the Santa Fe Sport. And a stretched three-row, seven-passenger model that is called the Santa Fe.
Both are capable crossovers built for today’s family, with flexible seating and cargo room, and advanced safety technologies.
Both Santa Fe models feature the same interior look, designed for functionality and comfort. From the heated rear seats and slick eight-way power driver seat, to a standard 40:20:40 folding rear seat back, both show flexibility and a pleasant cabin for all.
Special care and attention went into other interior details, such as an optional panoramic sunroof, which allows more natural light into the cabin, and premium window switch trim. Available on 2.4-liter models and standard on Turbo models, is a push-button starter with proximity key and an electrochromatic gauge cluster color LCD screen. A heated steering wheel and sliding second row seats are optional first-class touches on Santa Fe Sport. The heated steering wheel is also optional on the LWB Santa Fe.
THREE POWERFUL, FUEL EFFICIENT ENGINES
Santa Fe Sport buyers have the choice of a base 2.4-liter GDI engine or a turbocharged 2.0-liter GDI engine. Both engines have been well tested in the Hyundai Sonata and provide more than enough power for city or highway driving and have the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds. With 190 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, Santa Fe Sport 2.4 still manages EPA fuel economy of 22 city and 33 highway.
The higher output 2.0-liter turbocharged engine found under the hood of Santa Fe Sport 2.0T increases horsepower to 264, while also delivering excellent fuel economy. The LWB Santa Fe is powered by the 3.3-liter GDI V6 engine, which is also found in the Hyundai Azera.
Hyundai still is all about bang for the buck. Some of the goodies found on 12-speaker Infinity Logic 7® surround sound audio system (550-watts), Active Cornering Control AWD for outstanding CUV driving dynamics, Segment first Driver Selectable Steering Mode, Seven standard airbags – includes driver’s knee airbag, Panoramic sunroof, Heated steering wheel, Heated rear seats and manual rear side window sunshades
Standard Blue Link – safety, service and infotainment telematics system, third generation navigation and audio multimedia systems with an available eight-inch touchscreen display.
Hyundai first gained notice with their 10 year 100k warranty. Then their “we’ll buy it back if you lose your job” promise. Their getting more notice because of their super hot looks that they call “Fluidic Sculpture” exterior design. Now, they are backing that up with great fuel economy and a host of features to delight drivers and passengers with high expectations for functionality and comfort.
After driving the 2013 Santa Fe all around the mountains of Utah, I must agree that anyone looking at a Honda CRV or Pilot, Toyota RAV4, Highlander, Escape, or Edge owes it to themselves to add the Hyundai Santa Fe to the list.
The all-new 2013 five-passenger Santa Fe Sport began arriving at Hyundai dealerships in August, with the long wheelbase Santa Fe set to arrive in January 2013. –Mike Herzing
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
Base Price: $24,450
Fuel Economy: 22/33
Engine: 2.4 /190hp 2.0t /264hp 3.3V6 coming soon
Transmission: 6 spd AT
What I liked: Bang for the buck/ great looks
Star Rating: 5 out of 5
2012 Infiniti IPL G Coupe
Luxury Performance Convertible
Overview: One of my favorite Luxury Sports Sedans is the amazing Infiniti G37. There isn’t much I don’t love about this vehicle. As much as I love the sedan, the hard top convertible is a favorite also. The 2013 IPL G Convertible Infiniti is the second member of the Infiniti Performance Line of premium performance vehicles. IPL’s product design philosophy focuses on “total vehicle performance,” including unique driving qualities and exclusive exterior and interior features at a competitive price point. The new IPL G Convertible features special aerodynamic styling pieces, the performance of an IPL-tuned V6, exhaust and suspension, 19-inch IPL aluminum-alloy wheels, and unique leather-appointed interior – along with the G Convertible’s three-piece retractable hardtop.
The G’s 3.7-liter 343 hp V6 engine delivers plenty of performance with a seven speed automatic transmission. The addition of the Infiniti Performance Line (IPL) package just makes a great car even greater. The IPL package brings more horsepower, firmer sport suspension, better brakes, and unique IPL trim to put the car in lofty company. The 2013 IPL G Convertible is offered in one fully equipped model. There are no options.
The IPL G Convertible’s unique exterior includes a dramatic front and rear bumper/fascia design with integrated fog lights and black finishers, sculpted side sills, rear spoiler and exclusive 19-inch IPL split 7-spoke graphite-finish wheels and low-profile W-rated Bridgestone Potenza RE50A performance tires.
Inside, the IPL G’s interior features sophisticated craftsmanship, with a cockpit-oriented front driver and passenger area, “double wave” instrument panel design and dramatic, full-length center console with a leather and aluminum-clad shifter. One cool feature is that the instrument cluster moves up and down with the steering column so you never lose view of the gauges. The leather front seats are extremely supportive and comfortable. Rear seat room is minimal at best, but works in a pinch. Because this is a hard top convertible, the interior noise level is as good as a coupe. The IPL G Convertible has every electronic gadget you could ask for and to top it off, the audio system is superb.
On the road, handling is superb, power is plentiful, the interior is luxurious, there are more electronic gadgets to amuse anyone for hours, and it looks great. What else could you ask of a Luxury Hardtop Convertible? Pricing ends up over $60k so buyers who are interested in the G37 IPL might be looking at a Corvette also. Both are great in their own ways but totally different vehicles. Of course, we are all different aren’t we? Check out the IPL G Convertible.
Engine: 3.7 Liter VQ engine 343 hp
Transmission: 6 Spd MT or 7 Spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 17/25/20
Base Price: $60,600
What I Liked: Power, luxury, and the drop top
What I Would Change: Optional no back seat?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.5
2013 Mercedes Benz GLK350
The GLK350 is Mercedes Benz entry-level, C-class–based crossover, or cute-ute as some call it. Sales numbers have been very good in Texas because this is a good vehicle for the Texas lifestyle. I really enjoyed my week with the GLK because it has a roomy interior, has plenty of power, and was not too big for zipping around in traffic.
The GLK debuted in 2010, so it was scheduled for a freshening up this year. Mercedes Benz has listened to their customers and put a lot of focus on the interior, including soft touch trim panels, dash, and electronic upgrades.
While there are no bad Mercedes, I think that the company has hit this one out of the park and leaped over Lexus and BMW in this very competitive Mid Size Luxury SUV segment.
About 10 inches shorter than the M-Class, the GLK is also a few inches shorter than its primary competition – the Lexus RX as well as the BMW X3 and the Land Rover LR2. In sharp contrast to the relatively soft shapes of other similar vehicles, the striking, angular nose of the GLK sets it apart from the competition. From its steeply raked windshield to the integrated rear spoiler on its tightly styled roof section, the aggressive shape of the GLK stands out.
For 2013, the GLK350 gets a restyled interior with new Direct Select gear lever,new air vents, color instrument cluster display, and ambient lighting. The base audio system has been upgraded, and there’s an option for an iPad docking station. The GLK’s restyled exterior includes new headlight and bumper design and LED daytime running lights and taillights.
The 2013-model GLK is equipped with a new direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 engine with 302 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, an innovative ECO Start/Stop system, a more fuel-efficient seven-speed automatic transmission with Direct Select, and electromechanical steering.
The GLK is one of the most fun to drive members of the Mercedes SUV family. With available 4MATIC full-time four-wheel drive and respectable ground clearance for off-road driving, its optional integrated running boards, roof rack and skid plates emphasize the versatile SUV character of the GLK. EPA fuel economy numbers are 16 city and 23 highway.
A fuel-sipping four-cylinder diesel model, the GLK250 BlueTEC, will arrive early next year and I can not wait to drive it.
A number of hi tech Mercedes-Benz safety features are available for the first time on the GLK, including standard ATTENTION ASSIST and optional DISTRONIC PLUS with PRE-SAFE Braking, Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist. The new electrically assisted steering also makes possible optional Active Parking Assist. Another new option, Lane Keeping Assist makes use of a special computer to analyze images from a multi-purpose camera in the windshield to recognize lane markings. This system alerts the driver by simulating rumble strip vibrations in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane without the turn signals on. A separate option, Active Lane Keeping Assist (as well as Active Blind Spot Assist) incorporates an intervention feature, in which the vehicle’s brakes come on slightly to correct the car’s course if the driver doesn’t pay attention to the initial warning.
Yes, the GLK is loaded with hi tech goodies, but it is still a Mercedes Benz. The seats are amazingly adjustable and comfortable, the vehicle feels solid, was very quiet inside, and handles better than a SUV should.
With a base price of $39,090, it is not cheap by any means. My GLK was the AWD 4Matic model that was loaded up to an MSRP of $58,835 including shipping. This is not a vehicle for everyone, but it is a great vehicle for a small family that is looking for a Mid Size Luxury SUV. Mike Herzing
The 2013 Mercedes Benz SL550
The 2013 SL550 is the sixth Generation SL Roadster and has met a little flak from the press about its looks. I think this car is gorgeous inside and out. But, in deference to my colleagues, the SL does look a little cobbed together compared to the past. The SL’s main problem is Europe’s over zealous pedestrian-safety regulations. Mercedes’ low slung styling has been ruined by these rules. Get ready for more flat grilles and high hoodlines in the years to come.
Mercedes Benz is always been serious about luxury cars performing. They made the 2013 SL550 a torque monster to the tune of: 516 pound-feet of torque at 1,800 rpm. The SL’s 429 hp 4.7-liter V-8, and seven speed automatic transmission perform flawlessly. Paddle-shifting the automatic transmission as you enter the corner, you’ll hear the engine automatically rev to match the gear, blipping, it’s called. This car “gets it” more than any luxury car should have a right to. M-B’s Active Body Control suspension system is standard on the SL550, and eliminates any body roll. Zero to 60 in 4.0 seconds and this big roadster will reach the quarter mile in 12.5 seconds at 114 mph.
The 2013 SL is bigger, wider, and longer than the previous model, but 275 pounds lighter because of the extensive use of aluminum.
Mercedes-Benz has always been known for its amazing engineering; Here are a few examples: The SL has re-invented the windshield wiper. The adaptive wipe/wash system sprays wiper fluid directly onto the windshield from the wiper blade itself, and it works, too. The SL uses the new Harman/Kardon audio system, which has the woofers built into the car’s foot wells. Sound quality is amazing, top is up or down. Combined with the wind management system around the open cockpit, there is the optional Airscarf feature (blowing warmed air across the occupants’ necks from nozzles built into the headrest); and the climate-controlled seats, the SL is the most comfortable, most all weather enjoyable convertible on the planet. If you must keep the hard top up, you will appreciate the retractable glass hardtop’s Magic Sky Control, which sounds very 60’s like, but is actually an electro-chromatic system that allows the roof to change from nearly transparent to opaque at the touch of a button. You spend a lot of money for the SL, but it seems like you get bang for your buck.
Safetywise, the SL 550 is loaded with goodies such as: Pre-Safe Brake, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist (which uses a brakes to keep you in your lane) Driver drowsy alert, and more airbags than I can think of.
One feature puzzled me was the SL’s stop start technology that included an ECO mode? What is this about? The improved EPA fuel numbers were 16city/24hwy. But I am sure not many of these are sold for their fuel economy.
My test SL550 has a base price of $105,500 and optional black leather $900, illuminated door sills, $350, Analog clock $250, Magic Sky Control $2500, Premium package $4900, Driver assistance pkg $2950, Sport Wheel pkg $2000, Special order fee $200, and a $905 delivery fee for a grand total of: $120, 905
Mercedes-Benz has stayed true to the SL’s roots, building a lighter, more powerful, more fuel-efficient roadster that’s as comfortable and classy as it is attention-getting and crazy fast. Buyers put an SL in their garages to make a statement and this Benz does just that. 2013 SL550
2012 Nissan Rogue SV FWD
I had a chance to drive Nissan’s most popular CUV this week, the Nissan Rogue. Nissan has a slogan that says: More than you expect- Everything you deserve. This seemed to apply to the Rogue because it was more than I expected. The Rogue is often described as little brother to the Nissan Murano but it is more than that.
The Rogue competes in the ultra competitive Compact CUV segment that includes the Honda CRV, Ford Escape, and the Toyota RAV4. The Rogue’s plethora of standard and optional features provide the value it needs to stand out from the field. Besides being packed with content, the Rogue has some great exterior styling, which the competition is lacking at this price level. Best of all, the Rogue just looks fun and that is half the battle.
Inside, the Rogue scores points for its sophisticated looking dash and center stack. The upscale tone also extends to the doors and seats and gives this economy minded crossover a distinctive advantage in a mostly boring segment. Controls and gauges are logically placed and easy to use. One of my favorite features of the Rogue is its huge glovebox.
My test Rogue had the standard 170 hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to Nissan’s Xtronic CVT automatic transmission and front-wheel drive (AWD is available).Nissans CVT transmission is one of the few that work well, and it gives the Rogue great fuel economy without feeling like it is winding up a rubber band.
Available in just two trim levels, S and SV. The SV comes standard with a ton of goodies such as: six way power driver’s seat, a six speaker AM/FM/CD/XM Radio with a 4.3-inch color display, USB, Bluetooth, rearview camera, and keyless ignition. For an extra $3,900 I recommend you get the SL Package my test model had. It includes upgraded headlights, heated leather front seats, a NAV system with 5-inch touch-screen and 360-degree camera view, an upgraded seven-speaker Bose sound system, and eighteen-inch alloy wheels. The MSRP of my loaded Rogue was $29,470. This price is comparable to the competition, but I think the Rogue gives you more bang for the buck.
Safety wise, the Rogue comes with Vehicle Dynamic Control, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, and airbags all around. I can say that one of my favorite features of the Rogue was the new 360-degree camera. This is great for parking, backing up, or checking your surroundings. This feature could save some lives and will be wildly popular for buyers with young families.
One thing I didn’t like about the Rogue was the drone of the CVT transmission. I had to tune it out or turn up the radio. I tried to keep reminding myself that this was an economy minded CUV and not a luxury model.
A fully loaded Rogue is under $30k, about the same as a Honda CRV or Toyota RAV4. And this is before you dicker with the dealer. Given a choice, I’d go with the Rogue because it is sporty and fun to drive. It is due an upgrade soon and I am sure that Nissan will up the ante to keep the Rogue near the top of the Compact Crossover food chain. The 2012 Nissan Rogue is a good choice for those who need more room than a conventional hatchback, but don’t want a boxy family truckster.
Price: Base MSRP $23,970 as tested $29,470
Engine: 170 HP 2.5 liter I-4
EPA Fuel Numbers: 23 city/28 hwy
Star Rating:4.5 out of 5
2012 GMC Sierria Denali 2500 Crew Cab 4X4
Pickup trucks continue to be the best selling vehicles in the country because of their versatility. Around here, you hear the term “Texans love their trucks” because Texas is easily the largest truck market in the country. Because we consider them our family vehicles, light duty trucks are the biggest sellers. However, when you need power, towing capability, interior room and comfort nothing beats a big HD truck. One of the stars in that arena is the GMC Sierra Denali with the 6.6 liter Duramax turbo diesel engine. To say that this truck is nice would be an understatement.
The Sierria Denali is the truck that the boss usually drives home every day and then to his worksite. However, sometimes the boss has to bring supplies, tow a loaded equipment trailer to the job site, or pull another truck out of the mud. That is where the Sierria Denali 2500 really shines.
The Sierria Denali 2500 has an amazing towing capability of 23,000 lbs., conventional-hitch trailering capacity of 18,000lbs., and maximum payload of 7,215lbs. The Denali 2500 has an array of trailering features including trailer sway control, integrated trailer brake control, hill start assist, automatic grade braking, exhaust brake, and intelligent brake assist. When you are towing, the engine’s exhaust brake feature lets the engine slow the truck on down hills and saves a lot of brake wear.
I averaged a little over 18mpg during the week I had the Denali 2500. That is why the diesel engine is so important. There is no way a gas engine gives that fuel economy and power. The truck’s 36 gallon tank allows 680 miles of travel between fill-ups. And it really did!
The Sierria Denali’s interior is both luxurious and comfortable. The soft Nuance perforated power leather seats make any trip a good one. This truck is loaded with standard features such as GM’s AM-FM-Sirius XM stereo with CD/DVD player, Back up camera, MP3 plugs, USB connectivity, Bluetooth, Navigation, OnStar, rain-sensing wipers, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel and dual zone A/C. Optional goodies include: driver information center, rear-seat entertainment system, remote start, power sunroof, power sliding rear glass, and vehicle WiFi.
Sierra Denali HD models are offered only in the crew cab body style, in regular-and long-box configurations and in 2WD or 4WD.
The Denali’s bullet-hole chrome grille, chrome trim and body-color bumpers makes the truck instantly recognizable.
Sierra Denali HD is loaded with safety goodies such as StabiliTrak electronic stability control, OnStar, and airbags all around.
One thing I didn’t like about the Sierria Denali is the lack of A/C vents for the rear seats. It needs them on hot Texas days. Also, this truck is a little long in the tooth. GMC’s has a new truck coming soon, but it needs to be here now to keep up with the competition from Ford and Ram, who have already updated theirs.
Overall, the GMC Sierria Denali 2500 4WD Crew Cab is a great truck for someone that needs the ultimate in luxury, capability, and durability.
Base Price is $48,785 and as tested $62,859
Engine: 397hp, 765lb.ft. of torque 6.6 liter Turbo Diesel V8.
Transmission: Allison 6 speed automatic
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5
2012 Chrysler 200S
Chrysler made a big splash earlier this year with their Imported from Detroit ad campaign.
Chrysler’s “Born of Fire” Super Bowl commercial featuring Eminem, registered 15 million views. Eminem drives a Chrysler 200 through the streets of Detroit, celebrating the resurgence of the Motor City. I had a Chrysler 200S for my driver this week and wanted to talk about it.
The 2012 Chrysler 200 is a mid sized sedan with seating for five adults, four comfortably. The 200 was a huge surprise for me. I never expected it to be as good as it was. Unlike its predecessor, the Sebring, the 200 feels like a car you can live with. The Sebring, while popular, always felt like a rent car to me, probably because of how many went to the rental fleets. The 200 is a work in progress for the company. Even though Chrysler hasn’t completely finished with the 200, it has been refreshed to a pretty high level.
One of the first big changes the company made was to the interior. The 200’s new interior is comfortable and great looking with an upscale hand stitched dash, 8 way power leather seats, automatic temperature control and tons more. It reminds you of the Chrysler 300’s award winning interior. Unlike some of the foreign competition, the 200’s gauges are easy to read and the controls placed logically. Chryslers NAV and audio system are the best on the market and they are now included in the 200. Their U Connect hands free system works well and I found that connecting your phone to the system is a breeze. It is one of the few systems that understands my southern accent. The system includes a 40GB hard drive to store photos to show on the 6.5 inch screen along with your favorite music. The 200’s low interior noise level allows the Boston Acoustics audio system to really shine.
The exterior of the 200 looks great. This car is a real head turner. The new front LED trim around the headlights are similar to the ones on the new 300. Everyone liked the blacked out grille and the tall decklid. I had several people stop and ask about the 200 I was driving. That doesn’t happen often with sedans under $30k.
What made this vehicle come to life is the addition of the 3.6 liter, 292 hp, Pentastar V6. This new engine gets about the same fuel economy as the outgoing 4 cylinder. Who wouldn’t want the big power? For 2012, the 200 comes standard with a six speed automatic transmission. On a 300 mile trip, I got 29 mpg, which included some spirited driving. EPA economy ratings are 19/29. When Chrysler upgrades to the new 8 speed transmission used on other models, performance and economy will get even better.
One of the negative things about my test 200s was the steering and handling seemed vague. Sure, it was comparable to a Camry or Accord, and that is ok. However, for the public to step up and really clamor to buy the 200, the handling and steering needs to better than ok. I know Chrysler is working as fast as they can, but I am impatient. Luckily, I hear that there is a new model in the works that will solve those issues.
My test 200S was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The base MSRP was $26,980. A loaded Chrysler 200 can have an MSRP around $29k.
The 200 still needs a little work, but I think it is a good choice over the Accord or Camry. For one, it is a lot more fun to drive. Another reason to look at the 200 are the incentives you can get on them right now. I saw 0% financing or $3500 cash incentives. Military involvement get you get an extra $500 discount. (That is before you dicker with the dealer.)
The 2012 Chrysler 200 is too good a deal to pass up if you are in the market for this type of car. They also make it in a really nice convertible, and it is one of my favorites too. I gave the Chrysler 200s 4.5 out of 5 stars. Mike Herzing
2012 Infiniti G37 IPL Coupe Luxury Performance Coupe
Overview: One of my favorite Luxury Sports Sedans is the amazing Infiniti G37. There isn’t much I don’t love about this vehicle. As much as I love the sedan, the couple had to earn my admiration. It has done a pretty good job so far. Both sedan and coupe deliver that difficult to achieve blend of rear wheel drive luxury performance, luxury and refinement at an attainable price point. A distant cousin of he Nissan 370Z, the G37 Couple gives us a reason to shun BMW showrooms. The G’s potent VQ 3.7-liter V6 engine delivers plenty of performance with either the 6 speed manual transmission or 7 speed automatic transmission. The addition of the Infiniti Performance Line (IPL) package just makes a great car even greater. The IPL package brings more horsepower, firmer sport suspension, better brakes, and unique IPL trim to put the car in lofty company.
The IPL G Coupe’s unique exterior includes a dramatic front and rear bumper/fascia design with integrated fog lights and black finishers, sculpted side sills, rear spoiler and exclusive 19-inch IPL split 7-spoke graphite-finish wheels and low-profile W-rated Bridgestone Potenza RE50A performance tires. The IPL G Coupe is offered in just two exterior colors: Graphite Shadow and Malbec Black.
Inside, the G Coupe interior features sophisticated craftsmanship, with a cockpit-oriented front driver and passenger area, “double wave” instrument panel design and dramatic, full-length center console with a leather and aluminum-clad shifter. The leather front seats are extremely supportive and comfortable. Rear seat room is minimal at best, but works in a pinch. Interior noise level is good and gauges and switches are easy to use and logically placed for the drivers use. The G37 Coupe has every electronic gadget you could ask for and the audio system is superb.
On the road, handling is superb, power is plentiful, the interior is luxurious, there are more electronic gadgets to amuse anyone for hours, and it looks great. What else could you ask of a Luxury Sport Coupe? Pricing ends up over $50k so buyers who are interested in the G37 IPL might be looking at a Corvette also. Both are great in their own ways but totally different vehicles. Of course, we are all different aren’t we? Check out the G37 IPL Coupe.
Engine: 3.7 Liter VQ engine 348 hp
Transmission: 6 Spd MT or 7 Spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 19/27
Trim Designations: IPL Sport
Base Price: $49,500
What I Liked: Power, luxury, and MPG
What I Would Change: Optional no back seat?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.5
Overview: The 2012 RAM 3500 Laramie Longhorn is the top of the food chain as far as big trucks go. The Ram in its normal trim is great looking and very comfortable. However, add the Laramie Longhorn package, and it is over the top.
The Laramie Longhorn Edition features unique laser-etched stitching on the leather trim throughout the cabin, custom gauges and touches of crafted silver on buckles and instrumentation, including silver badging and emblems that further define this exceptional luxury pickup. This is one of the most beautiful and luxurious interiors in the industry, that includes luxury cars. The Ram is not just a pretty face, it has storage bins everywhere, ( one time I counted 41) including my favorite, storage in the floor. Those of you that use your truck for your mobile office appreciate the extras like storage, cup holders, and power plugs everywhere.
The comfort and room of this truck complemented by the 6.7L Cummins diesel engine and you have what many of feel is the best big Truck on the market today. The Cummins powertrain has always been a strong point for the Ram. It has only been in the past few years that the quality of the interior has matched the engine.
The RAM lets you have it your way with the choice of regular, Crew, and Mega cabs, four wheelbases, single or dually rear wheels, and 2 or 4 wheel drive. Power is provided by an awesome 350-hp,800 lb-ft of torque, inline 6 cylinder 6.7-liter Cummins turbo diesel engine with a standard 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic transmission.
Towing capability is a strong suit of the new 2012 Ram 3500 diesel pickup. The standard exhaust brake reduces brake fade, prolongs brake life and provides confidence and safety when hauling heavy loads on downhill grades. It allows for the 22,750 pound tow rating and amazing 5,130 pound payload capacity the Ram 3500 possesses.
The Ram 3500 is big, tough, capable, and has a great interior. Handling, ride, fit, and finish are at the top of the scale. We all know that Heavy Duty Trucks are the backbone of the U.S. auto industry. Competition is fierce and the products of the Big 3 are evenly matched. When it comes to a big truck, I believe that the Ram has the edge right now.
Engine: 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel 350hp, 800 pounds of torque
Transmission: 6 Spd AT or MT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: Not rated but I got 17
Trim Designations: ST, SLT, Outdoorsman, Lone Star, Big Horn, Power Wagon, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn
Base Price: 3500 Diesel Dually Laramie Longhorn starts at $57k
What I Liked: The amazing interior! Power & Ride!
What I Would Change: It is pretty hard to top
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 5.0
2012 Chrysler 300S Full Size Luxury Sedan
Overview: For 2012, Chrysler has upped the ante in the Full Size Luxury Sedan Segment by re inventing the already good Chrysler 300. This Chrysler 300S V-6 and V-8 models take the brand in a new direction with American performance, European style ride and handling, aggressive exterior styling, luxurious interior design and materials along with state-of-the-art technology features.
With larger 20-inch aluminum wheels and Chrysler’s second-generation E-segment chassis architecture, the all-new Chrysler 300S V-6 and V-8 models are engineered for driving enjoyment. Handling and power were superb. When I first drove my test car, I didn’t believe it had the V6 and not the Hemi. I didn’t think that any V6 could have this much power. Well, after checking under the hood, (to make sure it was a V6) I had to admit I was wrong. This engine/ transmission combination has all the performance you could want.
If this is what driving a big vehicle with a smaller engine in the name of “fuel economy” is going to be like, sign me up!
The interior of Chrysler 300S is simply gorgeous. The driver and passenger front seats are 12-way power adjustable for the best comfort available. The use of Piano Black on the interior center stack, instrument panel, steering wheel, gauge cluster, and door panel elements provide a uniquely lacquered and highly upscale look. Completing the enthusiast-designed interior are matte carbon hydrographic finished accents, replacing traditional burl wood.
Standard features on my test vehicle included: premium Nappa leather sport seating in black or exclusive Radar Red, heated front and rear seats, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, power tilt and telescoping steering column, power-adjustable pedals, power sunshade, vehicle security alarm, driver’s side auto-dimming mirrors and auto-tilt in Reverse, heated/cooled cup holders, trunk mat, satin chrome lower door sills, rain-sensing wipers, Smartbeam headlamps, ParkView rear back-up camera, HomeLink universal transceiver, the huge 8.4-inch Uconnect display and the next-generation mobile infotainment, connectivity and multimedia features. Uconnect Touch also controls the high-performance 10-speaker Beats Audio system with 522-watt 12-channel amplifier for high-definition sound.
The addition of the new eight-speed automatic transmission and the fuel-efficient 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine provides a 17 percent fuel economy improvement compared with the previous generation six-cylinder Chrysler 300 AWD models. EPA fuel ratings for the V6 are 19/31.
The new Chrysler 300 was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), achieving their highest rating.
My test vehicle had been thrashed by journalists on the road and the racetrack for 13k miles and still had no squeaks or rattles. This is a well built car to withstand that amount of abuse.
If you haven’t looked at the NEW Chrysler 300s lately, then it is time to get to your dealer and give it a spin. -MH
Engine: 292HP 3.6 Liter V6
Transmission: 8 Spd AT with Paddle Shifters
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 19/31 for the V6
Trim Designations: 300 and 300S
Base Price: $33,170 and LOADED is $40,460
What I Liked: Power, luxury, and MPG
What I Would Change: I can’t think of many cars I would rather have
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 5.0
2012 Volvo C70 Compact Convertible Sport Coupe
Overview: The fun little Volvo C70 is a great alternative to the usual German Sport Coupes. The C70’s unique steel fold away hardtop, is not the only cool thing about this car. It runs and handles great, has a sexy look both inside and out, and is great on the road.
I personally love a convertible on a cool morning, but I hate to put up with the extra noise and lack of security the rest of the time. The C70 solves that problem when, at the push of a button, it converts from convertible to hard top coupe in less than 30 seconds. The top is made of steel, so when the top up is up, it is just like any other coupe.
Volvo is all about safety, of course, and along with all of the great Volvo safety goodies, the C70 was the world’s first convertible with head curtain airbags.
Like other models in Volvo’s 2012 lineup, the C70 gains a new trim level strategy. Customers can select the base C70 T5, or the new Premier Plus and Platinum trims. Each new trim level contains options that have been grouped together for those who want to add more comfort, convenience and technology.
The new Premier Plus Trim Level includes Keyless Drive, Homelink, rear park assist and an integrated compass for the auto-dimming rear view mirror. The Platinum Trim Level includes all the contents of Premier Plus, and adds Volvo Premium Sound and Navigation systems.
Customers retain the flexibility to add the C70′s Climate and Dynamic packages to any trim level, as well as select individual items from the list of stand-alone options. Rounding out the changes, the C70′s standard Bluetooth gains an audio streaming connection. Drivers can listen to music from their compatible cell phones via the C70′s audio system. They can create playlists using Pandora or Grooveshark, synchronize with the phone and then play them wirelessly using Bluetooth.
The fun to drive C70 comes with a turbocharged Inline five cylinder engine mated to a five-speed “Geartronic” automatic transmission. Output for the 2.5-liter turbo is 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm with torque at 236 lb.-ft. from 1,500 to 4,800 rpm. The flat torque curve puts the power to the front wheels evenly and makes the car highly responsive.
Engine: 227 HP Inline 5 cyl
Transmission: 5 Spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 19/28
Trim Designations: Standard, premier Plus, Platinum
Base Price: $40,450
What I Liked: Quiet!
What I Would Change: It is really ok as it is
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.45
Overview: The 2012 Land Rover Range Rover is the top of the automotive food chain. A luxury car ride, Sports car handling, and go anywhere capability. The only thing not to like is the price. It is a real shame that 99.9% of these vehicles will never see any off-road use.
With its unbelievable Terrain Response traction control and its Adaptive Dynamic suspension controls, the Range Rover makes anyone an off- or- on road star. These features, along with every safety gadget available, make the Range Rover one of the safest SUVs anywhere.
Inside, the interior is unbelievably opulent. From the 14 way adjustable heated and cooled leather front seats to the 720 watt Surround Sound System, the Range Rover has it all. If you can think of it, it probably already has it.
I can’t think of one manufacturer that has combined the good handling, capability, or luxury of the Range Rover. Of course, the $87, 945 price of my test vehicle means that this vehicle may be outside most folks budget.
Engine: 375 Hp Aluminum V8 with 375 FT Lbs of torque
Transmission: 6 Spd AT Full Time AWD W/2 Speed Transfer Case
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 12/18
Trim Designations: Loaded – If it doesn’t have it, you don’t need it.
Base Price: $79,425 $87,945 as tested.
What I Liked: What is NOT to Like except the price?
What I Would Change: How about a cheaper 2WD Version?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 5.0
2012 Mitsubishi Lancer GT Sport Compact Sedan
Overview: Mitsubishi seems to be struggling to find themselves in the US marketplace. Known for fast sporty cars, like the now gone Eclipse and the Lancer EVO, they seem to want to reinvent themselves as a company known for their EV’s. I still can’t figure out why the would take a great car like the Eclipse, a car that a generation of movie fans and video gamers coveted for years, and then quit making it. Even Ford realized the mistake of dropping the Taurus name and brought it back as soon as they could.
Luckily, my favorite group in the Lancer lineup that includes the Evolution (EVO), Ralliart, and GT has survived. I am glad because these cars are really good. Mitsubishi seems to build good vehicles, they just need more of them like these that people want.
The Lancer’s styling is something you either love or hate. The car’s distinctive, basslike front end and its low, lean stance really look fast. Unfortunately, not all Lancers are fast. But luckily, they are a lot of fun to drive.
For 2012, sporty Lancer GT (formerly the GTS model) gets some much needed interior upgrades and also gains better looking 18’ wheels, and front nose from the more expensive (and better looking) Ralliart version. In addition, the Touring Package now has a backup camera with a monitor built into the auto-dimming rearview mirror (optional navigation system also has backup camera). Standard on the GT include comfortable (finally) front bucket seats, a premium sound system with all of the hands free Bluetooth, iPod and USB connections, keyless ignition, high-contrast gauges, automatic climate control and, we can’t forget the all important rear spoiler and chrome exhaust tip.
The Lancer GT’s peppy 168 horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine comes with a 5-speed manual transmission, but my test vehicle had the optional rubber band feeling continuously variable transmission. (CVT) To its credit, it had paddle shifters that allowed it to work better, but it still is not as good as the manual.
Mt test Lancer GT drove almost as well as the more expensive and faster Ralliart model. I like the GT because it has almost the same brake and sport suspension package as the Ralliart at a much smaller cost. It seems to me that this makes the GT a pretty good deal if you can handle a less powerful car in order to save a fair amount of money.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer GT has come a long way in the past few years. It is fun to drive, looks good, has a comfortable interior, has good fit and finish, a good looking dash, room for four adults, and gets descent fuel economy. What they still need to work on: interior road noise, that rubber band feeling CVT transmission, less of a “plasticky look,” and getting a little better fuel economy to keep up with the competition.
For a company that struggled when it first came to the US, then introduced the popular Eclipse model that started the Fast and Furious movement, Mitsubishi is struggling once again to gain its identity. What they must do is continue to introduce new and greener cars without forgetting the compact performance cars that brought them to the dance in the first place.
Engine: 168HP 2.4 Liter I-4
Transmission: CVT or 5 speed MT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 23/30 for the CVT
Trim Designations: DE, ES, GT, Ralliart, EVO
Base Price: For the GT $20,845
What I Liked: Looks and handling
What I Would Change: How about a 6 speed auto or manual trans?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.0
2013 Mazda CX-5 Compact Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)
Overview: The latest arrival to the Zoom-Zoom family, the all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 is a compact crossover SUV that offers the best highway fuel economy of any SUV sold in North America, at 35 miles per gallon. The new CX-5 goes right after the segment leading Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CRV. In some ways, (like fuel economy and being fun to drive) it is better then a lot of the competition. In other ways (power) it falls a little short.
Outside, the CX-5′s looks are the typical sporty Mazda style, but without the smiley face front grille. The CX5 looks fun to drive, and it really is. I think the CX-5 is the best handling vehicle in its class, hands down. If it had just a touch more power, it would be awesome. Unfortunately, you seldom get both power and fuel economy in the same package. Mazda went for the mpg’s. (we can add the power later)
Inside, the seats are comfortable and well supported up front, with plenty of room for larger adults in the back seat. The cargo area floor is flat, with a cool folding 40/20/40 split rear seat. The controls and gauges are laid out well, with everything simple and easy to use. The fit and finish was good, and the interior has enough soft touch surfaces that it seemed more expensive than its $$20,695 price tag.
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 comes with a single powerplant, a 155-hp 2.0-liter I-4 mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission. If you push it a little, it responds well.
The CX-5 is available in three trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. The Sport starts at $20,695, and the top of the line Grand Touring loaded with goodies runs about $30K. This is about average for this segment.
Safety wise, the CX- comes standard with six airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Traction Control (TCS) and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Engine: 155HP 2.0 Liter I-4
Transmission: 6 Spd AT or MT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 26/35
Trim Designations: Sport, Touring and Grand touring.
Base Price: $20,695
What I Liked: Handling and MPG
What I Would Change: Bolt on turbo?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.5
2012 Kia Rio Four Door Subcompact
Overview: This year finds us looking at the new Kia Rio. To say that it has been upgraded is an understatement. The Rio is now toe to toe with the Honda Fit and the Ford Fiesta, and way ahead of the Toyota Yaris. The Rio and its cousin, the Hyundai Accent are now at the top of the very competitive subcompact segment.
Hyundai and Kia have made inroads by providing buyers with leading edge design, fuel economy, and performance without losing the value edge they have enjoyed.
The Rio’s new look is lively and fresh and looks as fun to drive as it really is. The interior has lost its “cheapo” look in favor of soft touch and easy to use controls. This might be an economy car, but it doesn’t look or feel like it. The fit and finish is better than I have ever seen on a Rio. The seats were actually comfortable for me on a long trip. This is a complete turnaround from the last Rio I drove.
All Rios for 2012 come with a peppy 138 hp, 1.6-liter I-4 and either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. EPA mileage numbers are a class leading 30/40 mpg for either transmission, without having to use any “Eco” models.
Ride and handling are hardly race car like, but they seem to provide a good feel and make the Rio fun to drive.
Safety wise, the 2012 Rio has the usual airbags everywhere, anti-lock brakes and stability control, as well as hill-start assist. A rearview camera is an option, as is Bluetooth.
The Rio starts a little over $14K with the automatic transmission about $1200 more. The Rio EX is nicer, and the $18,450 Rio SX is the top of the line sporty version. All of them are well equipped with the SX having a rear spoiler; tilt steering, and a great audio system that includes Kia’s version of the Ford SYNC system, USB ports, a nice NAV system, steering-wheel audio controls, push button start, and cruise control. All Rio models have Kia’s five-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
A few years ago, I would find it hard to say a lot of nice things about the Rio, but not anymore. This car deserves to be on anyone’s must check out list. Mike
Engine: 138HP 2.4 Liter I-4
Transmission: 6 Spd AT or MT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 30/40
Trim Designations: Base, EX and SX
Base Price: $14k range
What I Liked: Value and upgraded interior
What I Would Change: Turbo?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.45
2012 Infiniti QX56
Style: Full Size SUV
Overview: Infiniti believes, like most of us in Texas, that there is a place in society for the full sized SUV. Arguably, the segment has narrowed somewhat, but Infiniti has put the new QX56 right out front as one of the best.
The QX56 is no longer built on the Armada chassis, it is now a offshoot of the worldly Nissan Patrol. The styling shows a little of the Patrol influence, but it ends there.
The real story of the QX56 is the interior. I can’t remember driving a more comfortable or quiet SUV. Infiniti’s use of burled wood and metallic trim along with a beautifully styled instrument cluster looks classy
There is only one engine option on the QX56. A 400 horsepower 5.6-liter V-8 that is mated to a seven-speed automatic with all wheel drive. It has plenty of power and fuel economy is pretty good for a vehicle this big. I went on a 600 mile trip last week and got 19.2 mpg, even carrying a load. The air assisted suspension is very good at keeping this 3 ton monster under control. Infiniti calls it Hydraulic Body Motion Control. It uses air pressure to stiffen one side or the other side of the suspension to cancel out body lean on turns. Along with the Automatic Leveling System, it gives the QX56 its 8500 pound tow rating.
The big QX is loaded with creature comforts. Its big front seats are heated and cooled, the second row has heated seats, and the third row of seats, although small, fold down with the push of a button. Of course, the QX has a power tailgate. Goodies such as Hard drive based NAV, DVD video and audio, 22-inch wheels; power moonroof; Bluetooth, USP and Mp3 connections, a 110V power plug, pushbutton start, and a superb Infiniti sound system. Suffice it to say that this baby is l-o-a-d-e-d.
When a full size Luxury SUV is what you need, the Infiniti QX56 is worth a long look.
Engine: 400HP 5.6 Liter V8
Transmission: 7 Spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 14/20
Trim Designations: Loaded and More Loaded
Base Price: $61,800 As Tested: $75,340
What I Liked: Cupholders and power plugs everywhere. Fantastic seats.
What I Would Change: How about a Diesel?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.2
2012 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ
Style: Full Size SUV
Overview: The Chevrolet Tahoe may be getting a little “long in the tooth,” but it still has a useful place. For anyone that needs a full sized people and cargo hauler with the toughness of a truck the Tahoe, or its bigger brother the Suburban fills the bill. Sure, the segment seems to be dwindling, but Tahoe sales are still good. There are times when a big SUV is all you can use.
Based on the architecture of the Silverado truck, the Tahoe provides 8,500 pounds of towing and payload capacities while providing a good ride and amazingly good fuel economy for its size.
The 2012 Tahoe is available in four trim levels: LS, LT, Hybrid, and LTZ. Eight seats are standard, but options can bring that up to nine.
My test Tahoe LTZ was loaded with options including: , NAV and backup camera, Bluetooth, OnStar, CD player, rear audio controls, SAT radio, AUX audio jacks, iPod/USB interface, DVD player, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, tri-zone auto climate control, leather, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, heated and ventilated front seats, second row captain’s chairs, 20-inch wheels, and upgraded air suspension.
In 2012, the Tahoe uses GM’s tried and true 320 hp 5.3-liter V8 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA rated fuel economy for the 2WD is 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined.
Safety wise, the Tahoe received a five star rating for overall frontal-impact crash protection and five stars for overall side-impact crash protection.
It is comfortable, great on the highway and can carry a bunch of people. There are some times you just need a big vehicle to get the job done. If the next generation coming in 2013 or 2014 can increase the economy a little, it sure would help.
Engine: 320 HP 5.3 liter V8
Transmission: 6 Spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 17-21
Trim Designations: LS, LT, Hybrid, LTZ
Base Price: $38,755 As tested: $54,745
What I Liked: Towing capacity and believe it or not MPGs.
What I Would Change: How about a Diesel like next year’s Cruz?
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.0
2011 Infiniti EX35
Style: Compact Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)
Overview: The Infiniti EX35 is a different type of compact luxury crossover. It isn’t the roomiest, but it may be the best handling and best looking of the bunch.
The EX35’s looks are one of the things I like most. No “family truckster” looks here, no sir. The EX35 looks “fast and ready to go” inside and out. The interior is upscale and delivers on comfort and quietness. The instrument panel is cockpit style that wraps around the driver and fades into a wide center stack a large NAV screen, audio, and climate controls. The gauges are elegant and refined, and the wood and leather have matte finishes.
The EX35s 297-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 pulls strongly, and the seven-speed automatic shifts flawlessly. It is so smooth that it almost feels like a CVT transmission. Endowed with RWD and plenty of power, performance is brisk. Luckily, handling is good, borderline extraordinary, for a CUV.
Safety wise, the EX35 earned top pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the NHTSA. The EX35 comes with a ton of safety features such as: Airbags everytwhere, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Blind Spot Warning, 360-degree Camera Monitoring, and backup Cameras.
While the EX35 may not be perfect for bigger families, for someone like me it works great.
Engine: 297HP 3.5 Liter V6
Transmission: 7 Spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 17/24
Trim Designations: RWD and AWD
Base Price: $37,900 $46,395 as tested
What I Liked: MPG and Handling
What I Would Change: Better and more cup holders.
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.
2012 BMW 335i
Overview: The compact luxury SUV segment is terribly competitive. Every nameplate has just the right vehicle for this segment. The XC60 is a fine entry and reminds me a lot of its big brother, the XC90. Volvo prides itself on its safety record, and the XC60 is one of the few vehicles on the road in 2012 to get a perfect five stars in the government’s tougher, new crash tests. The XC60 is a great vehicle for families that value safety above cost.
The XC60 R-Design is loaded with a ton of safety features designed to prevent an accident before it happens. The XC60 R-Design comes standard with traction and stability controls, antilock brakes, Airbags everywhere, and a feature called City Safety, which can diminish or avoid a low-speed frontal impact by applying the vehicle’s brakes by itself. Other cool items include built in child booster seats, blind-spot warning, collision warning and active braking, distance alert, driver attention warning, lane departure and a heartbeat monitor that can detect intruders inside the vehicle. This vehicle is loaded with handy stuff.
My test XC60 R-Design was good looking, comfortable, handled great, and fast. This is not your Uncle’s boxy old Volvo wagon, not even close. Anyone looking for a super safe, smaller Luxury SUV that does a lot to keep you out of trouble, needs to put the Volvo XC6 on your short list.
Engine: 3.0liter 325hp Turbo 6cyl
Transmission: 6 Spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 17/23
Trim Designations: 3.2, T6, and T6R
Base Price: XC60 R-Design $43,700 As tested $52,675
What I Liked: Size and power
What I Would Change: Better cupholders!
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.5
2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman
Style: Half Ton No Nonsense Work Truck
Overview: Last Year, Ram re-introduced the Tradesman trim level. The Tradesman is a value-priced package designed to meet the needs of small businessmen, construction jobsites and commercial fleets at an affordable price. Sales have been tremendous. Ram Tradesman offers fullsize work truck capability at a great price.
Ram’s 4.7-liter V-8 engine is rated at 310 horsepower, 330 lb.-ft. of torque and 20 mpg EPA highway. The 4.7-liter V-8 delivers more power and more trailer-towing capability (7,700 lbs.) than competing base engines. For even more power, the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 with 390 hp / 407 lb.-ft. of torque is an available Tradesman option.
Tradesman models feature styled, full-face steel wheels, a fully warrantied factory-equipped spray-in bedliner and a 6-speed automatic transmission. In addition, Ram Tradesman 4.7-liter models now come with a no-cost RamBox cargo management system that includes lighted, lockable storage for tools and adjustable tie-downs – a $1,295 value.
Features include link-coil rear suspension for good ride and handling, heavy-duty cooling system, Class IV receiver hitch, 4 and 7-pin trailer connectors.
All Ram Truck engines, transmissions and axles are covered by a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Ram 1500 Tradesman regular cab prices have been lowered for 2012 to $22,370 (when equipped with 4.7-liter engine).
The Ram 1500 Tradesman HD has the heaviest towing (11,500 lbs.) and payload (3,125 lbs.) is offered at a base MSRP of $29,600, including destination.
Engine: 5.7 Hemi is the best option for economy, power, and MPG.
Transmission: 6 spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 14/20
Trim Designations: Regular, Quad, an Crew Cab.
Base Price: $22,370
What I Liked: Price and capability.
What I Would Change: Add a sliding rear glass.
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.5
Audi Makes Going Topless Stylish
2012 Audi A5 2.0 TFSI Quattro Tiptronic Cabriolet
Style: Two Door Cabriolet (Convertible)
Finally, the Quattro means it is all wheel drive and Cabriolet means convertible.
This is a beautiful car and reminds you how much fun going topless can be. This is one of the cars that get approving looks everywhere you go. Audi does it right, because even with a small four cylinder, engine, this car runs great. Its eight speed transmission is superb, and of course Audi’s AWD system keeps you from ever spinning a tire.
The A5 handles like it is on rails, as I regularly found myself taking 35 mph curves at more that double the suggested speed without even trying. If someone tries to follow you on a twisty road, they are in trouble. Yes, this is a four seater, but the back seats are useless for adults.
Like most European cars, the A5 Cabriolets fit and finish is great, the electronics take a while to learn how to use, seats are firm, and the cup holders are terrible. Take note: This is one of the cars that you have to read the owners manual to learn all of the bells and whistles.
My test car had a base price of $44,700, but with the Prestige Package, S Line Package, and Sports Package it ballooned up to $57,500. I think they are all worth it. This car was REALLY fun.
Audi provides a 4 year/ 50k warranty, free maintenance the first year (or 5k), 4 years of roadside assistance, and a 12 year corrosion warranty. Great car.
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 21/29 MPG.
Trim Designations: Cabriolet
Base Price: $44,700 Price as tested: $57,500
What I Liked: Beautiful car, handles great, fun to drive.
What I Would Change: Cup holders that work. Remove the back seats. (useless anyway)
Star Rating: 1-5 4.5
Style: Compact Five Passenger Four Door Sedan
Overview: With GM’s recent reorganization, Buick has been given a chance to evolve. The Verano has been called the poster child of the “new” Buick. It is part of the new generation of smaller, economical, good handling, and fun to drive Buicks.
With gas prices rising every day, many Americans are downsizing to smaller cars. Naturally, we still want all of the electronic gadgets, and the upscale of the cars we gave up. Buick tells us the Verano is aimed at making us realize we can downsize and still enjoy driving.
Outside, the Verano looks upscale and sporty. Its sleek roofline and signature Buick grille make it stand out from the imports. While the Verano shares the same architecture as the Chevy Volt and Cruze, it doesn’t resemble them in many ways. Loaded with sound absorbing interior materials and thicker acoustic glass than its cousins, the Verano is most likely the quietest car in its class. Add in comfortable heated power leather seats and a great Bose Audio System, the Verano is hard to beat at any price, much less a base price of $22,585. My test Verano was loaded with everything including: Bluetooth connectivity, Mp3 plugs, XM Radio, dual control AC, NAV, and push button start for only $25,965.
The Verano deserves a look from anyone seeking a smaller car with bigger features.
Engine: 180 HP 2.4L Inline Four
Transmission: 6 spd AT
Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 21/32
Trim Designations: 1SL
Base Price: $22,585
What I Liked: Great handling, fun to drive, great economy, and quiet!
What I Would Change: Offer a higher hp version. (supposedly on the way already)
Star Rating: 1-5 My take is: 4.5