Monday, December 1, 2014

Retake: Toyota RAV4

   
 Small crossovers like the 2014 Toyota RAV4 have become popular with a large segment of the population. It's little wonder because in spite of their small dimensions, they offer loads of space for both single people, and families alike. They are rather easy to drive, and you usually get decent fuel economy. In a sense, the crossover is a perfect vehicle for many of the people out on the roads today. While the RAV4 isn't what you might call a favorite in the class, you might find that it will check off a lot of the boxes on your wish list.

     Space is quite easily the RAV4's biggest asset. Driver and passenger room are exceptional up front, and a pair of your friends will be quite happy in the back seat, at least for shorter trips. Further, if you have large dogs, or if you haul lots of gear for that band that you have been wanting to start, the large cargo bay of the RAV4 will suite your needs just fine. As a plus, if you opt for the Limited model, a power liftgate is an option.

     While driving, the RAV4 is rather easy to see out of, and it feels pretty steady around most turns, and is a rather comfortable highway cruiser. Acceleration, however, is about average for the class, and there is no engine upgrade to fix this issue. Likewise, the RAV returns solid fuel economy numbers, but they are just average.

 
   Given the healthy competition in the class, you would be doing yourself a favor if you also checked out some other options. If you want the king of versatility, than the Honda CR-V is one you should take a peek at. If you truly enjoy driving, like I do, than you may want to check out the Mazda CX-5, as well as the just announced CX-3.

     Another good option to check out would be the Ford Escape, which gives you 3 engine options, and a more upscale interior than you might find elsewhere. And lastly, if you are nuts about off-roading, than the Jeep Cherokee might be something you should look into as well.

    The 2014 Toyota RAV4 is powered by the Toyota favorite, 2.5 liter inline 4 cylinder engine, making 176 horsepower, and 172 lb-ft. of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, and can be paired to either front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive.

     In performance testing, the RAV4 needed about 9 seconds to sprint to 60 mph from a stop. Also in testing, stops from 60 mph averaged 128 feet, which is longer than one would hope for in this class of vehicle.

     Most shoppers will find the 2.5 liter 4 banger perfect for their everyday needs. The transmission shifts smoothly, but if you drive more spirited, you might find that it is slow to downshift on many occasions. Also, when climbing hills, it will want to hunt for a gear, instead of finding one and sticking with it.Both of these issues are caused by the powertrain being geared more for fuel economy than anything else. 

     Overall, the RAV4 is quite similar to the Honda CR-V, and drivers that demand more out of their drive might find it quite a bit less fun of a drive than say the earlier mentioned Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5. However, if overall comfort is high on your list, than this Toyota should do right by you. Of course, this can only be a decision made by you, the reader. 

     

Monday, November 10, 2014

October's 10 Best-Selling vehicles

     Some of the world's largest automakers didn't seem concerned with the record amount of recalls, and neither did customers. All told, sales grew almost 6% during the month of October, and an a per annual basis, sales should reach 16 million vehicles globally.

     As for the top 10 best selling vehicles of the month, few surprises are in store, but recent updates and refreshes to several models might, just maybe, leave you surprised. This list comes courtesy of Cars.com's Kicking Tires blog.

10. Honda Civic: A close to 12% decline in sales to 24,154 units compared to last October has put the little Honda in last place. While competition has been updated or refreshed, the Civic is still trying to hold on with its 2014 refresh.

9. Chevrolet Cruze: Though it seems to be very much the same Cruze from last year, Chevy has made a couple of tweaks to the car for the 2015 model year, and the results appear to have had quite an impact on sales. Compared to last October, sales of the Cruze jumped an astounding 51%, to put the Cruze at 232,403 units sold thus far, to give it a year over year increase of almost 10%.

8. Ford Escape: Despite hardly any change for the 2015 model year, Ford's popular SUV gained 12% to give it a boost to 24,919 units sold for the month. That puts it year to date sales at 255,081 vehicles sold since January, which is an almost 2% gain. Numbers that are impressive, given that the Escape is starting to show its age against certain competition.

7. Toyota Corolla: Toyota's trusty Corolla has seemed to be getting off to a somewhat slow start. Sales of the compact hit 24,959 units for the month, which puts it at 283,764 cars sold for the year.

6. Honda Accord: The Accord has been on quite a winning streak this year, outselling the consumer favorite Toyota Camry at one point, and even the Chevrolet Silverado. Sales slowed for October however, to 27,128 units, good for a 7.8% gain. The car is up 7.9% to 331,510 units sold thus far.

5. Honda CR-V: With the refreshed model hitting dealer lots now, the CR-V is seeing some reignited consumer interest. October sales spiked almost 30% to 29,257 units sold. The crossover has moved 270,272 models since January, giving it a 7.4% jump year over year.

4. Toyota Camry: America's favorite midsize family sedan has gotten a refresh for the 2015 model year, to help shed its old, boring image. Now hitting dealer stock, the Camry sold 33,164 cars, good for an almost 14% gain year over year. To date, sales of the Camry are 368,142 or a 5.7% jump year over year.

3. Ram Pickups: To say that Ram Trucks have been on fire from start to finish this year would be an understatement. The streak continued through October as sales hit 39,834 trucks sold, which is good for a massive 33.5% spike over last year. The lineup, including heavy-duty trucks, stands at an impressive 359,702 units sold since January, or a 22.9% leap over this time last year.

2. Chevrolet Silverado: After a scary slow start to the refreshed pickup, the throttle got hammered down for last month, to end sales at 46,966 pickups sold, which represents a 10% gain over last October. Thus far, Chevy has managed to sell 429,119 units, leaving the Silverado 6.4% in the green for the year.

1. Ford F-Series: As Ford is gearing up to start the transition to the 2015 F-150, the company has seen a slowing in sales, and the streak continued in October. Sales slowed to 63,410 units for the month, or a 0.6% fall. To date, Ford has only sold 620,447 trucks, which stands for a 0.5% loss year over year.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tips on selling vs. trading your old car

     The very thought of shopping for a new can can be rather exciting for some, and totally panic-inducing for others. However, making a bad financial choice with your old car can be a real killjoy. Typically, you get more money for your old ride by selling it yourself. The thought behind this is that the dealer has to buy it low enough for them to make a profit off of it. After all, a car dealer is a business, and they aren't in the losing money business.

     With all of this being said, here are some pros and cons to selling your old steed yourself, and trading it in. I will start off with trading it in:

Pros and cons of trading in your car:

It's an easy way to dispose, or get rid of your old car. All you have to do is give it to the dealer, turn around, and never look back.

Typically, you will get much less than if you took the time to sell it yourself. You can look up the price on websites like www.kbb.com, but you will be hard pressed to get more than wholesale as a trade-in value.

You can use the trade-in amount as a down payment and that nice, new or newer car that you just test drove.

To get the best price, you will more than likely spend a good deal of time haggling with an experienced salesperson.

There can be a tax advantage to trading in. Most states only charge sales tax on the difference between the trade-in value and the new car price.

Pros and cons of selling your old car yourself:

This requires serious time and effort on things like placing ads, taking phone calls, dealing with strangers, and giving test drives.

You could get perhaps hundreds, maybe even thousands more by taking the time to do it on your own.

You might not be able to sell your old car until after you buy your new one. If so, you wouldn't be able to use that money as a down payment. Additionally, if you are still paying on the old car, you will have to still make payments on it until you sell it.

You will have to negotiate with the buyer, however, most aren't as experienced as a professional salesperson will be.

More than likely, you will have to pay more sales tax on the new car, but if you get more money for your old car, you could still end up ahead at the end of the day.

     As you can see, they both have their ups and downs, it all just truly depends on how much effort you feel like you can put into the deal. To find out more tips about selling your old car, go to www.consumerreports.org, or other car buying websites like www.kbb.com, www.autotrader.com, and www.cars.com.




Saturday, November 1, 2014

A list of the top 10 most unreliable cars

     Among the many factors that you consider when car shopping, surely how long the car may or should last, is at or near the top of the list. Choose a model with a below average rating, and the more likely you are to have problems. There are more than a few cars that certainly have the potential to steer you down that dark, and more than likely expensive, road.

     According to the latest Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey, with data collected from more than 1 million vehicles across about 10 model years provides a pretty good insight into which models will hold together better, and which ones won't. While a lot of cars have a promising outlook, several cars don't have quite as bright of a history.

     However, a model's below average rating doesn't mean that every single car of that model will suffer the same issues, assuming you don't own a Suzuki Forenza. Rather, it just points to cars that have a track record of giving their owners greater issues. With that being said, here is the list according to Consumer Reports:

10. Fiat 500L  Common issues: Navigation system, backup camera/sensor, radio, rough shifting transmission

9. Jeep Cherokee (4 cyl. model) Common issues: Bluetooth pairing, radio, rough shifting transmission

8. Ford Fiesta  Common issues: Rough shifting and slipping transmission

7. Nissan Pathfinder Common issues: Transmission replacement, torque converter, slipping transmission, liftgate, windows

6. M-B CLA 250 Common issues: Audio system, squeaks

5. Chevrolet Cruze (1.4T model) Common issues: Drive shaft/axle

4. Dodge Dart (1.4T model) Common issues: Rough shifting, transmission computer, oxygen sensors, stalling/hesitation

3. Jeep Grand Cherokee (Diesel model) Common issues: Fuel system issues like check engine light and emission controls, navigation

2. Infiniti Q50 Common issues: Navigation, video screen, integrated controls, Bluetooth, power steering

1. M-B S-Class Common issues: Windows, active suspension

To find out more about the list, and for an in-depth look at the models and their reported issues, head over to the Consumer Reports website.

   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Because GM needs some good news, here it is

   
The arrow points to where the solar array will be at the Lordstown facility
 In an attempt to be one of the most green automakers today, GM is working on installing a solar panel array at it's Lordstown, Ohio facility. The array will be a 2.2 megawatt ground-mounted array is said to be completed by the end of the year. When it is finished, it is reported to be GM's largest solar array installation in the Western Hemisphere.

     The energy that will eventually be produced by the array will be enough to power 1.5% of the facility, and will help eliminate almost 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the air. That is the equivalent of about 1,600 acres of U.S. forests in one year. While that 1.5% number does seem very small, any number is a certain step in the right direction.

An aerial view of the Lordstown facility
     Easily seen from the Ohio Turnpike, the array will stand as a strong, very strong messege that GM is committed to the use of solar, and other green sources of energy.

     This announcement comes almost a year after GM announced the completion of the 1.8 megawatt solar array on the rooftop of GM's Toledo Transmission facility, in Toledo, Ohio. The Toledo array is currently the largest in the state, producing reportedly enough energy to power about 150 homes in the U. S. for a year. I don't think this really needs to be said, but when the Lordstown array is complete, it will also be the largest in the state.

   
The array at the Toldeo Transmission facility
 With the completion of the Lordstown array, GM is on track to meet their own goal of 125 megawatts of renewable energy produced by the end of 2015. For more information on GM's commitment to bettering the environment, visit their environmental blog.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The other small coupe from Scion

     
For 2014, the Scion tC gets a styling refresh, a few upgraded interior bits, as well as an upgraded automatic transmission. You also get an option of a 10th anniversary model.

     Without a doubt, the FR-S grabs the bulk of the attention when you talk about Scion. After the quirky xB came to market about 10 years ago, the tC fast became a popular choice for the buyers looking for a extra dose of style and performance. For 2014, the tC doesn't stray too far from that path.

     If you consider how popular the FR-S is, you might not be surprised to see the 2014 tC adopting very similar styling cues, such as an arguably more aggressive front clip, a slightly more sculpted hood, and some good looking new wheels. In addition to these updates, you can also find updates on the inside as well. A fairly large 6.1 inch touchscreen is now a standard part of the sound system, as are steering wheel audio controls, and Bluetooth. Interior material quality also improves slightly.

     Under the hood, you will find the familiar 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine. However, in this instance, you actually loose 1 horsepower. To make up for that little oops however, is the upgraded automatic transmission that shifts more quickly and confidently, and rev matches the downshifts. The latter part of this upgrade maintains engine speed while the transmission changes gears. Scion has also tweaked the suspension and steering, as well as stiffened the body structure with the ultimate goal of making the car sportier and a more enjoyable drive.


     The 2014 Scion tC is a compact, five-passenger hatchback coupe offered in a base trim level and a special edition "10 Series."

     Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a panoramic sunroof, a height-adjustable driver seat, a leather-trimmed tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, reclining and folding 60/40-split rear seats, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and an eight-speaker Pioneer sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB interface.



     The limited-production 10 Series adds unique silver paint, 18-inch dark-finished alloy wheels, projector beam headlamps, illuminated badges, LED accent lighting, an illuminated "Scion" center console panel and premium stitching on the seats and steering wheel.



   
 A wide section of dealer-sourced accessories is also available, including 19-inch wheels, performance parts for the suspension and drivetrain, and an upgraded BeSpoke touchscreen audio system. The BeSpoke system includes navigation functionality and smartphone Aha app integration for connected audio and social media services.



     The 2014 Scion tC is a front-wheel drive car that is powered by a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that creates 179 horsepower, and 173 lb.-ft of torque. The car comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, while the 6-speed automatic, with rev-matched downshifting, is optional.



     In performance testing, when the tC is equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, runs up to 60 mph come in a very respectable 7.4 seconds. Automatic transmission equipped models are in the same ballpark. Fuel economy numbers come in at 23 city/31 highway mpg, regardless of the transmission. While decent, many other cars in the class give you much better numbers.



     For safety, Scion has given the 2014 tC things such as stability and traction control, ABS, front knee airbags, front side airbags, side curtan airbags, and active front headrests as standard. In brake testing, the tC managed a stop from 60 mph in about 123 feet, which is solidly average for its class.



     In crash test news, the tC earned five out of five stars for overall crash protection, with 4 stars for frontal impact protection, and 5 stars for side-impact protection. IIHS gave the 2014 Scion tC its highest score of good, in the moderate overlap frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength tests.



     Like the updated exterior, the tC has an interior that is said to evoke speed and sport. From the flat bottom steering wheel, front bucket-like seats the cradle you almost perfectly, and controls that are positioned towards the pilot if you will, the tC tries hard to give you a high-performance car feel. It almost seems like the car is trying too hard, but if they could work if they are inline with the modest price tag.



     From the popular standpoint of practicality, the tC is one of the better option on the market today. In the back, you have well above average legroom, and getting in and out of the back is pretty easy, at least by coupe standards. Behind the rear seats, you can hold 14.7 cubic feet of your favorite things, and you can fold them to reveal even more space for your worldly possesions. Because of the hatchback body style that the car has, it means that it is much easier to load larger items in the back , than say a Honda Civic.



     In the past, Scion certainly stood out for their supposedly above average sound systems, but for 2014 the playing field has been leveled somewhat. With that being said, the optional BeSpoke audio system might be worth your extra money if you consider that it offers navigation and smartphone integration that connects to your favorite internet radio, Yelp, and other rather popular social media apps.



   
The 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that is in the 2014 Scion tC makes pretty good power for the class of car, especially at the lower end of the rev range. If you are one of the few people left on earth that like shifting the gears by yourself, and i'm included in that minority, the manual transmission is an ok choice as it is rather easy to operate, and somewhat forgiving even, for the people just learning how to drive stick. However, the automatic is just fine as well, especially after this year, thanks to the upgrades that the folks at Scion have done.




     Around town, the tC is certainly entertaining to drive, and the ride is pretty smooth, if you factor in the low-profile tires, and the sporty nature of the car. But if you are looking for something that is truly sporty, fun, and very smile inducing to drive on the twsitys, there are some better options. That is why Scion also makes the FR-S.

The best midsize sedan?

     
The Mazda 6 has surely been a favorite of auto journalists across the globe, each having their own reasons. Yet, it has never quite caught on with the mass population of the car buying public. So Mazda has seriously upped their efforts with the new 2014 model. The result is a more stylish, more fuel friendly car that is still practical, roomy, and quite fun to drive.

     The 2014 Mazda 6 has one of the best looking designs in the class, and is a rival to the Ford Fusion, at least in terms of styling. Under the sleek, almost sexy looking skin is a new, 184 horsepower 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that provides good performance, along with subdued noises that will be pleasing to some ears, and an impressive 30 mpg combined estimate. Unfortunately, as a sign of the fuel economy times, a V6 option is no longer offered. Instead, Mazda will introduce a 2.2 turbocharged diesel 4 cylinder that should arrive later in the model year. That engine should return close to 40 mpg highway, while giving you better acceleration than the base gas engine.

     The 2014 Mazda 6 is a five-passenger sedan offered in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels.

     Standard features on the base manual-transmission Sport include 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a 60/40-split rear seat, a 3.5-inch multi-information display and a four-speaker sound system with a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack. If equipped with the optional automatic transmission, the Sport also includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 5.8-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera and audio upgrades (voice commands, HD radio, Pandora, text-message display function and automatic 911 notification).



     Stepping up to the Touring trim adds 19-inch alloy wheels, premium vinyl (leatherette) upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sliding console armrest and a six-way power driver seat. An optional Touring Technology package adds keyless ignition/entry, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, heated side mirrors, navigation, an upgraded 11-speaker Bose audio system and the Smart City collision mitigation system.



     The Grand Touring includes all of the above as well as unique wheels, a rear spoiler, adaptive/bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, foglights, a power sunroof, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar support), a four-way power passenger seat, driver memory functions, heated front seats and satellite radio.

Optional for the Grand Touring is adaptive cruise control bundled with a forward collision warning system. An Advance package (late availability) includes those optional features as well as lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and an energy capture system called i-Eloop ("intelligent energy loop") that can store energy during deceleration to a capacitor, which can then power air-conditioning, lighting and accessories for about a minute while the stop-start system shuts down the engine at a stoplight.



     The 2014 Mazda 6 is powered by a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 184 horsepower, and 185 lb.-ft of torque. You can pair that engine with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. With the 6-speed automatic, you get paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The auto cames standard on the Grand Touring model.



     In testing, my automatic transmission equipped tester made the run to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, making it one of the quicker cars in the class. Fuel economy estimates clock in at 26 city/38 highway, with the manual transmission equipped models coming in at 1 mpg lower across the board. With the Grand Touring models optional i-Eloop, those numbers rise to 28/40 mpg.



   
 Mazda has loaded the 6 with a heap of safety features including things like ABS, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. The Touring and Grand Touring models include blind spot, and rear cross traffic monitoring.



     The Grand Touring alone has Mazda's Smart City Brake Support, which is a accident aviodance system that uses an infrared laser sensor at the top of the windshield to detect an impending collision. It can automatically stop the car at slow speeds if the system detects no input from the driver. A seperate package on the Grand Touring model combines a forward collision warning system and lane departure warning.



     In brake testing, my tester came to a stop from 60 mph in about 130 feet, which is a tad longer than average for this class.



     In IIHS crash testing, the Mazda 6 earned an acceptable in the small frontal overlap frontal offset crash test. It earned the highest possible rating of Good in the moderate overlap frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength tests. The head/seat restraint design that the folks at Mazda gave the 6 was also given the rating of good for whiplash protection in certain accidents.




     With legroom being plentiful in the rear, the 6's passenegrs may feel as though they have been given a first class ride, rather than a flight in coach. Headroom is also on the generous side, even for the passenegers that are over 6 feet tall. Though, the sloping rear roof line might give you a more claustrophobic feel than say, a Toyota Camry. Luggage space is also pretty good, giving you 14.8 cubic feet of space for your things.



     Inside, the design is clean and funtional, although maybe a touch on the boring side. Polished aluminum trim accents the cabin space, while the Grand Touring leather upholstery has contrasting stitching. Material quality, as well as fit and finish are among the best in this class. Most of the controls are simple, and user friendly, but the touchscreen interface found in most of the models is a bit behind the systems found in other cars in the same class. The screen, and the touch buttons on the interface are small, and it doesn't always like to play nice with Apple products. However, and the plus side, a multi-purpose knob located due south of the shifter grants a nice and handy level of control redundancy. On the downside though, the High-Beam control option found in the Grand Touring model can sometimes default to on, or just not work at all, leaving the high-beam headlights on, causing major frustration, and possible dangerous situations for the driver.



   
The one major standout of the 2014 Mazda 6 is the powertrain. The base 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine is smooth, and rather quiet, and gives you almost smile inducing acceleration. Although many automatic transmissions in cars that claim high mpg numbers quickly upshift, and are very hesitant to downshift, the auto in the Mazda 6 is quite responsive to inputs from the gas pedal and never really feels unsure of itsself when you need to pass on the highway. And as a bonus, if you enjoy the thoughts of rowing through the gears yourself, you will be happy to note that there is a 6-speed manual option, an option that is going away more and more every model year.




     The same athletic feel is still in play when it comes to handling. With the car having a communicative, laser sharp precise steering, and sporty chassis tuning, the 2014 Mazda 6 feels quite happy and willing to go around sharp corners, which is a stand out for the class. The downside of this is that the 6 does ride a bit more stiff than the others, especially if you have the 19 inch wheels. With all of that being said, if you enjoy driving like some do, and you need your car to be practical, than the 2014 Mazda 6 might very well be the best choice for you. It certainly does warrant a test drive at the very least.

Can the Kia Sorento edge out the Edge?

     
For 2014, the Sorento gets a slight visual update, a slightly upgraded interior, and a more potent V6 powerplant. The 4-cylinder found in the base model last year has been dropped, leaving the 2.4 liter 4 cylinder as the entry-level motor. Ride quality as well as steering feel have also been improved, as has the UVO voice system. Lastly, a range topping SX-L trim level bows.

     The Kia Sorento has been one of my favorite crossover SUVs in recent years. With optional V6 power, loads of features, and a rather roomer inside with an optional 3rd row, the current gen Sorento is a pretty good option for the shoppers that want something a little bigger than your typical crossover. The updated 2014 Kia Sorento has all the same draws, but the significant improvements help keep it in the race.

     Kia touts the 2014 model as being heavily redesigned, but in the absence of hardly any styling changes, it has the look of a refresh the more you look at it. Even on the inside, you would have to put a 2013 next to a 2014 to spot the differences. However, Kia has stiffened the body structure, fitted a new front suspension, and retuned the rear to improve things like ride comfort and handling. They even had the kind thought of adding more power, too. A new direct-injection 3.3 liter V6 produces 290 horsepower, up from last year's 276.

     Like before, the 2014 Kia Sorento is one of the few vehicles in its class to offer a 3rd row. Kia also loads the Sorento up with features. For example, even the midrange EX model comes with such things like leather upholstery and heated front seats. Kia has also updated UVO for more accurate control and added a bigger touchscreen with improved menus and graphics that give the Sorento arguably one of the best interfaces in this price slot. The center gauges can even feature an optional LCD that digitally replicates an analog speedometer and provides some additional trip computer info.

     The five-passenger 2014 Kia Sorento is offered in LX, EX, SX and SX-L trims. Standard LX features include 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and USB/auxiliary audio jacks.

     The EX adds 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, a rear spoiler, roof rails, keyless ignition/entry, rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat (with power lumbar support), ambient interior lighting, LCD gauges, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear-seat sunshades, Kia's Uvo voice activation system and a rearview camera.



     Optional on the EX is the Touring package, which adds a power liftgate, a panoramic sunroof, a blind-spot-monitoring system, driver memory settings, ventilated front seats, an 8-inch touchscreen display, a navigation system and a 10-speaker Infinity surround-sound system.



   
 The Sorento SX receives the contents of the Touring package and gains 19-inch wheels, selectable steering modes, rear air-conditioning and a four-way power front passenger seat. The SX-L tops it off with chromed wheels, xenon headlights, a heated and wood-trimmed steering wheel, heated rear seats and upgraded leather upholstery.



     Folding 50/50-split third-row seats (with rear air-conditioning) are optional on all Kia Sorentos.



     You can get the 2014 Sorento with 2 different engines. Standard on the LX is the earlier mentioned 2.4 liter 4 cylinder that makes 191 horsepower, and 181 lb.-ft of torque. Optional on the LX and standard on all other trims is the also earlier mentioned 3.3 liter V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 252 lb.-ft of torque. All Sorentos now come standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. All wheel drive is optional.



     In performance testing, the tester, which was an EX AWD with the V6, reached 60 mph from a standstill in about 7.6, which, given the size, is an impressive number. The 4 cylinder front wheel drive Sorento clocks up an EPA rated 20 city/26 highway mpg, and the AWD 4 cylinder comes in at 19 city/24 highway mpg. Fuel economy for the V6 front wheel drive clocks in at 18 city/25 highway, and 18 city/24 highway. These ratings are average, and could be better, but hey, you need room to improve somewhere, right?



     Standard safety features include ABS, stability and traction control, hill start assist, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbages for the first 2 rows, and active front headrests. A rearview camera and parking sensors are standard on all EX and SX models, and optional on the LX. A blindspot monitoring system is standard on the SX, and optional on all other trim levels. In brake testing, the test unit came to a stop from 60 mph in about 120 feet, a better than average distance for the class. Minimal pedal fade was noted, but no confidence lost after several 60 mph stops.



     Even in base trim, the 2014 Sorento boasts a heaping amount of standard features. I am more than happy to note that many of the high end options are made available throughout the model lineup, so you aren't forced to purchase a fully loaded model.




     The quality of cabin materials is accpetable, however if you go for the SX or SX-L, you may find too much hard plastic for your liking. The new, slightly larger touchscreen for the 2014 model includes a more intuitive menu structure, better graphics, and a very hand secondary control knob that combined, make for one of the best interfaces I have used in a test vehicle thus far. Augmenting that is the UVO system, which is Kia's take on Ford's Sync system. UVO can be just as adept at recognizing voice commands for phone and entertainment systems. You can say that it allows true hands free operation.



    Adult passengers will also more than likely find ample head and legroom in the second row, but getting to the 3 rd row is a bit tricky. Cargo space is quite generous with 36.9 cubic feet behind the middle row of seating. Folding the second row will expand it to a cave like 72.5 cubic feet of cargo space.
Front passengers will be sure to enjoy a commanding view of the road ahead, with seats that are comfortable, and most importantly, supportive.



     If you are like most drivers, you will find that the 2014 Kia Sorento feels a bit underpowered when equipped with the 4 cylinder engine. If you consider the very minimal hit in fuel economy, the V6 engine is more than worth the price, assuming your budget allows such. When driving, the Sorento is almost exceptionally quiet with barely a whisper of road noise. I would also like to make a note that given the size, it handles well. While far from sporty, you should find it sure-footed enough for a family vehicle that you can also flick around the mountain back roads. Adding to that, the suspension soaks up all but the harshest of bumps with ease.



     Like most people, if you have to navigate the confines of a parking lot, the Sorento feels a touch smaller than it really is, and it is a bit more maneuverable than its size might belay. Poor rearward visibility can make baking out of a space more of a chore, but the rearview camera and sensors help with that task to a great degree.




     If you, like most people think you can get all of theses features for a low, bargain basement price because of the name, you may just want to think again. The entry level LX starts at around $25k, but higher trim levels can easily push $40k. Since the Sorento is closely related to the Hyundai Santa Fe, which you can read my review on, deciding on the big Kia gets a little bit harder to do. But rest assured, whether you compare it with the Hyundai, or other competitors such as the Dodge Journey and Ford Edge, the 2014 Kia Sorento is a must see, and a must test drive, especially if you need to seat seven in a pinch.

The midsize euro family sedan for everyone?

   
 After quite a re-design last year, the 2013 VW Passat returns with only a minor shuffling of features, and the Wolfsburg trim. One of the most important things to note is that a rear-view camera is now an option.
 
     The 2013 VW Passat enjoys a rather unique position, being the only European entry into the family sedan segment. Now, this certainly doesn't mean that VW calls soccer football, and vice versa. Instead, VW calls on its heritage to bring a certain European flair to what some might call a boring segment.

     However, this Passat isn't just beer gardens and lederhosen. VW, believe it or not, acutally builds the Passat in Tennesse, just for the American market. VW seems to know what Americans want, and that's why there is an impressive amount of legroom, meanwhile the trunk is average in size. And if you desire power, the Passat evens comes with an optional 3.6 liter V6, which makes good for about 280 hp. The test unit for this review was equipped like such.


     The lineup starts with the "S" base model (2.5-liter only), which comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a six-way manual driver seat with lumbar adjustment, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, audio controls on the steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth with streaming audio and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio input. An available Appearance package adds a six-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear-seat center armrest.


     The Wolfsburg includes the features of the S with Appearance package and adds unique 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface.



     Move up to the SE trim level and you get 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, heated mirrors, rear seat air vents, a sliding front armrest, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded gauges and displays and an eight-speaker sound system with a touchscreen audio interface.



     Options on SE models include a sunroof or the sunroof bundled with a navigation system and iPod integration. TDI SE buyers can add 18-inch alloy wheels and foglights as well. The 3.6L SE comes standard with these options except the navigation system, which remains optional. A nine-speaker Fender audio system is also included.



     The 2.5 SEL models include all of the above (minus the foglights but keeping the 17-inch wheels), plus upgraded front seats, live traffic updates, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a rear-seat pass-through and wood interior trim. The 2.5 SEL Premium adds the foglights, keyless ignition/entry, remote ignition, partial leather upholstery and power front seats with driver memory functions. Both the TDI and 3.6L can also be had in SEL guise, but the Premium package is mandatory.



   
The Passat comes with your choice of 3 very different engines. The entry level 2.5L models is powered by a 2.5 liter inline 5 cylinder engine rated at 170 hp and 177 lb.-ft of torque. Transmission options include a 6-speed manual, and a 6-speed automatic. The setup with the manual is good for EPA estimates of 22 city/32 highway. The automatic drops slightly to 22 city/31 highway, which is average for the class.
Those looking for maximum fuel economy can opt for the TDI, which comes with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder turbo diesel, which is good for about 140 hp and 236 lb.-ft of torque. It comes with either the 6-speed manual, or the optional 6-speed automated manual transmission (aka, DSG.) EPA fuel economy estimates with the manual transmission are rated 31 city/43 highway, which is amazing. Ratings for the DSG equipped TDI are 30 city/40 highway. In some cases, other car reviews have been able to best those number by around 8 mpg, which puts it solidly in Toytoa Prius range.



     However, if you are looking for maximum forward thurst, look no further than the 3.6L. This powerplant produces 280 hp and 258 lb.-ft of torque. VW's DSG is the standard transmission choice when you equip this engine, and the shifts are quick and crisp. One note to make is that when using the manual mode, shifts a a slight bit slower when using the paddles on the steering wheel, as opposed to the shift lever. Jaunts up to 60 mph from a standstill take about 6.3 seconds, a respectable time for this class, given the size of the car. Fuel economy is rated at 20 city/28 highway.

 
     Spaciousness is the word to use when you try to describe the cabin of the 2013 VW Passat. Space up front is pretty good, however, the driver seat only adjusts 6 ways, and lacks the seat-bottom lift found in other vehicles in the class. In the back, the Passat is almost in the full-size car class dimensions, allowing most adult passengers to stretch their legs if needed. However, some might argue that the backrest is a smidge too upright for max comfort. Cargo space is rated at a class average 15.9 cubic feet, which is room for a weekend worth of stuff for an interior cabin full of people.



     The quality of the interior materials don't seem to be quite as high as they were in the previous generation Passat, but they do remain among the best in the class, while the design gives off a slightly upscale feel. The layout of the gauges and controls are also simple, and easy to read and understand. Last but not least, the optional Fender audio system has been tuned to the interior accoustics of the Passat, and should please even the most diehard music lover.



     Standard safety features for the 2013 Volkswagen Passat include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Models with the manual transmission also gain hill-hold control. In the event of a crash, the Intelligent Crash Response automatically cuts off the fuel supply, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard flashers.



     In government crash testing, the Passat scored a perfect 5 stars for overall crash protection. In brake testing, the Passat made the stop from 60 mph in about 127 feet, which is slightly longer than average. However, pedal feel was good and easy to modulate pressure. No fade was noted after a few hard stops.



     
The 2013 VW Passat's character depends largely on what engine you choose. Performance and gas mileage from the 2.5 are average, and will more than likely be the choice for most customers. For performance, I would personally take the 3.6l V6, as it has the power to make the drive fun, but is also quite content to drive around town.



     The DSG transmission works well, though throttle response is on the slow side of things, with a noticeable lag between the time when the pedal is depressed and when the engine actually decides to go to work.



     On the highway, the Passat proves to be a quite comfortable cruiser, snuffing out bumps both large and small. When going around corners, steering response is pretty precise, though one could argue that it is numb on center and a tad heavy at low speeds. Overall, the Passat got high marks for putting up with the tasks for which family sedans are most often used.




     There are a couple downsides to the Passat. We're not fond of the longer-than-average braking distances, for instance, and its lazy throttle response with the automatic transmissions can be irksome. There are also a lot of great choices for a family sedan this year, including the stylish 2013 Ford Fusion, newly redesigned 2013 Honda Accord, value-packed Hyundai Sonata and sharp-handling 2013 Nissan Altima. But all things considered, the European-influenced 2013 Volkswagen Passat comes highly recommended.

The compact SUV that started it all

     
In just a little over 5 years, crossover SUVs have quickly become the go to category for car buyers. It is no accident either; the full-size SUV craze of the 90's and very early 00's addicted most shoppers to huge cargo spaces, elevated seating positions, and cry-enducing stops at the gas station. The Toyota Rav4 was among the first vehicles to downsize that package to a more modest level.

     With the redesigned 2013 Toyota Rav4, the 4th generation of what could be said to be the most popular crossover, Toyota has given and also taken away. One way of that this is true, the Rav4 no longer comes with the option of a V6. Although the stout V6 could get to 60 mph faster, Toyota data suggests that people didn't want to pay the premium, and chose the 4-cylinder instead. For 2013, the Rav4 comes with a 4-cylinder only. The Rav4 also ditches th 3rd row, another option Toyota says that shoppers deemed not highly important.

     For the 2013 model year, it does come with a 6-speed automatic transmission to replace the tried and true 4-speed automatic. The benefit of this is that it improves fuel economy and makes the small ute more responsive during mergeing and passing.

     The 2013 Toyota RAV4 is a five-passenger compact crossover offered in three main trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. The LE comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, power folding mirrors, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split and reclining second-row seat, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with 6-inch touchscreen, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.



     The XLE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated side mirrors, roof rails, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and sportier front seats. An optional package further adds a navigation system, Toyota's Entune smartphone integration system, satellite radio, HD radio and voice controls.



     The top-level Limited comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a height-adjustable power liftgate, keyless entry/ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with memory settings, heated front seats and premium synthetic leather upholstery. The navigation system with Entune is available and can be bundled with a premium 11-speaker JBL audio system.



     For 2013, the Toyota Rav4 is powered by a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine that makes a modestly healthy 176 horsepower, and 172 lb.-ft of torque. As mentioned earlier, a 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, and you can opt for either front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive.



     In acceleration testing, the Rav4 needed just 9.1 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill, which is an average time for this segment of vehicles. The front-wheel drive RAV4 returns an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway, while the all-wheel drive RAV4 gets 22 city/29 highway mpg.



     Anti lock brakes, stability control, traction control, anti-whiplash front head restraints, front-seat side airbags, and full length curtain airbags come standard on every 2013 Toyota RAV4. A driver knee airbag is also standard. Blind-spot detection and a rear cross traffic system are optional on the Limited trim only.



     In brake testing, the RAV4 stopped from 60 mph in 127 feet, which is just a hair longer than the average. Regarding IIHS crash tests, the Rav4 earned a top score of good for its protection of occupants in moderate-overlap frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength tests. It earned a poor rating, the lowest, in the agency's new, small-overlap frontal offset impact test. But to be fair, the vast majority of the vehicles on the road today would also score a poor rating, due to the design of bumpers. The government gave the RAV4 4 out of 5 stars for total frontal protection and five stars for side crash protection.



 
 The 2013 Toyota RAV4 features a new interior design that shares themes with the current Camry and Avalon. Pronounced angles and lines form a more streamlined, and some could say modern, looking dash. Quality has improved somewhat as well, and some of the materials are a little nicer than what you will find in the Camry. The important cup-holder count is of an adequate number, but useful storage slots aren't as plentiful as say, the Honda CR-V.



     The optional navigation system includes Entune, a cornocopia of smartphone-connected services that includes the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio and real-time traffic, sports and stock information. Getting started with Entune sure can be a hassle, since you have to install an app on your phone and register for an account, plus you always need an active data connection to use it. The touchscreen interface has pretty straight-forward menus, but it is at times unresponsive to user touch. On the positive side, all of the conventional controls are very easy to use.



     Rear seat passenger comfort is hampered in a small way, thanks to a low-mounted back seat, but space is still abundant for even taller adults. I also liked how the seat reclined to an impressive degree.



     The cargo hold measures 38.4 cubic feet, and opens up to a generous 73.3 cubic feet with the second row folded. There is also a payoff for that low-mounted rear seat: a very flat floor and low load-in height, both of which help to minimize the strain of loading large items, or even a couple of dogs. For 2013, the RAV4 finally gains a roof mounted hinge, that is power operated and height adjustable on the Limited.



     Although you might miss the V6, the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder is adequately powerful for most situations, and it returns good fuel economy for the class of vehicle that it is in. The new 6-speed automatic shifts smoothly, but if you tend to drive on the more aggressive side, you'll find it a tad slow to downshift in passing situations. Additionally, when climbing certain mountain grades, you might observe that it has a tendency to hunt for the proper gear, rather than picking one and staying with it. Both of these issues are directly related to Toyota's efforts to tune the drivetrain for maximum gas mileage, which they were pretty successful at.



     The 2013 RAV4 handles better than the old models, and feels more substantial, refined and even a little more comfortable when cruising down the highway, however the seats are very very firm to the point of almost being uncomfortable. A potential exception to this is the Limited model, which can reportedly get jittery on rough or broken pavement thanks to its large 18-inch wheels. In spite of that, the cabin remains somewhat quiet, unless you have to do some heavy accelerating, in which the cabin then sounds like it has become a beehive.



     More demanding drivers will likely find the 2013 Toyota RAV4 to be a less enjoyable drive when compared to the Ford Escape, or Mazda CX-5. It lacks the responsve steering and sure-footed suspension that make those 2 arguably more car-like. Should you feel like taking the road less traveled however, the RAV4's all-wheel drive system quickly applies the power where it is needed for optimum traction and actually gives it a decent amout of off-road ability.




     Compact crossover SUV's are quickly becoming a dime-a dozen, so this redesign of the RAV4 could not have come soon enough. The small crossover class is full of interesting choices, including the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and Mazda CX-5. Compared to these competitors, the RAV4 feels decidedly middle-of-the road. It has no major faults, just several small ones, but it also doesn't stand out for its style, performance, or interior accomodations. But with the more than ample cargo space, fuel economy, and a more-or less agreeable ride quality, the new RAV4 is certainly worth a test drive.

Avalon Reborn: Sounds fancy, huh?

     
As Toyota flirted with the idea of becoming the world's largest automaker, they seemed to have forgetten about building cars that connected drivers on a visual and, a deep emotional level. The recently redesigned Camry could be taken as a signal that Toyota is serious about making appealing cars again. This time, it's the Avalon.

     A wide, almost mouth-like grill accentuates the front-end of the new Avalon, while chiseled lines in the hood and narrow headlamp lenses help contribute to a more forceful presentation. The new Avalon looks sleeker in profile, thanks to the result of the C-pilars sweeping more purposefully towards the trunk. The rear of the car, meanwhile, is more tightly designed with LED taillamps that extend onto the trunk lid, and are tied together with a chrome strip.


     Like before, the new Avalon remains front-wheel drive, but it is overall a smidge shorter than the outgoing model. A stifer body, thanks largely to additional bracing, and revised suspension settings deliver a nicely improved ride and more assured handling, however this is no sports car by any means. The Avalon's engine is pretty unchanged, as Toyota has equipped it again with the venerable 3.5l V6, which produces a repectable 268 hp, while still acheving a combined 25 mpg, as rated by the EPA.

     Despite the smaller dimensions, interior room is up slightly, thanks to a greater range of seat adjustments that can be made, and more efficent sunroof packaging. The trunk is also larger, however you only have a small pass-through, for skis and such, folding seats is not an option. The biggest improvement is in material quality. As the story goes, the older version reportedly had quite a few disappointing interior bits that paled in comparison to those found in rivals.


   
 The 2013 Toyota Avalon is offered in four trim levels: XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited. The XLE comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar support, a four-way power front passenger seat and heated front seats. Electronic features include keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 6.1-inch central touchscreen display and an eight-speaker audio system with a CD player, an, auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod interface.



     The Avalon XLE Premium is very similar but has upgraded keyless ignition/entry (additional functionality for rear doors and trunk), an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a rearview camera. The Touring has 18-inch wheels, foglights, upgraded leather upholstery, a 10-way power driver seat, an eight-way power front passenger seat, heated rear seats, a navigation system, Toyota's Entune smartphone app integration system and a nine-speaker audio system with satellite and HD radio.



     Going with the Avalon Limited gets you all of the above plus xenon headlights, auto-dimming side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, ventilated front seats, a rear power sunshade, a 7-inch touchscreen display and an 11-speaker JBL premium sound system.



     The only option for the Avalon is a Tech package for the Limited that includes adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights and a pre-collision system.



     The 2013 Toyota Avalon is, as earlier mentioned, equipped with a 3.5 liter V6 engine that produces 268 horsepower, and 248 lb.-ft of torque. All of that power is sent to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmisson. EPA estimated fuel economy stands at 21 city/31 highway. During this review, I was able to manage almost 33 mpg over a mostly highway route.



   
 Standard safety features for the Avalon include traction and stability control, ABS disc brakes, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, and front knee airbags. Touring and Limited models also come with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. A pre-collision warning system is optional on the Limited.



     The Avalon's interior is certainly spacious, and some might even say elegant, with high quality materials through-out, however some cheap plastics do exsist, like around the radio. The dash has a somewhat unusal layered layout, dividing it into different zones for the instrument panel, center console, and front passenger area. The effect is tied together with bits of chrome flashing that is almost attractive, but catches the sun in bright light. However, all the controls are easy to use, and weighted nicely to give a high quality feel.



     The front seats are pretty comfortable and highly adjustable, with just the right amount of bolstering and lumbar support for both the driver, and the front passenger. The rear seats in the Avalon are so roomy that Toyota is offering a livery model of this car. The trunk offers a generous 16 cubic feet of space, with a low liftover, and a wide mouth. Again, there is no folding rear seats in this vehicle.



     Gauges are sharp, and you might even say stylish, and the center screen is quite large and easy to read as well. Even the audio controls are well thought out. There seems to be an abundance of storage compartments, which provides hiding places for things that may come in handy, like sunglasses, or maps. There is also a cornocopia of cupholders that can easily hold even the largest of cups, like a super large gulp, if you will. The lower section of the center console provides what Toyota calles an eBin, with power cords passing through a sliding panel for 2 cellphones and an aux, as well as USB connections. A large sliding center armrest provides even more storage space, and additional connections for charging things like cellphones.



     The first thought when you drive the 2013 Toyota Avalon is, Is this really the Avalon? It seems that the redesign has also provided quite the personality change. The stiffer body is immediately noticable by providing a sporty ride, but still a comfortable one as well. Engineers have firmed up steering to provide even more road feel, while the brakes are nicely tuned to match the rest of the drivetrain.


     The engine is smooth, and powerful, moreso than you might expect from the full-size car. Although most Avalon buyers are in love with the previous cars' indifferent driving dynamics, overall you could argue that the new generation Avalon provides a nice blend of comfort and very useful performance.




   
Toyota is positioning the Avalon as the American sedan, designed and built in the U.S., and catering to the special tastes of our drivers. With its distinctive, edgier new look, and improved interior, the new Avalon is certainly an impressive package that puts it back in front after several competitors jumped ahead of the previous version. Is it worth a test drive? Certainly, but that is something only you, the reader, can decide.

A halo car for Toyota

Intro

     
Typically, when you think of Scion, your head may not go to the thought of a small, rear-wheel drive sports car. The only car that even comes close to that profile is the tC. The Scion tC is by most accounts, not a sports car at all, just merely a sportly looking car. Well, when Toyota/Subaru decided that they were going to jointly develop a car, they were going to go to sports car roots, ala the Mazda Miata. For Scion, this resulted in the very rewarding to drive, and fantastic to look at FR-S. For Subaru, it resulted in the very unconventional for them (i.e. rear-wheel drive, when the rest of your line-up is AWD.) Both vehicles are very very similar. With all of this being said, lets take a deeper look into one of the best driving cars around, the 2013 Scion FR-S.

Overview

   
 When you first look at the FR-S, or the BRZ for that matter, you might notice a very strong resembelance to the Toyota GT86 Concept from a few years back. With strong, flared wheel wells, it gives the car a muscular, yet somehow lean look. Looking at the front of the FR-S, you may very well notice that the fenders are rather flared.

     Scion makes it a point to brag about the FR-S’s low center of gravity, and a lot of the car’s liveliness is indeed likely due to the location of much of its mass. The flat-four sits low in the engine compartment, and even though Subaru stresses how far back the engine is compared with those in other Subies, it’s still surprisingly far forward. The transmission, a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, is right behind the engine, preventing it from being mounted farther back. A transaxle would allow for the engine to be placed more to the rear and would better balance weight distribution, but transaxles cost a lot of money, especially ones made specifically for one car. The transmissions in the FR-S are Aisin gearboxes that are similar to the six-speed units found in the Lexus IS. The manual shifts with a solid, no-nonsense feel. Although the manual suits the character of the FR-S better, the optional automatic with paddle shifters is a responsive and quick-shifting ally.


     Subaru’s flat-four engine still gives off a bit of the characteristic boxer thrum at lower rpm. Above 6000 rpm and to the 7400-rpm redline, though, the four begins its chain-saw impersonation. It’s a bit uncouth, but it feels and sounds like a machine with purpose. On paper, and in the face of the ever-escalating pony-car horsepower war, the FR-S’s 200 hp might seem inadequate. It’s not. With a 0-60 time of just a tick over 6 seconds, it is more than quick enough to put a huge smile on your face. It is worth noting however, that this test unit was a prototype, no. 7 to be exact, and therefore some of the fit and finish, as well as driving dynamics might not be totally accurate.

   
 The FR-S is more than happy to be played with, as this reviewer almost manged to do an unintentional drift one night. However, it was more than easy to control, as the steering gives you moderate feedback, while still managing to be fun. As just stated, the manual is certainly the way to go with this car, keeping true to the sports-car heritage, but look for a possible review of an automatic equipped FR-S in the future, the fine folks at Toyota/Lexus/Scion PR willing, of course. To sum up this car, it is amazingly fun to drive, yet fairly economical to operate thanks to the 4 cylinder engine.

     The brakes on the FR-S provided amazing feedback, and after several hard stops, no fade was noticed. Shifting was smooth, and once you get the clutch figured out on this vehicle, it really is a blast to drive. In a way to describe this car, if this reviewer had a choice between driving either the Audi S4, or the FR-S, that would be the hardest choice to make, but the FR-S just might win out over the German stud. One downside to be noted is that the seats are certainly made for smaller folk, however if you are of a larger size like I am, they will still be comfortable, you will just have to get used to the sides of the seat digging into your kidneys. The seats do certainly hold you in place however, when you decide to spice things up a bit.

Overall


     Overall, Toyota/Subaru made one heck of an effort, and produced on heck of a car. If you are looking for a car that combines style, power, and raw emotion, than this certainly should be on your shopping list. I would even hazard to say that if you are looking at buying a Ford Mustang, or Chevrolet Camaro, or any other small, sporty car under $25k, than this is more than worth a look, and certainly worth a test drive. Will it be a good family car considering the small size of the back seat, no, but then again you don't really ever buy a coupe to be a family hauler. If this reviewer had a Best Driver's car like Motor Trend does, this car would without a question in my mind, be on that list. Stop in to your local Scion dealer to take a look at this amazing car.

Is the Lexus GS at the top of its game?

     
For all the wonderful things Lexus cars are, "athletic" is not an adjective that usually enters a discussion of the brand. Traditionally, the automaker has produced cars that trade sharp reflexes for more predictable comfort (the IS F sport sedan and LFA supercar excepted). Lexus has reshaped that perception with the 2013 GS 350. Slightly wider and taller, much stiffer and with vastly improved steering feel, the GS 350 can finally lay claim to ground once owned solely by German sport-lux sedans.

     The new GS is somewhat similar to the earlier generations, underneath all of that fancy, more aggressive looking sheet metal. For example, length and wheel base remain the same, but the chasis is widened by about 2 inches or so. Among other things that are shared between the generations is the same basic suspension setup, with an improved design that allows for a larger trunk, which is good for a few bags of golf clubs, or what have you. The engine is also almost the same, but it has been tweeked to give you more power and fuel economy. When you step on the gas, you hear an almost throaty growl coming from the exhaust, which will certainly put a smile on your face.

     Inside, interior designs worked their magic to reduce weight from things like the head liner and door panels, to make room for such things like the massive touch screen in the middle of the dash. That screen houses all of the infotainment functions, and can be a little bit tricky to use. For example, the radio screen is split into two different sections, but to get to the other side of the screen requires a firm, but gentle click of the cursor to get to the other side. Maybe a setting can be adjusted to where the sensitivity is adjusted based on the screen that appears on the screen.

     Overall, the end result is that the GS is more equipped than it has ever been to go chasing on the likes of BMW and Audi, and give them one heck of a fight in the process. With Lexus' ever popular quality standars, which translate into fantastic quality, and add one of the best dealer experiences in the industry, and you have one heck of a package.

Interior

   
 The 2013 Lexus GS350 is a sporty, yet luxurious midsize sedan that offers ammenities that you might not have even thought possible to have in a car. Standard on the GS are: 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlights, foglights, a sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 10-way power front seats with driver memory. Standard electronics features include Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an 8-inch control display with touchpad interface and a 12-speaker surround-sound audio system with a CD player, satellite radio, HD radio and a USB/iPod interface.

     If you opt to step up to the Luxury package, you will get things like: 18-inch wheels, adaptive headlamps, adaptive suspension dampers, upgraded leather, an 18-way power driver seat, a wood-trimmed steering wheel and rear climate and audio controls. The Premium package builds on those features with heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers and a power rear sunshade. A Cold Weather package includes a heated steering wheel, headlamp washers and a wiper de-icer.


     Stand-alone options include 18-inch wheels, blind-spot detection, a head-up display, heated rear seats, parking assist, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, dynamic rear steering, a night vision camera, adaptive cruise control (with a pre-collision mitigation system), a premium Mark Levinson 17-speaker surround-sound audio system, and a hard-drive navigation system with a 12.3-inch display, voice recognition, real-time traffic and Lexus Enform smartphone-connected apps and services.

Performance/Economy

   
 The 2013 GS 350 is powered by a Toyota/Lexus staple, the 3.5 liter V6. This engine makes 306 horsepower, and 277 lb.-ft of torque. A six speed automatic with a manual shift mode that allows you to use to steering wheel mounted padle shifters is the only transmission on the GS, but you do have a choice between AWD, or RWD. For bang for the buck fun, AWD is recommended. Fuel economy for the AWD version is rated at 19/26 city/highway, which if you think about it, is rather good for a car of its size, as well as having AWD.

Safety

     Safety is something that every automaker takes seriously, but Lexus takes it a step further. Standard safety features on the 2013 Lexus GS 350 include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front and rear side-impact airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and a rearview camera. Safety Connect, a traditional telematics service with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator and emergency assistance button, is also standard.

Driving Impressions

   
 The GS350 delivers a healthy dose of V6 punch, while still giving you a Lexus smooth ride, like no other car can. However, when you push the car to its limits, gone are the days of the undulating, unsporty motions of GS cars past. Instead, improved steering feel, albeit a bit on the numb, and not much feedback side of things, as well as an improved suspension design make the GS feel almost as if it is glued to the road when going around certain turns. Make no mistake here, it is still a rather large car, and when pushed hard enough, it will certainly act like one, but it has been tightened up to give you more of a smile factor when you want to drive in a spirtied manor. A plus on this side is the stability control system that doesn't really seem to present itself when the times might call for it.

     One gripe would have to be the transmissions shift points. Even when in manual mode, the tranny releases revs to early, upshifting at about 6,500 rpm, a small nusiance when you want to slam the gas pedal to the floor after coming around a corner.

Overall


     If you are in the market for this type of car, should you put it on your list? Certainly, and here's why. You have the amazing dealer experience that comes with buying a Lexus, and you have the reliability that you could argue is legendary. Mix that altogether, and with the 2013 Lexus GS350, you have one heck of an amazing package. It will certainly bring the fight to the Germans, to say the least.