Monday, November 16, 2015

2015 Toyota RAV4 XLE

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 With their up-for-anything personality, easy-to-park size, and hardly no appetite for fuel, compact crossovers are some of the most popular vehicles on the market today. Versatility is by far their greatest asset, as you can easily fill them with car seats, groceries, sports equipment, or the latest spoils from your most recent shopping trip. Among these practical SUV's, the Toyota RAV4 has long been a favorite of savvy shoppers of all ages and tastes.

     Thanks to more competent rivals, the RAV4 isn't quite a no-brainer pick anymore. Still, you are likely to find that it checks off most of your boxes on that must have list.

     The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is a 5-passenger compact crossover that is offered in 3 main trims: LE, XLE, and Limited.

     The LE comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, power folding mirrors, keyless entry, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, a/c, cruise control, and tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40 split fold and reclining 2nd row seat, rear-view camera, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen.

     The XLE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, fog-lights, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, roof rails, sunroof, dual zone auto climate control, sportier front seats, a cargo cover, and extendable sun visors. The audio system on the XLE is upgraded to include satellite radio, HD radio, traffic and weather. Options for the XLE include a height-adjustable power liftgate, a navigation system, and Toyota's Entune system.
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     The top-of-the line Limited comes with all of the above plus 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an 8-way power adjustable driver seat with memory settings, and premium synthetic leather upholstery.

     Options on the Limited include a navigation system bundled with an 11-speaker JBL audio system. The Technology package adds a blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic warning, a lane departure warning system, and automatic high-beam headlamp control. There is also the Blizzard Pearl Premium package which adds the Blizzard Pearl color, and 18-inch machine finished wheels with black accents.

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 The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is powered by a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that makes 176 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, and all trims come with the option of all wheel drive.

     In testing, the RAV4 equipped with AWD took 9.3 seconds to reach 60 mph, which is average in this class. The front wheel drive equipped RAV4 is EPA rated for 26 mpg combined in LE and XLE trim, while trims with AWD come in at 25 mpg combined, which are good numbers, but hardly class leading.

     Standard safety equipment on every 2015 Toyota RAV4 includes anti-lock disc brakes, rear-view camera, stability and traction control, whiplash-reducing front head restraints, front-seat side airbags, and full length side curtain airbags. A driver knee airbag is also standard. The optional Technology Package on the Limited provides blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, and lane departure warnings. In testing, my vehicle came to a stop from 60 mph in about 130 feet, which is roughly 5 feet longer than the average. In crash test ratings, the RAV4 has earned 4 out of a possible 5 stars for overall protection.

     The 2015 Toyota RAV4 features an interior design with pronounced angles and lines that form a streamlined and modern looking dash. Overall, the materials used are average for the class, and a few of the audio and climate controls feel a little on the cheap side. The cupholder count is fine, but there aren't as many useful storage cubbies like you will find in other vehicles in this class.
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     Although all of the RAV4's audio system have Toyota's Entune branding, only XLE and Limited models with the navigation system include the Entune suite of apps. There is a decent amount of functionality here, but getting started can be a bit of a pain as you have to download the app, then register for an account. Plus, you always need an active data connection to use all of the features. The touchscreen interface has straightforward menus, but it's sometimes unresponsive to user inputs. On the upside, all of the basic controls in the RAV4 are easy to use.

     The cargo bay measures in at 38.4 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and can grow to a respectable 73.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. There is a bonus to having a lower mounted rear seat like in the 2015 Toyota RAV4, a near flat floor, and a low load-in height which will help to reduce the strain on your body when you are lifting heavier objects into the vehicle.

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 Most small crossover shoppers will find the RAV4's 2.5 liter engine adequate for most tasks, and fuel efficient enough. The 6-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but if you tend to drive more aggressive, you might find it slow to down shift in passing situations. Additionally, when climbing steady mountain grades, the transmission has a tendency to hunt between gears. Both of these are more than likely due to the transmission being set-up more on the fuel economy side of things.

     The 2015 RAV4 handles well and feels refined and comfortable when cruising down the highway. A potential exception to this is the Limited trim, which can get a little rough on harsh pavement thanks to the larger wheels. In spite of this, the cabin remains very quiet, making the RAV4 a good option for families with young children who tend to sleep in the car.

2016 Mazda CX-5

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With their ample cargo space, rather good fuel efficiency, elevated driving positions, and enhanced poor-weather driving capabilities, compact crossover SUV's have huge appeal. Indeed, this is one of the post popular auto segments. Within that crowded class, the 2016 Mazda CX-5 stands out as one of my favorites.

     What pushes this Mazda to the front of the class is that, in addition to satisfying those core requirements, it also boasts a rather nicely trimmed cabin, excellent safety ratings, a smooth and quiet ride, comfortable seats and good visibility. The CX-5 also has something quite rare in this segment: a fun-to-drive personality that comes by way of its precise steering and sporty handling. With the bigger engine that's standard on most trim levels, the CX-5 also provides an impressive combination of peppy acceleration and high fuel economy numbers. Whether you are driving to work, running errands, or dropping the kids off somewhere, the 2016 Mazda CX-5 is enjoyable to drive and as comfortable and as easy to live with as your favorite pair of jeans. These traits also make the CX-5 a great road trip companion.

     The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is a 5-passenger compact crossover SUV available in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims. All trim levels offer a choice of front wheel drive, or all wheel drive.

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     The base Sport comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a/c, cruise control, height adjustable driver seat, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, and a 4 speaker sound system.

     Initially, the Sport will offer an optional Mazda Connect package that adds a 7-inch touchscreen interface, a multi-function controller knob, HD radio, Pandora Internet Radio, automatic crash notification, SMS text message reading, and voice controls. Later in the model year, the Rear Camera Package will supplant that, and add all of those features, plus the rear-view camera.

      The Touring includes all of the above and adds a more powerful engine, keyless ignition and entry, blind spot and rear cross traffic warning systems, 6-way power driver seat, 40/20/40 split folding rear seat, 6 speaker sound system, upgraded cloth upholstery, and a leather wrapped steering wheel. The Moonroof and Bose Audio Package adds a sunroof and an upgraded 9-speaker Bose Audio system.

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 The Grand Touring includes all of the above plus 19-inch wheels, automatic headlamps, automatic windshield wipers, heated mirrors, dual zone auto climate control, satellite radio, heated front seats, and leather upholstery.

     Available on both the Touring and Grand Touring is the Technology Package. It adds a navigation system, Smart City Brake Support System, adaptive LED headlamps, LED running lights, LED fog lights, LED tail lights, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Optional on the Grand Touring is the i-ActiveSense Package that adds adaptive cruise control, Smart Brake Support, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlamp control.

     The 2016 Mazda CX-5 Sport comes with a choice of 2 powertrains. You can chose either a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine with 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft of torque matched to a 6-speed manual transmission, or a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine with 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft of torque that is paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional on Sport when you equip it with the 2.5 liter engine. The bigger engine is standard on Touring and Grand Touring models.

     The EPA estimated fuel economy for a FWD Sport is 29 mpg combined. All FWD CX-5's with the 2.5 clock in the exact same numbers, while those with AWD come in at 26 mpg combined. In testing, my tester that was equipped with the 2.5 liter engine and AWD accelerated to 60 mph in a very respectable 8 seconds.
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     Every 2016 Mazda CX-5 comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags. An automatic crash notification feature is optional on the Sport, and standard on the Touring and Grand Touring, which also get blind spot and rear cross traffic warning systems.

     Optional on Touring and Grand Touring is Smart City Brake Support, which is a system that uses a laser to detect objects like other cars or people in front of the car, and will apply the brakes to stop the vehicle at speed up to 19 mph. In brake testing, my CX-5 Grand Touring tester stopped from 60 mph in 121 feet, which is a bit better than average in this class. Crash test ratings for the 2016 Mazda CX-5 are 4 stars for overall crash protection out of a maximum of 5 stars.

     Regardless of the trim level, the cabin of the CX-5 is attractive, modern, and most importantly, functional. It's a mature design, and it isn't loaded up with fake wood or highly reflective chrome trim. Instead, materials are simple and rather high in quality, and soft-touch surfaces are set off with tasteful bits of metallic or piano black trim. The gauges in their contrasting black and white design are quite legible as well.

     The 2016 version of the CX-5 brings a much improved infotainment system. Boasting a 7-inch touchscreen, and a super intuitive multi-function control knob, this is one of the better systems out on the market today. Most drivers should be able to find a comfortable position, and front seat comfort is excellent on long road trips.

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 The Mazda's back seat is plenty spacious and offers plenty of leg room for this class. That rear seat features an innovative folding mechanism on the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels that lowers the seat bottom before folding the seatback on top to provide an almost flat load floor. With all of the seats filled, there is 34.1 cubic feet of cargo space, which grows to a massive 64.8 with the rear seats folded.

     Equipped with the base 2.0 liter engine, the Mazda CX-5 offers competitive power on paper, but it just doesn't feel that strong during passing and merging maneuvers in the real world. For the majority of shoppers in this category, the 2.5 liter engine is a much better choice, given its greater power, and near identical fuel economy numbers. Furthermore, the 6-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, and is easily one of the most responsive transmissions in this class. Mazda still makes a very good manual transmission, but seeing as how that is only offered with the 2.0 liter engine, I feel the appeal is quite limited on that set-up.

     Easily the most striking thing about the 2016 Mazda CX-5 is its athletic character. Even if you are just looking for a small crossover to drive to work everyday, you will notice that its steering, brakes and suspension are unusually capable for a vehicle in this class. It's a rather enjoyable vehicle to run errands in, and if you happen to turn onto a road with twists and turns, the CX-5 could be downright fun. On the highway, the Mazda rides just as comfortably, which makes it a great road trip companion.

2015 Lexus NX 200t F-Sport

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Can you think of things hotter and more wildly popular than the compact luxury crossover SUV segment? Didn't think so. Most shoppers clearly find these models' size, ride height, fuel economy, and premium cabins to be just right for them. Lexus already has a fan favorite in the RX, and it isn't too far north of this segment in terms of size and price, but the company felt that there was room for a more directly aimed contender. Enter the 2015 Lexus NX 200t.

     On the outside, the NX has a distinctive look that takes inspiration from the new IS sedan. Clever interior packaging has led to an impressive amount of rear seat legroom that is more than what is found in most other options in the segment. Cargo room, on the other hand, is lacking a bit, both with the rear seats in the up, or folded down positions.

     The 2015 Lexus NX 200t is a 5 passenger, compact luxury crossover SUV. It is offered in a single trim level, but there is a hybrid NX 300h that might be reviewed on its' own if you would like to read that.

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     Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlamps, LED fog lights and running lights, rear privacy glass, keyless ignition and entry, driver-selectable vehicle dynamics settings, cruise control, dual zone auto climate control, NuLuxe premium vinyl upholstery, a leather wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 8-way power front seats, a 60/40 split folding and reclining rear seat, a cargo cover, and an auto dimming rear-view mirror. Standard technology features include a 7-inch touchscreen, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, Siri-based voice controls and readouts for iPhones, the Display Audio electronics interface, and an 8-speaker sound system.

     The NX 200t F-Sport is essentially a package that adds unique 18-inch alloy wheels along with styling elements and summer tires, a sport tuned suspension, transmission paddle shifters, performance gauges, special interior trim and a generated sportier engine note.

     Other packages are also optional, though they can vary by region, so you should check with your Lexus dealer on what you can order. The Comfort package adds a power adjustable steering wheel and driver memory functions. The Premium package includes the Comfort package items and adds 18-inch wheels, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, heated and ventilated front seats ( not on F-Sport,) and a sunroof. The Luxury package includes Comfort and Premium items, then adds things like a power liftgate, automatic wipers, tow package, leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel and wood trim. A power folding rear seat can be added to the Luxury package.

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     The Navigation package adds a navigation system, but also adds the Remote Touch electronics interface, adds 2 speakers to the sound system, voice controls, and various Lexus Enform apps.

     Stand alone options include 18-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, various advanced collision warning systems, the sunroof, the power liftgate, upgraded LED headlamps, heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel and a wireless charging tray for Qi-compatible smartphones.

 The 2015 Lexus NX 200t is powered by a 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine that produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission and front wheel drive are standard. All-wheel drive is an option.

     In performance testing, my NX 200t F-Sport did the 0-60 mph run in about 6.7 seconds, which is average for the segment. The EPA estimates the fuel economy for the 2015 Lexus NX 200t at 24 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. Those vehicles equipped with front wheel drive should clock in around 25 mpg combined. During testing, I averaged around 25.2 mpg.

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     Every Lexus NX 200t comes standard with anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and a front passenger cushion airbag that prevents submarining under the seatbelt and off the seat. A rear-view camera is also standard, along with Lexus Enform Safety Connect. Optional safety features include a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert, as well as a lane departure warning system and a frontal pre-collision system. In brake testing, the NX 200t with summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, which is several feet better than the average. The government has yet to crash test the NX, but in IIHS testing, the NX earned its' Good rating.

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     The cabin of the 2015 Lexus NX 200t isn't quite as radical as the exterior would make you think, but it nevertheless does exert a vibe that won't be mistaken for anything else in the segment. Construction is the usual top-notch from Lexus with materials that look and feel rather expensive. Soft leather lines the seats and passenger side dash, as well as the padded areas that cushion the center console to keep your legs from hitting a hard surface. Details like contrasting stitching, wood trim and an analog clock are tastefully applied.

The high-mounted climate controls are easy to reach and see, while the secondary controls are intuitive. The infotainment controls are less so, however. The standard Display Audio system uses a knob-and-screen system similar to what you might find in a Mercedes-Benz. With Remote Touch, various menus and icons are selected with a new console-mounted touch pad, just like on your laptop. There is haptic feedback through the pad when you click something, but in general, using this system takes your eyes away from the road for an extended period of time.

     Rear passengers in the NX should find a generous amount of space, at least when compared with most other luxury compact crossovers. Cargo space is tight however. The NX has 54.6 cubic feet of total volume, which is similar to the Mercedes GLK, and just a few feet shy of the Audi Q5. However, the raked tailgate seems to make the space less versatile than the modest volume number would suggest. That is driven home even more when you factor in that with the rear seats up, it offers just 17.7 cubic feet of cargo room, making it less spacious than some of its rivals.
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     If you are expecting the 2015 Lexus NX to be a smaller RX, you are either going to be sadly disappointed, or rather surprised. The ride is a bit more firm, the steering is more responsive and body motions are more controlled when going around turns or through dips. There is a sense of connection between the car and the driver that is missing from most of the other offerings in this class, including the RX. Even more of this engagement can be found in the F-Sport model courtesy of the sport tuned suspension, paddle shifters, extra gauges, and the admittedly extraneous Active Sound Control that pumps artificial engine sound into the cabin.

     One of the reasons the F-Sport has to use artificial engine noise is because of how quiet the NX's cabin is. The engine, in particular, is surprisingly hushed especially when compared with the other 4-cylinder turbocharged engines in the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. It's also very smooth and respectably powerful. Current luxury SUV owners who are used to V6 engines are unlikely to complain about have 2 fewer cylinders, if they even notice at all.


2015 Kia Soul !

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 If you take a look at the Kia Soul, you might think that it is hard to put in a category. Is it a hatchback? What about a wagon or small suv? All of the above? Whatever you decide to call it, just know that it appeals to both the head and the heart.

     On the practical side, the Soul offers quite an amazing amount of features, both standard and optional. The cabin of the Soul is a comfortable and rather user-friendly place to be, with good amounts of room and intuitive controls. Kia's Soul will be a friendly companion for errand running as well.

     The Kia Soul has 4 doors and seating for 5. It's available in 3 trims, base, plus, and exclaim.

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     The base comes standard with things like 16-inch steel wheels, roof rack mounting points, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, 3 driver selected steering modes, a/c, height adjustable drivers seat, cloth seating surfaces, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, a six speaker sound system with cd player, satellite radio. Keyless entry and cruise control are optional.

     The Soul + adds a more powerful engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, cruise control, a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area, a cargo cover, upgraded cloth seating surfaces, a fold down rear seat armrest, and a front seat center armrest with storage.

     Optional on the base and Soul + the Uvo eServices package adds automatic headlamps, fog lights,a rear view camera, and the Uvo interface.

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 When equipped with this package, the Soul + becomes eligible for 2 more packages. The Audio Package adds auto a/c, a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, simulated leather cabin trim, piano black and satin metallic interior accents, a navigation system, an 8-inch touchscreen display, and an upgraded Infinity audio system with speaker lights and a subwoofer. The Primo Package, which requires the Audio Package, adds a panoramic sunroof, fog lights, keyless ignition and entry, leather upholstery, an 8-way power driver seat with 2-way power lumbar support, heated and ventilated seats, heated rear outboard seats, LED interior lighting and a heated steering wheel.

     An Eco Package, optional on the Soul + adds fuel saving features like an auto stop-start system and low rolling resistance 16-inch tires.

     The top of the line Soul! builds upon the Soul+'s Uvo Package, then adds things like 18-inch alloy wheels, body colored fascia accents and bumpers, LED daytime running lights, power folding side mirrors with integrated LED turn signal indicators, an 8-way power driver seat with 2-way power lumbar, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, further upgraded cloth upholstery, a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, simulated leather cabin trim and chrome interior accents.
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     The Soul!'s Sun and Sound package provides a panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, LED interior lighting, the navigation system, 8-inch touchscreen display, HD radio, and the upgraded Infinity sound system. The Whole Shebang package adds xenon lowbeam headlamps, keyless ignition and entry, an upgraded instrument panel, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and heated rear outboard seats. The Umber package adds special leather upholstery.

     The front wheel drive 2015 Kia Soul is offered with 2 different engines. The base Soul gets a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower and 118 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, and a 6-speed automatic is optional. The EPA's figures for the base Soul come in at 24 city/30 highway for 26 combined with either transmission.

     Soul + and ! models have a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine that makes a stout 164 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft of torque. The 6-speed auto transmission is the only transmission. Fuel economy with the 2.0 liter engine is 23 city/31 highway for 26 mpg combined, and the + with the Eco package comes in at 27 mpg combined. I observed 28 mpg during the week with my tester. In performance testing, the Soul ! did 0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds, which is average for a small wagon/hatchback with an upgraded engine.
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 Standard safety equipment for all Soul models include four-wheel antilock disc brakes, hill-start assist, stability and traction control,  front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. A rear-view camera is standard on the Soul! and included on the other trims when they are equipped with the optional Uvo eServices package.

     In brake testing, the 2015 Kia Soul came to a stop from 60 mph in 112 feet. While this is a short distance, it is worth noting that my tester for the week had the 18-inch wheels. Souls with the smaller wheels may or may not perform the same. In government crash testing, the Soul earned 5 stars overall, which makes it a safe vehicle for your family.

     With its modern look and expressive styling details, the 2015 Kia Soul has a cabin that offers a pretty good balance between form and function. Quality materials make the interior feel more refined than you might expect for a car in this price range.

     Gauges and controls are logically placed and easy to use, and using the Uvo interface to control your smartphone is pretty easy compared to other systems out there. In addition to upgrading the sound quality, the optional Infinity audio system includes trim rings that light up to the beat of your music. It is more of a marketing gimmick, but I have a feeling that some buyers of the Soul will find it quite fun.

     One of the benefits of the Soul's boxy design is the amount of head and legroom, even in the backseat. Behind the rear seatbacks, you will find 19 cubic feet of cargo space, which will grow to 61 cubic feet when you fold both portions of the 60/40 split folding rear seat down. This is greater than compact wagons, and even more than some smaller SUV's. Worth noting however, is that the now defunct Scion xB can hold more cargo.
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     With respectable power on tap from the 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine, the Soul is enjoyable around town, and feels satisfyingly quick when merging onto the freeway. The engine does get a bit raspy sounding during hard acceleration, but the automatic transmission shifts smartly and does a decently good job of holding gears on uphill grades to help the car maintain a constant speed. I have yet to drive a Soul with the 1.6, but I suspect that most buyers will opt for the 2.0, seeing as how it has more power, and gets just as good fuel economy.

     While the Soul doesn't really feel overly sporty, it does handle better than you might think. The steering has a reassuring weight to its effort at highway speeds and it feels precise when you are driving around turns. The brake pedal even has a reassuringly firm feel to it too! However, the Soul! does lose some of its appeal on long highway trips, due to the 18-inch wheels not liking to soak up the bumps very well. Also, the boxy shape does result in more wind noise at highway speeds, but if you can overlook this, than the 2015 Kia Soul might be the car for you.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fast and Orange: 2015 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport

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 The all-new Lexus RC coupe is about the size of a Ford Mustang, but without all of the pony car heritage to go with it. It combines luxury with sporty intentions and delivers an aggressive package unlike anything else in the Lexus lineup. You could think of it as a true alternative to the Audi A5 or BMW 4 Series.

     Unlike the other automakers, the Lexus RC isn't just a 2-door version of a sedan. Instead, it is a blend of different elements put together for luxury coupe duty. The nose, for example, comes from the larger GS, while the center section comes from the IS convertible, and the rear comes from the new IS sedan.

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     This results in a car that is about 2 inches longer compared to the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series coupes. The engine is the standard 3.6 liter V6 that feeds directly to an 8-speed automatic, unless you opt for all-wheel drive, then it feeds directly to a 6-speed automatic. Rated at 306 horsepower, the V6 is the only option unless you opt for the RC-F, then you get a V8.

     There are 2 versions of the RC 350 offered: The base RC 350, and the RC 350 F-Sport. The F-sport package includes an adaptive suspension package, 19-inch wheels and tires, sport seats with contrasting stitching, and digital instruments that Lexus says was inspired by the LFA.

     One step higher than the RC 350 is the RC F. That beast is powered by a 5.0 liter V8 that thumps out 467 horsepower, and is mated to a 8-speed Direct Shift transmission. I feel that the RC F is different enough to warrant it's own review, so stay tuned for that review.

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 There is a certain elegance to the way the V6 delivers its punch. It doesn't have enough power to truly overwhelm the chasis, but you can certainly build speed rather quickly if you aren't being careful. It's almost to easy going and the wide ratios of the 8-speed auto transmission mean that the engine is barely operating at higher than idle, up to about half-throttle.

     Leave the traction control and suspension settings in normal, and the RC 350 feels like it is singing bumps and lullabies to the road. It is more composed than a Mustang, but it also seems like it is asleep, like it doesn't want to be woken up to play.

     Its subdued nature doesn't mean that it isn't capable when you give it some gas. The variable-ratio steering comes alive as speed builds, and in Sport mode the suspension begins to tell you almost exactly what is going on. The chasis feels neutral, the tail nor nose feel like they want to wag, even when speeds go beyond legal.

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     By using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, it's easy to keep the V6 near its 4,800 rpm peak. However, there is only 277 pound feet of torque to keep the 3,800 lb car at speed, so there never is quite enough power to overwhelm you.

     It isn't a super fast car. the 0-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds is decent, but hardly enough to light the charts on fire. The quarter mile saunters by in 14.3 seconds at 99 mph, or the rough times of a Mustang or V6-powere Camaro. The 0.86g on the skidpad is also modest. Braking was solid overall, with short distances and not much fade to report.

     As you may have come to expect from a Lexus, almost every element of the RC 350's interior is well considered and perfectly stitched together. A wide center console defines the driving experience and divides the cockpit between occupants. A conventional shifter lies alongside the knob that adjusts the suspension, while a trackpad for the navigation and entertainment systems sits just behind it. When you throw in the straight forward instrumentation, and you feel like you are in a series driving situation.

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     The trackpad works well for operating most of the a/c, navigation and entertainment systems. It is an interesting alternative to all of the knobs and switches and buttons you might find on other vehicles in this class. Still, there is somewhat of a learning curve to all of the menus and options that you have.

     In contrast, the display directly in front of the driver is simple to the extreme. It does without a conventional speedometer in favor of a digital one.

     As for most coupes, the rear seat is only really useful for short trips. However, the front seats are among some of the best in the business. They are adjustable in an almost infinite number of ways, and comfortable in just about every way as well. It's luxurious and without being pretentious or over-decorated.

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The EPA rates the RC 350 at 19 city/28 highway for a combined number of 22. I observed 24 mpg during testing. There is an ECO mode that you can try, but i didn't observe a huge increase in numbers compared to standard or Sport.

     If you have just shipped the last of your brood off to college and feel the need to treat yourself to a 2-door coupe, the RC 350 is a softer, gentler easier going machine than many of the other choices in this class. It's luxurious first, sporty second, and good looking in many ways. The F-Sport adds a dose of masculinity to the car's personality that is rather attractive.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Small Utes: 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan

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    VW Tiguan is way past due for a redesign, put it does happen to be one small SUV that is ageing rather well. As you might expect from VW, the Tiguan successfully bridges the gap between mainstream and upscale. True, it does cost more than the other small SUV's on the market, but in return you get above average performance and refinement, along with a small amount of exclusivity.
 You could easily argue that the 2015

     One thing that certainly does not need updating is the way the Tiguan drives. Ho-hum doesn't really translate into German that well, because the 2.0 turbocharged 4 cylinder engine will keep you fully alert on the morning commute. The interior design and materials also are a noticeable cut above what you get in more mainstream rivals, and the ride is smooth and composed aside from the tightly sprung R-Line.

     The 2015 VW Tiguan is available in 5 trim levels: S, SE, SE with Appearance, SEL, and R-Line.

     The entry level S comes standard with 16 inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, roof rails, trailer hitch prep, cruise control, a/c, full power accessories, cloth upholstery, a leather wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather wrapped shift knob, eight way manual front seats, 40/20/40 split folding rear seats, fore and aft sliding and reclining for the rear seats, Bluetooth, a 5 inch touchscreen interface, and an 8 speaker sound system.

     The SE adds 17 inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, and a power recline function for the drivers seat.
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      The SE with Appearance adds 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, chrome exterior trim, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, and power recline for the passenger seat.

     The SEL adds a navigation system, a premium Fender Audio system, and dual zone a/c.

     At the top of the food chain, the Tiguan R-Line adds 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlamps, LED running lights, a sport-tuned suspension, a sport body kit, automatic wipers, power folding side mirrors, leather upholstery, full power front seats, driver memory settings, special interior accents, and an auto dimming rear view mirror.

     The 2015 VW Tiguan employs the use of the old 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, good for 200 horsepower, and 207 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard. Front wheel drive is also standard, however you can opt for all wheel drive on any trim level.

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      In performance testing, a front wheel drive Tiguan with the automatic transmission did the 0-60 mph run in 7.6 seconds, a pretty quick time for this class. EPA numbers come in at 23 mpg combined with the front wheel drive Tiguan, an AWD Tiguan comes in at 23 mpg combined as well. That is a little disappointing as many other SUV's, even with AWD, get better fuel economy.

     Tiguan comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags, and full length side curtain airbags. A rear view camera is also standard, but rear parking sensors are not an option on any trim level. VW's Car-Net, their version of OnStar, is included on every Tiguan. In government crash testing, the Tiguan earned 4 out of 5 stars for overall protection. In brake testing, the Tiguan R-Line came to a stop in 130 feet, a little longer than average for the class.
The 2015

     Compared to other small crossovers, the 2015 VW Tiguan swims against the current with a subtle, arguably sophisticated interior that looks and feels first rate. You sit up high and upright in the front seats, and all models now come equipped with a rear view camera that displays through the standard touchscreen interface. The Tiguan has yet to jump on the big screen bandwagon, however, as the humble 5-inch screen looks kinda undersized by today's standards.
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     Legroom in the rear seats can feel a little pinched with taller people up front, but most will find plenty of headroom, and the reclining rear seat backs and 6 inches of fore and aft sliding help maximize the space. The useful 40/20/40 split folding rear seat enable passengers to occupy the 2 outboard seats, while long items can rest in the folded middle section.

     With the rear seats up and slid all the way forward, the cargo area of the Tiguan can hold 23.8 cubic feet of stuff, while folding the rear seat backs can increase that space to 56.1 cubic feet of space. That is well short of what most rivals offer, such as the 70 plus cubic feet found in the Honda CR-V.

     I'm impressed by the Tiguan's 200 horsepower turbocharged 4 cylinder engine. It's more than enough in almost any situation, and the 6-speed auto transmission shifts smoothly and quickly. The standard Tiguan isn't very sporty when you drive around turns, as it is more about comfort, but there is still plenty of 'tude, which is remarkable given how smooth and quietly this VW rides. The R-Line upsets that balance, thanks to a much more firm suspension, and larger wheels that transmit more impact harshness to the steering wheel, not to mention sound into the cabin. Overall though, the Tiguan provides a mostly pleasurable drive for everyday needs.

Entry level Luxury? 2015 Audi A3

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 In the past, cars have usually followed the model of bigger is better, and small is cheap and certainly not desirable. However, Audi has again bucked that trend with the all-new 2015 Audi A3.

     Although there was a previous generation A3, its hatchback body style and overall design gave the impression of a really nice compact car done up in leather and fancy gadgets rather than that of an authentically luxurious machine worthy of a luxury car price. The 2015 A3, by comparison, aligns more closely with the American definition of a luxury car. Basically, the A3 sedan looks and feels like an A4 or maybe an A6 that get left in the dryer on super high heat. The same is true of the convertible A3, which looks alot like the A5. Much like the A5, the 2015 A3 convertible opts for a fabric roof over a folding medal roof. It may not look nearly as modern, but the cloth top lowers faster and takes up less space in the already cramped trunk.

     The 2015 Audi A3 comes as either a 4-door compact sedan with seating for 5, or a 2-door convertible with seating for 4. There is 1 main trim level, Premium, which can be enhanced with the Premium Plus, and Prestige option packages. Both the sedan and convertible can be had with 2 different 4 cylinder engines, either a 1.8 TFSI, or 2.0 TFSI. The sedan also gets the option of a 2.0 liter TDI diesel engine. Trim levels are pretty much the same with the sedan and convertible, with the obvious exception of the folding fabric top on the convertible.

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     The base Premium trim level comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, automatic wipers, cruise control, sunroof, an 8 way power drivers seat, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather seating surfaces, 60/40 split folding rear seats, Bluetooth, the MMI interface, and a 10-speaker sound system. The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats, side mirrors and windshield nozzles. 18-inch alloy wheels and an iPod interface are offered as stand-alone options.

     The Premium plus adds all of those features plus keyless entry and ignition, dual zone a/c, and an 8 way power passenger seat. The Premium Plus Convenience Package adds power-folding side mirrors, auto dimming mirrors, and ambient interior lighting. Also for Premium Plus is the Driver Assistance Package that adds a blind spot monitoring system, rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and an automated parking system.

     Optional on both Premium trims is a navigation system, which includes a larger display screen, and enhanced touch-activated controller, voice controls, and a color trip computer display. The Premium version automatically includes the iPod interface, while the Premium Plus gets the Audi connect.

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 The Prestige includes all of the above equipment and adds LED headlamps, an S-Line exterior appearance package, and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. The Advance Technology package adds adaptive cruise control, a lane departure warning system, and a forward collision warning and braking system.

     For Premium and Prestige A3's, a Sport Package adds front sport seats, steering wheel shift paddles, and Drive Select. A3 Sedans can also be equipped with rear side airbags.

     Every 2015 Audi A3 comes standard with a 6-speed automated manual transmission and comes with a choice of 4-cylinder engines, either a 1.8 TFSI, or a 2.0 TFSI. The A3 Sedan gets a third option, a 2.0 liter TDI. The numbers indicate displacement, while the letters indicate whether it's gas or diesel powered.

     The front wheel drive 1.8 TFSI produces 170 horsepower, and 200 lb.ft of the good stuff. Audi estimates that it will do the 0-60 mph run in 7.3 seconds. EPA numbers come in at 27 mpg combined for the sedan, and 28 mpg combined for the convertible.

     The 2.0 TFSI makes 220 horsepower, and 258 lb.ft of the good stuff, and comes standard with all wheel drive. In testing, the tester equipped like such did the 0-60 mph run in a scant 5.9 seconds. As a 4-door sedan, it gets pretty much the same numbers as the 1.8 TFSI, though the convertible is rated at a slightly lower 26 mpg combined.

     The TDI has a turbocharged 2.0 liter diesel engine good for 150 horsepower, and 236 lb.ft of torque, and is only an option on the sedan. In testing, the TDI A3 went 0-60 mph in a respectable 8.3 seconds, and EPA numbers are 36 mpg combined.

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     Every 2015 Audi A3 comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front knee airbags, front side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, and Audi Pre-Sense. Rear side airbags are optional on the sedan.

     Standard with the Prestige and optional on the Premium Plus is the already mentioned earlier Driver Assistance Package. Optional on the Prestige is the also mentioned earlier Advance Technology package.

     In government crash tests, the A3 Sedan was given 5 out of a possible 5 stars. In brake testing, a 2.0 TFSI with 17-inch wheels and all season tires came to a halt from 60 mph in 120 feet, a few feet better than average. An A3 TDI with grippier summer tires stopped in 105 feet, which is amazing.

     While the 2015 A3's exterior mirrors other Audi's, the interior establishes a new theme that leaves a better, longer lasting impression. Though some may prefer flashier cabins swathed in wood or metal, the A3 is arguably beautiful in its simplicity. Yet when you look deeper, you can begin to appreciate its top-shelf and intricate details like its ornate jet-engine inspired air vents, finely crafted switch gear and the fluid action of the MMI display as it rises from and lowers back into the dash.

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 Every A3 includes that screen, but its display size depends on whether or not you opt for navigation. So, too, does the rotary controller. Without nav, its just a knob. With it, there is a pad on top that allows you to write letters with your fingers when entering a destination. It's kinda cool, and yes, it does work, although you do need to write certain letters without lifting your finger. Regardless of the MMI version, however, controls for the stereo and other audio systems may take some time to get used to, but they do eventually become second nature.

     Space is likely to be an issue with the A3. The front seat is mounted a bit high, and lacks some lateral support, but a larger issue is the back seat. Though more spacious than the back seat of the Mercedes Benz CLA, headroom and legroom are limited. You will find more space in compact cars like the Honda Civic, let alone bigger entry level luxury sedans like the BMW 320i. The convertible is more likely to be short on legroom, so don't expect to put much back there aside from some extra luggage or a booster seat, however, that is more than likely to be a struggle.

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     For trunk space, almost any car will have more space, unless you have a Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky. Even the larger sedan has to make do with a tiny 10 cubic foot trunk that struggles to fit a golf club bag, or a weekend's worth of luggage for 4 passengers.

     Compared with other small luxury vehicles, the 2015 Audi A3 feels more grown up: an honest to goodness luxury car instead of a fancy compact. With the standard 17-inch alloy wheels and all season tires, the ride is composed and comfortable, the cabin is quiet and the turbocharged engine provides a healthy wallop of low-end power that provides confidence whether around town, or on the highway. Awesome fuel economy helps as well.

     If you opt for the 18-inch summer tires, you might find that the ride is still livable on most roads, but sometimes harsh over major bumps and ruts. The summer tires also contribute to a louder cabin, as does the diesel engine, which is rattly when idling in traffic, but quiet once you get up to speed.

     Shockingly, the A3 doesn't feel especially sprightly when driving around town, mainly because the steering is a tad light at lower speeds. However, it perks up when driving through tight turns with more enthusiasm. This athletic character is even more noticeable when equipped with summer tires, which quicken the car's reactions to driver inputs. When equipped with the 2.0 TFSI and all wheel drive, the car can feel like a marathon runner in a cashier's clothing. Just because this is the smallest Audi doesn't mean that you are getting less of a luxury sport sedan.

Going Green: 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI

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 For 2015, the VW  Passat receives an update to the TDI engine that gives it 10 more horsepower, and slightly better fuel economy than the old engine.

     If you would like to drive a roomy midsize sedan with European flavor, you have one option: the 2015 VW Passat. With its neatly tailored like styling, nicely done cabin, composed handling and refined ride, the Passat will more than likely impress you when you take a test drive. The appeal might run even deeper than that, as it is the only car in its class to offer a diesel engine as an option.

     The Passat's roomy interior caters to the American tastes by allowing generous room for those in the front and rear seats, as well as quite a large trunk. Given the fact that VW builds the Passat in Tennessee just for the American market, this tailored to U.S. specs shouldn't really come as any surprise.

     The 2015 VW Passat is offered in 6 main trim levels: S, Wolfsburg, Limited Edition, SE, Sport, and SEL Premium. The TDI is offered in SE and SEL Premium trims.

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     The base S comes equipped with standard features like 16-inch steel wheels, auto headlamps, keyless entry, full power accessories, a/c, a height adjustable drivers seat, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, cloth seating surfaces, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, trip computer, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker sound system.

     The Wolfsburg Edition adds 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette seating surfaces, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a 6 way power drivers seat, heated front seats, satellite radio, iPod interface, and Car-Net.

     With the Limited Edition you get 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear view camera, keyless entry and ignition, and an 8-speaker sound system with touchscreen interface. With the SE, you lose the keyless ignition, but gain heated mirrors, rear seat air vents, a sliding front armrest, and auto dimming rear view mirror, and upgraded gauges and displays.

     The Passat Sport is very much like the SE, but you get 19-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters as long as you have the automatic transmission equipped, front sport seats, and faux carbon fiber interior accents.

     The top of the line SEL Premium trim includes all of the SE features as well as 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, a six way power passenger seat, driver memory functions, leather seating surfaces, wood grain interior trim, dual zone auto a/c, navigation, upgraded audio system, and a separate ski pass for the 60/40 split folding rear seat.

     The 2015 VW Passat is front wheel drive, and comes with 3 rather different engine choices.

     All trim levels except the TDI have a 1.8 liter 4 cylinder turbocharged engine rated at a stout 170 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft of torque. The Sport and S trims can be had with either a 5 speed manual, or a 6 speed automatic transmission, while the Wolfsburg, SE, and SEL Premium come only with the automatic. In performance testing, the Passat 1.8T SEL Premium did the 0-60 mph run in a quick 7.8 seconds. EPA numbers stand at 28 mpg combined for the manual transmission, and 28 mpg combined for the automatic.

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 The TDI, available in SE and SEL Premium trims, comes with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, rated at 150 horsepower, and 236 lb.ft of torque. The SE can be had with either a 6-speed manual like the tester provided for this review, or a 6-speed DSG, while the SEL Premium is DSG only. The EPA numbers stand at 34 mpg combined for the automatic, and 35 mpg combined for the manual. In testing, these numbers were easily beatable, a feat that can't be said for most hybrids.

     The strongest possible engine on the 2015 VW Passat is a 3.5 liter V6, which thumps out 280 horsepower, and 258 lb.-ft of torque. It's optional on the SEL Premium, and comes with the DSG transmission. In testing of a previous Passat, the V6 equipped Passat did the 0-60 mph dash in a respectable 6.4 seconds, and EPA numbers came in at 23 mpg combined.

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     Standard safety features for the 2015 VW Passat include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. A rear view camera is standard on SE, Sport, and SEL Premium trims. VW's Car-Net, which is their version of OnStar, is standard from the Wolfsburg on up. However, features that are found on many other family sedans like blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and forward collision warning aren't even offered as options.

     In government crash testing, the 2015 VW Passat scored a perfect overall score of 5 stars. In brake testing, the Passat equipped with a V6 came to a stop from 60 mph in 133 feet, which is a little bit longer than usual. However, a 1.8 SEL stopped in a class-average 123 feet, and a TDI in 124 feet.

     Super roomy is the operative word you could use when describing the cabin of the 2015 VW Passat. Space upfront is good, however, even with the power seats, there is no seat bottom tilt adjustment that is found in many other competitors. In back, the Passat verges on full-size sedan measurements, as even 6 foot tall passengers will have room to stretch their legs. The seat back cushion is rather upright however, which can result in your head possibly touching the roof if you are someone of a taller height. The rather large trunk can swallow 16 cubic feet of stuff, and you can haul even more if you fold the the 60/40 split folding rear seat.

     The quality of the interior materials is among the best in the class. The overall design is borderline upscale, while the layout of the gauges and controls are pretty simple. The premium Fender audio system should please even the most hardcore audiophile. My only major complaint with the interior is the navigation systems. The SE models have a lower cost unit with a small touchscreen. You got a much larger screen in the SEL, but the interface is slower to commands, even if its just changing a radio station.

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 It's safe to say that most buyers will be happy with the 1.8T engine. It's quick and smooth, and provides rather good fuel economy. It is quicker than the TDI, but the latter boasts much more low end torque and returns quite stunning fuel economy and range. If you care more about horsepower than fuel economy, you still have the option of the 3.6 liter V6.

     The DSG transmission that is available with the TDI engine and standard with the V6 generally feels like a normal automatic, and in some cases it's even better, it provides super quick downshifts in highway passing situations. A negative of the DSG is the otherwise unresponsiveness. Unless you put it in Sport mode, there is a slight, however noticeable, delay between when you press the gas pedal, and when the engine responds. Most owners get used to this, or they just put it in Sport mode.

     On the highway, the 2015 VW Passat is super quite and comfortable, snuffing out bumps large and small. Around turns, the steering is precise enough, although there isn't much feedback, and some people may find it a smidgen heavy at slow speeds. Overall, the Passat earns high praise for its relaxed, refined demeanor in everyday driving.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Has Toyota given up on small cars?

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 Over the years, the humbly priced subcompact car has evolved in the best ways possible, and today's models deliver more than just basic transportation. Quite a few choices in this class of car now offer options that were only available on more expensive luxury cars. In many ways, the 2015 Toyota Yaris hatchback holds its own with the current roster of overachieving subcompacts, but it also trails them in several key areas.

     The Yaris boasts many appealing attributes. It's a nimble and handy companion around town, and its competent suspension helps the car cruise around the turns with good stability. Overall, this is a pleasant and rather easy car to drive. The interior is spacious, with rear seats that are comfortable for most adults. It also boasts solid design and materials quality. Feature content is equally generous, with things like a touchscreen interface, Bluetooth, are standard on all models along with a/c, power locks and mirrors, and a height adjustable driver seat.

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     In other ways though, the Yaris gets left in the dust. the outdated 4-speed automatic transmission is a step down from the 6-speed, or CVT transmissions available, and leaves the Yaris feeling slow during passing. Also, other models boast a better ride, more comfortable seats, sharper handling or more cargo space.

     The 2015 Toyota Yaris is a subcompact economy car available as either a 2-door or 4-door hatchback. The L and LE trims are available in either configuration, while the SE trim is only on the 4 door.

     Standard features on the L include 15-inch alloy wheels, power door locks and windows, a/c, height adjustable driver seat, a tilt only steering wheel, trip computer,a 60/40 split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker sound system with a 6.1 inch touchscreen interface.

     The LE adds 15-inch alloy wheels, power side mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, metallic interior accents, chrome interior door handles, and steering wheel audio controls.

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 Those of you who opt for the SE get 16-inch alloy wheels, projector beam headlamps, LED running lamps, fog lights, special exterior styling bits, a rear spoiler, a sport tuned suspension, sportier tires, 4 wheel disc brakes, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and upgraded cloth seating surfaces. A navigation system is available on all Yaris models as an option from the dealer.

     The front wheel drive 2015 Toyota Yaris is powered by a 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower and 103 lb.-ft of torque. Two transmissions are available, a 5-speed manual, or a 4-speed automatic. The manual is standard on the 2-door L and 4-door SE, while the 4-speed is optional on these. In testing, a 4-door Yaris equipped with the 5-speed manual went 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds, while the automatic equipped Yaris took 10.7 seconds. Both times are decent for the class, but other cheaper competitors are faster.

     EPA estimates for the manual equipped Yaris are 33 mpg combined, while the automatic comes in at 32 mpg combined.

     Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, active front head restraints, front seat side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, front seat cushion airbags and a driver knee airbag.

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     In brake testing, a Yaris equipped with 4 wheel disc brakes came to a stop from 60 mph in 125 feet, which is solidly average. In crash testing, the Yaris 4-door hatchback earned 4 out of 5 stars for overall crash protection.

     The interior of the 2015 Toyota Yaris couldn't be easier to use. There are just a couple of gauges to read, and the large speedometer is placed directly in front of the driver. Those who worry about a subcompact giving you a low view of the road will find that the high mounted seats of the Yaris give you a pretty solid view of the road. However, the lack of a telescoping steering wheel and firmly padded seats can make longer journeys uncomfortable for some people. In the back, there is quite a good amount of leg room, but the sloping roof line cuts down on headroom. Two averaged sized adults can fit in the back just perfectly.

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 Materials within the 2015 Toyota Yaris are a step up from the previous generation of car, but there is still a lot of hard plastic, and top rivals like the Honda Fit feel more refined. The car comes standard with all of the basic features you are likely to want, including a user-friendly touchscreen interface, and Bluetooth. Some of those features you would have to pay extra to get.

     The 4-door Yaris has 15.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. You can find more room in the Chevy Sonic, and the Hyundai Accent. The split folding rear seat does help with practicality, but it still trails the benchmark in that area, the Honda Fit.

     Given the expectations you might have of this car, the 2015 Toyota Yaris that makes 106 horsepower will be just fine. There is enough gumption to deal with most suburban traffic flow, and the Yaris has no problem holding most common highway speeds. However, be prepared to move over to the right and put on your hazard lights if you go up mountains.

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     Not helping in this area is the 4-speed automatic transmission , which is an antique, given that most competitors are now using either 6-speed autos, or CVT's. If you don't mind shifting your own gears, the 5-speed manual is the better transmission choice for this car.

     The Yaris is steady and returns a pretty smooth ride. The SE models quicker steering and upgraded brakes as well as suspension add a sportier side to the 2015 Toyota Yaris' mission, but I wouldn't go quite so far as to call it sporty.

Driving a dying breed

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   While Lexus sells many of its RX and  NX crossover SUV's, it still keeps a couple of traditional SUV's available as well. The 2015 Lexus GX 460 is one of them, and it carries the old-school SUV torch with sturdy body-on-frame construction, full time 4-wheel drive, and a big, beefy V8 engine under the hood. Whether the GX is right for you or not will depend on your priorities.

     Interestingly, this Lexus is still rather well mannered in the city. The suspension is apt at soaking up bumps and broken pavement to give you a comfortable ride. That 301 horsepower V8 is muscular enough to get you in and out of traffic with even coming close to breaking a sweat. The GX 460 even offers an adaptive air suspension, plus a solid offering of luxury features.

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 is a 7 passenger SUV that comes in Base and Luxury trims.

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     Standard features on the base model include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED low-beam headlamps, illuminated running boards, sunroof, roof rack side rails, rear privacy glass and a rear spoiler. Inside you will find dual zone auto a/c, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, 8-way power front seats, driver memory settings, cruise control, sliding and reclining split 40/20/40 second row seats, a 50/50 split third row seating, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, an auto dimming rear-view mirror, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, and an 8-inch touchscreen electronics interface.

     There are many optional features on the 2015 Lexus GX 460, but keep in mind that they are packaged together differently depending on the region you live in. Case in point, a vehicle you order in Cleveland could be different than one you can order in L.A.

     The Premium package includes different 18-inch alloy wheels, LED fog lights, a windshield de-icer, front and rear parking sensors, perforated leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, tri zone auto a/c, and a navigation system. Some of those items, like the navigation, are available as separate options.

     Stepping up to the Luxury model gets you the above equipment plus a special liquid graphite finish to those 18-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive suspension, rear auto-leveling, headlamp washers, illuminated front scuff plates, auto dimming side mirrors, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, a heated steering wheel, mahogany wood trim on the steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded leather upholstery, a cargo cover, and power folding 3rd row seats.

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 Options on the Luxury model include a 17-speaker sound system, a rear seat video entertainment system, and the Driver Support Package, which includes Crawl Control, automatic high beam headlamp control, adaptive cruise control, a lane departure warning system, additional front and rear parking sensors, and the Mark Levinson sound system

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 has a 4.6 liter V8 engine that puts out 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is a full time 4-wheel drive system with a dual-range transfer case. When properly equipped, the GX 460 can haul 6.500 pounds.

     In testing, the GX 460 accelerated to 60 mph from 0 in 7.2 seconds, an average time for a large luxury SUV, and got an EPA estimated 17 mpg combined.

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, a rear-view camera, front and rear seat side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, and side curtain airbags that cover all 3 rows of seating. Also standard is Lexus Safety Connect.

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     There are also a number of optional safety features including blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts, a lane departure warning system, and a frontal collision warning system. In brake testing, the GX 460 came to a stop from 60 mph in 130 feet, which is a little longer than average for this class.

     The 2015 Lexus GX 460 maintains a decidedly traditional look on the interior, and forgoes the newer more modern wide screen monitor, and Remote Touch that is present in other, newer Lexus models. Still, the GX's cabin is attractive and very well put together. It is hard to find fault with the quality of the soft leather and genuine wood trim that are standard on the top of the line Luxury trim, but the switch from leather to leatherette in the base model could be seen by some as being rather low-rent. Front seats are still plenty comfortable, but the hard and flat second row bench is less-so. The third row seats are suitable for children, or small adults only.

     Folding the second and third row seats down gives you a cargo hold with 64.7 cubic feet of space, which is a little underwhelming, given the sheer size of the GX. Accessing that space can be made complicated in some curbside situations as the rear cargo door opens to the side. It does however offer the option of opening the glass portion, which helps when you want to carry longer items.

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   GX 460 delivers a ride quality that is a fair bit smoother than you might expect. Handling around turns is secure, and the available adaptive suspension helps in this area. With that said, you will likely find that many luxury crossovers will feel more confident and a good deal sportier in turns. In the city, the GX 460 also feels a little more truck like than some of its competitors, as steering and brake inputs feel a bit slow.
 For an SUV built on traditional body-on-frame underpinnings, the 2015 Lexus

     Leave the pavement behind however, and the Lexus GX 460's full time 4 wheel drive and available Crawl Control might make you feel invincible. Select one of the Crawl Control's 3 preset speeds, and the computer takes over both the gas and the brake pedal, leaving you to concentrate on just steering.

     The GX 460's V8 produces enough power for everyday driving, but can feel a little strained in some highway passing moves. The transmission can be smooth, but unsure of itself when downshifting at times.