Sunday, April 5, 2015

2015 VW Jetta TDI

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 Because the last refresh of the Jetta was met with underwhelming sales results, VW has been hard at work to reestablish the Jetta as an aspirational choice for buyers in the compact market. In an attempt to fight back for some of its former glory, the 2015 Jetta gets a slight refresh to give it a sleeker look, an upgraded cabin, and on the TDI trim, a more powerful, yet more fuel efficent diesel engine.

     The 2015 VW Jetta also boats a new suite of available electronic driver aids that include things like blind spot monitoring, forward collision alert, and parking sensors. While they are only available on certain trims, and not exclusive to the compact car segment, they do give the Jetta some options that were only available on more expensive cars just a few short years ago. Other advantages of the Jetta are still intact, such as a cabin space that is tastefully designed, the option of both diesel and hybrid powertrains, and excellent crash test safety scores.

     There are a few trade-offs that you should keep in mind, however. The base 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine is rather weak, and should be avoided at all possible costs. You also might not be very fond of the sport-tuned suspension, that comes with a stiff ride.

     Gasoline powered versions are available in base, S, SE, Sport, and SEL trim levels, while the TDI versions come in S, SE, and SEL. The Jetta hybrid comes in SE, SEL, and SEL Premium trims, while the Jetta GLI comes in SE, and SEL trim levels.

     The base model 2015 VW Jetta, which is a trim that can only be ordered from the dealer, is fitted with the weak 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine, and the only option for a transmission is a 5-speed manual. Other standard equipment include such things like 15-inch steel wheels, power windows, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, height adjustable front seats, cloth seats, 60/40 split folding rear seats, and a 4-speaker sound system, with aux-input jack.

     The Jetta S adds power heated mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry, air conditioning, a single-cd radio with 4 inch screen and Bluetooth connectivity, a trip computer, a optional automatic transmission, power door locks, a front seat center armrest, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat. An optional Technology Package includes a rear-view camera, keyless ignition and entry, and a 6-speaker sound system with a 6.5 inch touchscreen.

     The Jetta SE adds to the mix by coming standard with a 1.8 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, satellite radio, and an iPod adapter cable.

     A Connectivity Package on the SE requires that you order the automatic transmission, but it includes body colored outside mirrors, heated windshield washer nozzles, chrome exterior trim, special 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette seating, rear-view camera, sunroof, driver seat lumbar adjustment, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and a rear seat armrest with trunk pass-through.

     When you select the SE with Connectivity Package, you also have the option of selecting the Navigation Package that includes automatic windshield wipers, fog-lights, and a 5-inch touchscreen radio with voice controlled navigation and keyless ignition and entry.

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 The Jetta Sport trim combines elements of the Connectivity and Navigation packages by including special 17-inch alloy wheels, fog-lights, rear spoiler, a sport tuned suspension, heated windshield washer nozzles, upgraded 6-speaker radio with Navigation, rear-view camera, heated front seats with 2-tone leatherette seating surfaces, and special stitching for seats, steering wheel and other interior pieces.

     The SEL trim on the Jetta adds a soft touch surface dashboard, dual-zone auto a/c, 6-way power driver seat, and a 9-speaker Fender branded audio system.

     The Jetta TDI models in S, SE with connectivity, and SEL trims generally mirror the gasoline counterparts above, with the exception of a 2.0 liter turbocharged diesel engine.

     The Jetta Hybrid SE, and SEL trims are also pretty much the same. Added highlights of the Hybrid SEL Premium include 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, LED running lights, automatic wipers, a rear spoiler, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and forward collision warning. The Fender audio system is also included.

     The Jetta GLI SE comes with a more powerful turbocharged engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport tuned suspension, keyless ignition and entry, and essentially all of the standard Jetta SE with Connectivity package. The GLI SEL adds xenon headlamps, LED running lights, upgraded leatherette seating surfaces, a navigation system, the Fender audio system, and additional safety monitoring systems.

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     A Safety Package includes blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, and rear parking sensors is available on the gas engine equipped Jetta SE with Connectivity and Navigation, as well as the Jetta SEL.

     A Lighting Package adds xenon headlamps, LED running lights, interior ambient lighting, and an upgraded instrument cluster is available on the Jetta models with a gas engine, as long as it isn't a Base, or S. For the diesel-powered Jetta SEL, the contents of the Lighting and Safety packages are combined into a single option package.

     The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Base and S trims come equipped with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 115 horsepower, and 125 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, and a 6-speed automatic transmission is optional. EPA numbers are 23/34/26 with the automatic transmission, and 25/34/28 with the manual transmission.

     The Jetta SE and SEL feature a substantially stronger 1.8 liter turbocharged 4 clyinder engine that produces 170 horsepower, and 184 lb-ft of torque. The SE gets the same transmission options as the lower trim levels, while the SE with Connectivity or Navigation comes with the automatic transmission only. EPA numbers are 25/37/30 with the auto transmission, while the manual clocks in at 25/37/29 mpg.

The Jetta TDI features a newly designed turbocharged 2.0 liter 4 cylinder diesel engine that makes 150 horsepower, up 10 from last year, and 236 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, and a 6-speed DSG auto is optional.

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     Coupled with the DSG transmission, the TDI delivers EPA numbers of 31/45/36 mph, while the 6-speed manual comes in at 31/46/36 mpg. In performance testing the Jetta TDI with a manual transmission got up to 60 mph from a standing start in 8.1 seconds.

     The 2015 VW Jetta hybrid is powered by a 1.4 liter turbocharged engine that works side by side with a 20kw electric motor. Together they make 170 horsepower and 184 lb ft of torque that is routed to the front wheels via a 7-speed automated manual transmission.

     The 2015 Jetta GLI is powered by a 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine that sends 210 horsepower and 207 lb ft of torque to the front wheels. A 6-speed manual is standard, while the 6-speed DSG is optional.

The 2015 Jetta comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. A rear-view camera is included on the SEL and TDI models. VW's CarNet telematics system, is standard on SE with Connectivity on up, and is VW's version of OnStar. A CarNet smartphone app lets owners control many of the functions of the system on the go.

     New available electronic safety systems on the Jetta inlcude blind-spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, and forward collision warning. In crash testing, the Jetta earned 5/5 stars for overall protection from the IIHS. In brake testing, the Jetta TDI came to a stop from 60 mph in 130 feet, a little longer than average for this class of vehicle.

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     With the recent trend toward edgy shapes in technology focused interiors, the interior of the 2015 Jetta looks conservative by comparison. The Jetta's simple, functional gauges and dash could be judged either as a homage to the days when German design focused on the task of driving and little else, or as just behind the times. If you believe simplicity is best, then you are sure to have a good time behind the wheel of the Jetta.

     More impressive is the Jetta's trunk. With space coming in at 15.7 cubic feet, it has a larger trunk than some mid-size sedans.

     Unless you have plenty of time on your hands, I would recommend that you stay away from the Jetta that comes equipped with the 2.0 liter 4 cylinder non-turbocharged engine. For not much more money, you can move up to the SE trim that not only brings more standard goodies to the table, but you get the much more satisfying 1.8 liter 4 cylinder turbocharged engine. It gets better gas mileage, and you will be thankful every time you go to merge onto a highway.

     If you can afford the TDI, you will be rewarded with surprisingly strong power, in addition to the rather large fuel economy boost. The same can also be said for the Jetta Hybrid, but you will have to drive for awhile to see the payback.

     Although some versions of the Jetta offer a sport tuned suspension, there doesn't really seem to be to be much of an advantage over the base Jetta. Even the steering on the GLI isn't overly sharp when turning into corners, and the braking ability and overall cornering grip of the car are modest for a performance oriented vehicle. If you are just looking for a livelier Jetta sedan, than the GLI is a solid choice. The 2.0 liter 4 cylinder turbocharged engine delivers a solid whalop of power that you will feel around town and on fast moving highways. The engine has a great sound to it as well.

     No matter what trim level of Jetta that you pick, you are sure to find a solid road-trip companion, as ride comfort is pretty good, and the cabin is sealed off from the outside world.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Going Green: 2015 Lexus RX 450h

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  Launched well over 10 years ago, the Lexus RX hybrid was a bit of a trailblazer. It came as a shock to those people that thought  SUV's were by their very nature thirsty at the pump. Since its introduction, the number of premium hybrid SUV's on the market has grown significantly. But with the increase in competition, the RX hasn't become dull at all. It is surely a top pick in what has become an increasingly important segment.
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     The RX 450h succeeds because of a few key things you might hope to find in a luxury hybrid SUV: great gas mileage, smooth performance, a pretty comfortable cabin, and a wealth of standard amenities. With the EPA giving the 450h a combined rating of 30 mpg, it delivers a knock-out punch to the crowd of gas only luxury crossovers and is easily among the most efficient options in the hybrid luxury SUV segment. With most hybrids, great fuel economy comes at the high cost of performance, and I am proud to say that isn't the case with the RX 450h. The RX 450h is moved along by a healthy 3.5 liter V6 that is teamed up with electric motors and a battery pack. Ride quality is rather good, and the RX holds you in a cocoon like space over most road imperfections. The cherry on top is the wealth of space in the cabin, that is decked out with a lot of tech options.

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     The RX 450h can come equipped with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. It comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps, fog lights, LED running lights, rear tinted windows, heated mirrors, power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone auto a/c, 8 way power front seats with 2 way power adjustable lumbar, leather wrapped power tilt-and telescoping steering wheel, sliding and reclining rear seats, cloth seating surfaces, and an auto dimming rear-view mirror.

    Bluetooth connectivity, and a 12-speaker sound system with all of the latest hook-ups for you iPod, or other audio devices.
 Standard electronic features include goodies like a 7-inch display screen, rear-view camera, Safety Connect,
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     Like the CT 200h that was reviewed earlier, the RX 450h gives you a lot of option packages to choose from, however your choices might be limited due to the area of the country that you live in.

The Premium package adds a sunroof, power folding and dimming mirrors, roof rails, leather trimmed seats and driver memory settings. A version of this package can even include a blind-spot monitoring system. The Luxury package includes everything from the Premium package, and then throws in things like 19-inch alloy wheels, a heated steering wheel, power driver seat cushion extender, upgraded leather trimmed seats, a household style power outlet, and smog-sensing auto climate control recirculation.

     The Comfort package requires that you select either the Premium or Luxury package, and includes automatic windshield wipers, xenon headlamps, as well as heated and ventilated front seats.

     The Navigation package also requires that you choose either the Premium or Luxury package, and includes a navigation system, voice controls, Remote Touch controller, HD radio, and Lexus Enform that includes Safety Connect.

 Depending upon which option package you select when you purchase or lease your Lexus RX 450h, stand-alone options can include things like LED headlamps, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control with pre-collision warning, a heads-up display, a dual-screen rear entertainment system, and a 15-speaker sound system.

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     As stated earlier, the power for the RX 450h comes from a 3.5 liter V6 that is mated to electric motors and a battery pack. Front wheel drive models have 2 motors, while the all-wheel drive equipped RX adds a third motor. Total system output is a respectable 295 horsepower, and is paired to a special CVT.

     In 9th Gear performance testing, the RX 450h was able to hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, with is a tiny bit slower than the RX 350. That time also places it in the middle of the pack when you compare it with other luxury SUV's. The upside to this though is the gas mileage. The EPA has rated the front-wheel drive 450h 32/28/30 mpg, while the all-wheel drive version comes in at 30/28/29 mpg.

     Every single 2015 Lexus RX 450h that rolls of the assembly line comes standard with safety features like a rear-view camera, antilock brakes, traction as well as stability control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, and front knee airbags. Also included is Safety Connect, with is like OnStar, just for Lexus.

     Optional safety features include parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system, and adaptive cruise control that is linked to a pre-collision warning system. In brake testing, the big RX 450h came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, which is just about average for the class of vehicle. Safety ratings also come in at 4/5 stars for overall crash protection.
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     Upscale trimmings, astounding build quality, and cutting edge tech options make the 450h look and feel like the hefty price tag it can come with. With the authentic wood trim and high quality leather seats, you will feel like you are truly driving a luxury vehicle. However, the front seats could use just a little more adjustment range, as both thigh and lateral support might be found lacking for you. Rear seat passengers will find the seating roomy and comfortable thanks in part to the sliding and reclining seats.

     With the 2015 Lexus RX 450h's compliant suspension setup, and great sound insulation isolate the passengers and you from the outside world and provide comfort on an road trip you choose to take. The hybrid powertrain is even pretty quiet. Initial get up can seem slow at times unless you really give it the beans, but overall the 450h feels quite a bit like its RX 350 sibling. Through the twisty stuff, it remains strong and confident, though it isn't anywhere near as sporty as some diesel powere luxury SUV's, and the steering can feel a touch heavy at times.

     Though the credentials are certainly impressive, the 2015 Lexus RX 450h does have some viable competition in the form of Infiniti QX60 Hyrbid, the Audi Q5 Hyrbid, and the Porsche Cayenne Hyrbid. However, the fuel economy of the 450h easily beats the competition, in addition to being one of the most affordable. Its assets make it an easy choice when shopping for a luxury SUV.


Going Green: Lexus CT 200h

     Are you a person that desires a car that is upscale, and stylish, yet practical to keep up with your lifestyle and kind enough to the environment to let you sleep at night? You very well may have come to the right review then, because that is exactly what the 2015 Lexus CT 200h is meant to do.

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     The compact luxury hatch has been on the market for a few years now, but it still manages to stand out from the crowd, for better or worse. The combination of attractive styling, and upscale amenities is certainly appealing, while the hatchback body style is surely more useful than that of a sedan. But what really sets this car apart from the other luxury hybrids is the EPA rating of 42 mpg combined.


 The CT 200h backs up its rather athletic looks with rather good handling that makes it feel more nimble than just about any other hybrid on the market today. However, the sporty styling of the car is writing checks that the bank just can't cash. With just 134 total horsepower on tap, which is no better than it's cousin the Toyota Prius, it is sorely lacking in the acceleration department. Also something to keep in mind is that while you can indeed fold the rear seats down, you can't really consider the interior cave like by any means.

     Standard equipment includes things like 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors with built-in turn signals and puddle lamps, sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone a/c, leatherette (aka vinyl,) seating surfaces, 8-way power driver seat, split folding rear seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six speaker sound system with a decent USB/iPod interface.

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     Like most other luxury vehicles, there are quite a number of options. However, your ability to select those options will depend upon which region of the country that you live in. The CT 200h's Seat Comfort package includes heated front seats and a 4-way power front passenger seat. The Premium package adds auto windshield wipers, an auto dimming rear-view mirror, and a 10-speaker audio system with a 6-disc cd changer. The Leather package adds leather upholstery, and memory settings for the driver. The Navigation package adds a rear-view camera, voice-controlled navigation, the remote touch interface, HD radio, Lexus' Enform as well as Safety Connect.

     A Display Audio Package includes the 10-speaker audio system, plus a 7-inch display screen, a rear-view camera, an additional USB port, and Remote Touch controller. The F Sport package includes unique 17-inch alloy wheels, a sportier tuned suspension, larger rear spoiler, and a small cornucopia of styling tweaks inside and out.
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     A small choice of stand alone options include things like LED low-beam headlamps, adaptive cruise control with pre-collision alert, front and rear parking sensors, and a back-up camera with the display built into the rear-view mirror.

     Power for the CT 200h comes from a 1.8 liter 4 cylinder engine paired to a couple of electric motors/generators and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Total system output is 134 horsepower, which is routed to the front wheels via CVT.

     In 9th Gear acceleration testing, the CT made it to 60 mph in a slow 10 seconds. Fuel economy is where this car shines, however. The EPA rates the vehicle at 42 MPG combined.

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     Standard safety features on the 2015 Lexus CT 200h include things like antilock disc brakes, stability as well as traction control, front and rear seat mounted side airbags, side curtain airbags, and dual front knee airbags. Lexus' Safety Connect is also standard, and includes amenities like collision notification, stolen vehicle location, and emergency assistance. a rear-view camera and front/rear parking sensors are available as options. In brake testing, the CT stopped in a respectable 120 feet from 60 mph.

 What you think about the 2015 Lexus CT 200h from behind the wheel has as much to do with you as it does with the car. If the sportier styling has led you to expect pulse quickening acceleration, than you will be sadly mistaken. If you go in expecting to find a fuel efficient nimble car, with enough power to get you from point a to b, you are sure to find this car pretty livable.

     The reasoning behind this is that the powertrain is tuned more for efficiency, rather than outright performance. The gasoline engine can sound labored when pushed, which to some doesn't seem overly fitting of a car wearing the Lexus badge.

     Otherwise, the powertrain hardware performs rather well, with no real complaints to register. As far as handling goes, the CT feels pretty nimble when you compare it to the other vehicles in the class of luxury hybrid. The ride quality is good, but might become a little jarring when you opt for the F Sport package.

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With the noted short comings in mind, some buyers might want to check out some other options. While it is considerably more expensive, the 2015 BMW 328d wagon is supposedly a much more satisfying vehicle to drive, and still delivers decent fuel economy thanks to the diesel engine. On the cheaper end of the price spectrum, the 2015 Ford C-Max, and 2015 VW Golf Sportwagen TDI are cheaper yet still provide much of the same experience of the Lexus, and they are even quicker to boot.

     All things considered, the 2015 Lexus CT 200h is quite likable enough, but it's only in taking a test drive that you will truly know if you will be able to live with the car.