Friday, May 29, 2015

Making a swing for the fences: 2015 VW Golf

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 The VW Golf certainly wasn't the first hatchback ever invented, but in its 40 year history, it has become the benchmark. Like other long-standing German cars, the Golf has evolved steadily over time. When you park all 7 generations side by side, you can easily spot how it has changed over the years. Compared to the last generation, you would be hard pressed to find the major changes that have been made.

     Reshaped headlamps and taillights, and side body panels with increased sharpness are the only giveaways that anything has changed. The interior is also the same, with hardly any changes to be made.

     However, underneath that refreshed body is an all new body structure, and a more powerful efficient gasoline engine. The underperforming 2.5 liter 5 cylinder engine is gone, and in comes a 1.8 liter turbo 4 cylinder that delivers good power, and respectable fuel economy. If fuel economy is your game, the TDI also makes a return.

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On the inside, the 2015 VW Golf looks and feels much like the older car, but there is actually more space for you and your things. Material quality is a little bit better, along with a slightly updated interface for infotainment.

     The 2015 VW Golf hatchback comes in 2 or 4 door flavors, with 4 different trim levels with each version.

     The base Golf Launch Edition has limited availability, and comes in a 2 door, with manual transmission only. Standard features include 15-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, air conditioning, front seat center armrest, cloth seating surfaces, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seats, hill hold assist, Bluetooth, a 5.8 inch touchscreen audio interface, satellite radio and iPod connectivity.
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     The Golf S comes in either 2 or 4 doors and adds alloy wheels, cruise control, a leather wrapped steering wheel, premium vinyl seating surfaces, and VW's Car-Net. Power reclining front seats are also included if you select the optional automatic transmission, or the optional sunroof is selected.

     The SE trim only comes as a 4 door with the auto transmission, sunroof and power partial seats. Added goodies include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, fog lights, automatic wipers, heated front seats, a rearview camera and a premium Fender audio system. The range topping SEL trim adds 18-inch wheels, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone auto ac, sport front seats with 10-way power adjustable settings, a navigation system and interior ambient lighting with LED reading lamps.

     The TDI powertrain equipped vehicles have all of the same options.

     Two package options are available. The Lighting package includes bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, cornering lights, and the ambient interior and LED reading lamps. The Driver Assistance package includes front and rear parking sensors, and a forward collision warning system.

     Powering the conventional gasoline Golf, is a turbocharged 1.8 liter 4 cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft of torque. The Launch Edition trim is only available with a 5-speed manual transmission, while the Golf S can come with a 6-speed automatic. The SE and SEL trims only come with the automatic.

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 The EPA estimates for this powerplant is 29 mpg combined with the automatic, and 30 mpg combined with the manual. In performance testing, the Golf managed to accelerate to 60 mph in about 8 seconds, which is a pretty good time for this class.

     The diesel powered models receive a 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine that makes 150 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard and VW's 6-speed DSG is optional. The EPA estimates currently stand at 36 mpg combined for the automatic, and 36 mpg combined for the manual.

     Standard safety features for the 2015 VW Golf include things like antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and a driver knee airbag. A post-crash braking system is also standard , while forward collision warning, and front and rear parking sensors are optional.

     On Golf S models and above, VW's Car-Net is standard. Car-Net is VW's version of OnStar, and has many of the same features. In brake testing, the Golf managed to come to a complete stop from 60 mph in 120, which is a solid number for this class. As a plus, the IIHS gave the Golf the highest rating of good.

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 The 2015 VW Golf's interior features well-grained materials that are soft to the touch, and a cabin design that while subdued, is clean and elegant at the same time. Buttons and switches are placed close to the driver and offer intuitive, simple control. The 5.8 inch touchscreen is on the small side compared to others, but it works well and is rather easy to read at a glance. However, the large iPhone connector plug can require you to remove the case on your phone, and is a constant gripe, especially with the popularity of simple USB ports. The navigation system might also disappoint with its inability to overlay traffic info on the map, Instead, it lists traffic info off to the side.

     Front seats provide ample support and comfort, even during long distance stints, and not at the sacrifice of rear seat passengers. The Golf's new added leg and shoulder room make the small hatch feel big, although the low mounted rear seat cushions are best suited to smaller passengers. Up to 22.8 cubic feet of cargo can be shoved in the trunk, while 52.7 cubic feet of stuff can be fit if you fold the rear seats down.

     Power from either the gas or the diesel engine should be enough to satisfy most drivers, and the gas engine is smooth and strong. The diesel TDI however, delivers a healthy train of power at low and medium speeds, but the power drops off as the engine nears the redline. The 6-speed automatic paired with the gas engine is a bit balky however, and is prone to gear hunt when accelerating from a stop. Once underway, gear changes are quick, and almost buttery smooth. The 6-speed manual is easy to shift, thanks to a light clutch pedal and distinct shift gates.
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     On a normal commute, the 2015 VW Golf delivers a comfortable and compliant ride quality the soaks up potholes and bumps with little effort. With a small footprint and great visibility, it is a super easy car to drive and park. On winding roads, the Golf sticks to its intended path, though if you search hard enough, you will find some body roll and the steering can feel light and dull. Competitors like the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 are better drives in this regard.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Large Luxury: 2015 Audi A5

     People who buy sedans tend to make that purchase because it is a practical one, whereas people who buy a coupe make a purchase based on emotions, and for those who buy a convertible, those are the kind of people that say 'I might just take off and head to the beach today.' Thankfully, the 2015 Audi A5 is offered in both coupe and convertible form. Blessed with one of the best AWD systems in the automotive world, a rather refined ride, elegant style and advanced technology, this German coupe impresses in almost every possible way.

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     While the mandatory 4-cylinder engine may feel underpowered to some, the A5 really isn't that much slower than its 6-cylinder powered rivals at legal speeds. If you keep a lid on your spirited driving, you can get gas mileage in the mid-to upper 20's too, which is rather impressive for an all-wheel drive coupe. What's more, you can still get this coupe with a manual transmission, just on the off chance that you are a person that prefers to shift gears on your own. As for the convertible version, it bucks the hardtop trend by only coming with a folding soft-top. Sure, you don't get the extra security of the hardtop, but the soft top doesn't take up nearly as much space as the hardtop would.

The four passenger 2015 Audi A5 is offered in coupe and convertible form. The  latter offers a power folding soft-top, and a wind blocker. There are 3 trim levels for each style: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige.

     The base A5 Premium comes well equipped with things like 18-inch alloy wheels, a tilt only sunroof on the coupe, automatic xenon headlamps, LED running lights and taillights, fog lights, automatic wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather seating surfaces, eight way power front seats, split folding rear seats, a monochromatic driver information display, Bluetooth, a dash-mounted MMI display with a 10 speaker sound system and satellite radio with an iPod interface.

     The Premium Plus adds things like an S-Line trim package, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats and driver memory functions.
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     The Prestige adds adaptive headlamps, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, and the Technology Package which includes a color driver information center, Audi Connect, a navigation system, an upgraded MMI interface with a higher resolution 7 inch screen,front and rear parking sensors, a rear view camera,and a blind spot monitor.

     A5 options are mainly grouped together in  packages.  The Premium is eligible for the Navigation package that adds most of the content of the Prestige. The Premium Plus instead offers the full Technology Package as an option. Available only on the Prestige are the Audi Exclusive Line Interior package which gives you things like contrast piping stitching, upgraded 2-tone leather seating surfaces, and piano black inlays. Also an option is the Driver Assist Package, which gives you adaptive cruise control, adaptive steering and the Drive Select system.

      Offered on both Premium Plus and Prestige are a trio of sportier themed packages. The Sport package includes Drive Select, a sport tuned suspension, front sport seats, and paddle shifters if you have the automatic transmission. The Sport Plus package requires the Sport package, but gives you 19-inch wheels with summer tires, a sport steering wheel, and if you have the coupe, gloss black trim with a black cloth headliner. The S-Line Competition package comes on the coupe only, and requires Sport Plus to be selected, but in turn you get more black exterior trim, leather and faux-suede seat trim, piano black inlays, and if you have the manual transmission, an aluminium shift knob.

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     The all-wheel drive 2015 Audi A5 comes standard with a 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine that is good for making 220 horsepower, and 258 lb-ft. of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard on the coupe, while an 8-speed automatic is optional, yet the only choice for the convertible.

 In performance testing, an A5 with the manual transmission did repeated launches from 0-60 mph in about 6 seconds, which is an average time for this type of vehicle. Fuel economy for the A5 is estimated by the EPA at 26 mpg combined for the coupe with the manual transmission. That number drops to 25 mpg with the automatic, while the convertible drops to 24 combined.

     Standard safety features for the 2015 Audi A5 include things like anti-lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side and knee airbags, and for the coupe full length side curtain airbags. A blind spot monitoring system is optional on the Premium Plus and standard on the Prestige. The Prestige comes with optional adaptive cruise control that includes a collision mitigation system with forward collision warning, and automatic low speed braking system.

     In brake testing, the A5 come to a stop from 60 mph in about 110 feet, although similar coupes on summer tires posted almost the exact same numbers as the German coupe.

     As the case with most of the vehicles from Audi, the 2015 Audi A5 earns high praise for its understated yet elegant design and top-shelf materials. Functionality can be hit and miss, however. Performing basic tasks with the standard dash mounted MMI controller requires a few extra steps when compared to the upgraded MMI high interface that comes with the navigation system. The latter benefits from simpler menus, a minimally larger screen, and a more ergonomic controller mounted between the front seats.

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     The comfort of the front seats is almost exceptional on long road trips, but the standard seats lack the type of lateral support that is needed if you are a more spirited driver. Thankfully, the optional sport seats remedy this issue with their rather robust side bolsters and super adjustability. However, there is no fix for the rear seats, as the lack of head room makes them only suitable for smaller passengers.

     Those who opt for the 2015 Audi A5 convertible will appreciate the power operated soft-tops' efficient operation, it only requires 15 seconds to raise, and 17 seconds to lower. With the tight-fitting multi-layer top in place, the interior is so well insulated that you might think that you are driving a normal coupe, not a convertible.

     Even more of a plus, the convertible top doesn't take up that much trunk space. Thanks in part to being a fabric top and not a folding hard-top, the trunk can still fit 10.2 cubic feet of your stuff when the top is folded down. That is only 2 cubic feet less than the coupe! Both body styles give you folding rear seats to increase that number.

    Audis. Of note, the ride quality remains pretty much the same, even with the sport suspension equipped.
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 Though it is not a sports car, the 2015 Audi A5 has a taught, crisp feel on the road combining rather impressive body control with a super pleasant ride quality with trusty traction from one of the best all-wheel drive systems in the automotive world. The sport suspension feels even tighter yet, though it lacks the trick feature of torque-vectoring available on fancier

     Even though it doesn't offer the speed or the sound of its 6-cylinder rivals, the A5's turbocharged 4-cylinder engine provides enough acceleration and above average real world fuel economy. The only time the power disappoints is when you are driving at speeds you shouldn't be driving at on public roads anyhow. Of course, you can buy 2 hotter versions of this car, the S5, and the RS5, if going through the gates of heaven backwards on fire is your type of thing.

     If you are shopping for a luxury coupe or convertible, I'm sure you are more than aware of the options available. The 2015 BMW 2-series and 4-series are certainly fresher and sportier, while the Mercedes Benz E-Class coupe and convertible are almost nice enough to make the stretch. On the American front, the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe delivers almost the same style and performance, while the dark horse of the bunch is the 2015 Ford Mustang, which you can argue is the most civilized Mustang to date.