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.