Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My last Scion review ever?

Photo from Scion
  It wasn't all that long ago that when buying a subcompact sedan meant that you had to sacrifice performance and comfort as well as foregoing many standard features and optional ones too. You might not have paid much, but you also didn't get alot either. Recent entries into this class have been changing that, and the 2016 Scion iA does no less.

      Packed with features and pretty fun to drive, the iA sets a new standard for the class. You could easily argue that it fits perfectly with the types of cars that Scion loves to build. Really though, the iA is just a rebadged Mazda 2 sedan, and not a Toyota at all.

      The 2016 Scion iA is a subcompact sedan that is offered in only one, but very well equipped trim level. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, low speed forward collision system with automatic braking, full power accessories, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seat, and a/c.
Photo from Scion

      On the technology front, you get a rear-view camera, 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker audio system.

       Under the hood of the 2016 iA is a 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine making good with 106 horsepower and 103 lb. ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels by either the standard 6-speed manual transmission, or a 6-speed automatic. EPA estimates for the auto are 37 mpg combined, and 35 mpg combined for the manual. Both numbers are on the higher end of the scale for this class of car.

      Every iA comes standard with anti-lock brakes, front seat side airbags, and front rear and side curtain airbags as well as stability and traction control.

      Shoppers in the compact sedan segment usually have lower standards in terms of interior refinement, but the 2016 Scion iA raises the bar higher for thoughtful design and comfort. Materials used throughout the cabin are similar to those found in pricier cars, and the infotainment system rivals that of luxury autos.

Photo from Scion
  The front seats have only the most basic of adjustments, but average and shorter people will likely find these seats just fine for longer periods. Taller drivers might have to compromise on positions, since the minimal amount of telescoping from the steering wheel might make them sit closer than they are used to.

       Rear seats are typical for the class, meaning the rear is better suited for small passengers due to the lack of head and legroom. The tall door panels and small side windows also serve to make you feel more confined. Cargo capacity is above average for the class at 13.5 cubic feet, and the short liftover height and remote folding seatback make things even better.

Photo from Scion
      With only modest power coming from the tiny 4-cylinder engine, the 2016 Scion iA requires some space and time to get up to highway speeds. A tap of the sport button for models equipped with the automatic sharpens response and keeps the revs higher, but you still need to keep your foot planted. With the underpinnings of the Mazda 2, the Scion benefits from the handling that Mazda is known for. Reactions to steering input are quick and predictable, making it one of the more fun to drive cars in this class. It also delivers a smooth and compliant ride, while wind and road noise are also present, but never overbearing.

Big and Bad, in good ways

Photo from Toyota.com
Rowdy, off-road ready truck based SUV's were once all the rage. However, shoppers soon discovered that bouncy rides and poor fuel economy were also part of that deal. That ushered in the era of the crossover, which look alot like SUV's, but lack the truck based toughness. There are only a hand full of traditional SUV's left these days, and the 2016 Toyota 4Runner stands proudly among them. Boasting available 3-row seating, a spacious cargo hold, and the Toyota reputation for reliability, the 4Runner stays true to its roots as a hairy-chested beast ready for almost anything.

      The 2016 Toyota 4Runner is a midsize SUV offered in 4 trim levels: SR5, Trail, TRD Pro, and Limited. The SR5 and Trail are divided into base and Premium sub trims. Five passenger seating is standard, but an optional 50/50 split third row seat is available on SR5 and Limited trims.

Photo from Toyota.com
      The SR5 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, skid plates, mud guards, a tow hitch, hill start assist and hill descent control, a rear-view camera, fog lights, heated exterior mirrors, rear privacy glass, LED tail-lamps, roof rails, a power lift-gate window, windshield wiper de-icer, keyless entry, cruise control, a/c with second row vents, cloth upholstery, 6-way power driver seat, a leather wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and 40/20/40 split folding and reclining rear seats. Standard electronics include Bluetooth, and an 8-speaker sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen interface.

      The SR5 Premium adds a sunroof, upgraded exterior mirrors, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, power front passenger seat, an auto dimming rear view mirror, and an upgraded version of Entune as well as a navigation system.

      Go with the 4WD only Trail trim and you will get the base SR5 equipment plus unique 17-inch alloy wheels, hood scoop, silver exterior trim accents, locking rear differential, selectable terrain modes and crawl control. The Trail Premium adds all of the SR5 Premium equipment.

      The TRD Pro comes with most of the Trail Premium's standard equipment, and adds matte black 17-inch wheels with special off road tires, automatic headlamps, TRD-stamped aluminium skid plate, Bilstein shocks, upgraded front springs, higher ride height, a unique black front grille and various TRD themed aesthetic upgrades.

Photo from Toyota.com
  The 4Runner Limited includes most of the Trail Premium's content but it lacks the mud guards, locking rear differential, terrain-mode select and crawl control. It's optional full time 4WD instead employs a locking center differential. Other highlights include 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive roll-reducing dampers, automatic headlamps, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, dual zone auto a/c, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and a 15 speaker JBL sound system.

      The 2016 Toyota 4Runner uses a 4.0 liter V6 engine that makes 270 horsepower and 278 lb. ft of torque. Your only transmission is a 5-speed automatic. The SR5 and Limited models are either rear-wheel drive or 4WD, while Trail and TRD Pro are 4WD only. When properly equipped, you can tow up to 5,000 lbs with your 4Runner. In performance testing, a 4Runner Trail went from 0-60 mph in about 8 seconds, which is average in the class. EPA numbers come in at 19 mpg combined for rear-wheel drive models and 18 mpg combined for the 4WD equipped models.

      Standard safety features on the 2016 4Runner include anti-lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and active front head rests. A rear-view camera is standard across all models, but front and rear parking sensors are only optional on the Limited trim.

      In brake testing, my 4Runner tester was able to come to a stop from 60 mph in about 132, which is on the long side for an SUV, but still not bad for something off-road oriented. Crash testing by the government earned the 4Runner 4-out of 5 stars for overall crash protection.
Photo from Toyota.com

      The interior of the 2016 Toyota 4Runner features instruments and controls that are well laid out and easy to use. Most owners will be satisfied with the quality of the cabin materials, which are geared more towards durability than looking good. If you want something more plush, a Jeep Grand Cherokee might be a better option.

      All 4Runner's come with a touchscreen audio interface mounted high up on the center stack. Depending on which trim level you opted for, you get various degrees of functionality from the Entune system. All trims except for the base SR5 and Trail include a navigation system.

      As for passenger accommodations, the 2016 4Runner's 5-passenger seating arrangement does include a 40/20/40 split folding and reclining second row. The optional third row might be a tempting option if you carpool, but it does have one of the tightest and smallest third rows of any offering in this class.

      In all actuality, the space in back is better suited for cargo than anything else. There is a enormous 47 cubic feet behind the second row of seats, and that number grows to 89.7 cubic feet with the seats folded down.

Photo from Toyota.com
      The 4Runner is designed to provide utility for when the pavement ends. It is at it's best when you are plugging along on off road trails, and the extra off road goodies on the Trail and TRD Pro trims only add to that fun. At the same time, it is refined enough for being a daily driver, though lots of bumps make it into the cabin, as with many other truck based vehicles. The 4Runner's steering feels a bit light in normal driving situations, but it is ideal for off roading.

The engine is strong for most uses, but there is no denying that you can get more power from the V8 equipped rivals. The 4Runner's 5-speed automatic transmission provides well-timed shifts, but another gear wouldn't hurt it either.

A Compact CUV


Photo from Mazda
Although Mazda is one of the smallest automakers, it keeps cranking out cars that can go toe to toe with cars from the larger automakers. Case in point, enter the 2016 Mazda CX-3. A subcompact CUV, it combines the maneuverability of a small hatch with the extra height of a crossover. It also features optional all-wheel drive, Mazda's trademark sporty handling, and a stylish, sporty interior with a touch screen interface.

      Another welcome trait for the CX-3 is fuel economy. With front-wheel drive, you can see up to 31 mpg combined, while equipped with all wheel drive, you can see up to 29 mpg combined. Both numbers are at the top of the class, and made even better when you factor in that the CX-3 has enough power to get out of its' own way.

      The 2016 Mazda CX-3 is a subcompact crossover available in trims of Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring.

Photo from Mazda
      The base Sport starts with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, dual exhaust outlets, rear roof spoiler, variable intermittent wipers, cloth upholstery, push button ignition, height adjustable driver seat, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, full power accessories, cruise control, a.c, Bluetooth, rear-view camera, 6-speaker audio system, voice controls, and a 7-inch touchscreen interface.

      The Touring adds heated mirrors, blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert, keyless entry and ignition, front row center arm rest, leatherette and cloth upholstery, heated front seats, and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

      The Grand Touring adds 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlamps, LED fog lights and tail-lamps, sunroof, upgraded instrumentation, head-up display, leather and synthetic suede upholstery, navigation system, auto a/c, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, rear cargo cover, and a 7-speaker Bose audio system.

      Optional only on the Grand Touring is the i-Activsense package that includes automatic high beam headlamp control, automatic wipers, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and a forward collision mitigation system with auto braking.

Photo from Mazda
The 2016 Mazda CX-3 is equipped with a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder engine rated at 146 horsepower and 146 lb. ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission option. Front wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is an option on all trim levels. In performance testing, my tester was able to do the 0-60 mph run in about 8.5 seconds, which is a faster than average pace for this class.

      Every 2016 CX-3 comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, and a rear-view camera. As noted earlier, the Touring adds a blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert, and the Grand Touring adds the i-Activsense package. In brake testing, the CX-3 was able to stop from 60 mph in about 122 feet, which is slightly better than average for the class.

      The 2016 Mazda CX-3's cabin shows great execution overall, with high quality materials and a design that conveys style and sophistication. The Grand Touring's large center mounted tach and integrated speedometer are easy to read and great to look at, the head-up display however looks cheap, and is pointless if you are a taller driver. Lower trims make do with a cheaper looking gauge cluster. All of the trims benefit from the 7-inch touchscreen interface. It has sharp graphics, and I like the back-up control knob on the center console.

      The front seats of the CX-3 deliver outstanding comfort for this class, with pleasantly firm support for long drives, and ample bolstering for more spirited drives. As with most subcompact crossovers, rear passenger comfort largely depends on who is sitting in front of you.
Photo from Mazda

      Cargo capacity is modest, checking in at 12.4 cubic feet of space, and 44.5 cubic feet with the seats folded down. That is with the standard stereo system. If you opt for the Bose system, the trunk-mounted subwoofer cuts the numbers down to 10.1 and 42.3 respectively.

      The CX-3 is certainly at the top of the class in terms of speed, rivaled only by the Nissan Juke. Handling is great thanks to precise steering and nimble reflexes. The engine sounds a little harsh above 4,000 rpm, but it gets the job done, giving you ample acceleration and smooth shifts with the auto transmission.

      In every day driving, the CX-3's ride is on the firm side, especially when you have the Grand Touring's 18-inch wheels. If you are considering that trim, you might want to check out the Touring, as the ride is likely to be better with the 16-inch wheels. Either way, it is hard to go wrong with this Mazda.

Monday, May 23, 2016

This is what the Toyota Matrix should have been

Photo from Toyota.com
If you only did a casual look-through of the 2016 Scion iM, you might be impressed. This little hatchback looks pretty good, gets pretty good gas mileage, and is packed full of features. But as you get closer, that twinkle starts to fade.

      To start things off, it isn't quite as exciting as the styling would suggest. It shares its underpinnings with the Toyota Corolla, and while it is more fun to drive than its' cousin, it falls short of sharper compact hatches, like the Ford Focus. Performance is also a major factor. Not only is it slower than most of the competition, but the fuel economy numbers are also not really anything to note.

      On the plus side, the iM does deliver a comfortable ride without being to firm or soft. The front seats also earn honorable mention for the comfort they  provide on longer trips. While the overall cargo space isn't very remarkable, there are plenty of smaller spaces to put smaller items. As such, the iM is more suited to the more active, urban dwelling crowd that need a daily driver that can handle a random road trip.

Photo from Toyota.com
      The 2016 Scion iM comes in one well appointed trim level. Standard features include things like 17-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, automatic headlamps, power folding heated mirrors, full power accessories, keyless entry and ignition, dual zone auto a/c, a tilt and telescoping leather wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, 60/40 split folding rear seats, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, 7-inch touchscreen and 6-speaker sound system.

      Options include a navigation system, ambient interior lighting, and various sporty body enhancements. You can also get performance enhancements that include an air filter, stiffer sway bars, and lowering springs.

      Powering the 2016 Scion iM is a 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder engine that produces 137 horsepower and 126 lb. ft of torque. Power is delivered to the front wheels via either a 6-speed manual transmission, or a CVT. In performance testing, my CVT equipped iM did the run to 60 mph in about 10 seconds, which puts it with the likes of the Fiat 500. Fuel economy numbers are 31 mpg combined for the manual transmission, and and 32 mpg combined for the CVT.

Photo from Toyota.com
Standard safety features for the 2016 iM include anti-lock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, and a front passenger seat cushion airbag. In brake testing, the iM stops from 60 mph in 123 feet.

      The interior of the Scion iM is competitive in terms of design and material quality, and is truly better than anything that has worn the Scion badge. There are plenty of soft touch areas, with the center console featuring a leather padded portion for the driver's knee. I'm also a fan of the 7-inch touchscreen, which is easy to reach, as well as very easy to use. The standard dual zone auto a/c is also a nice touch.

      If you are taller, you can appreciate the head and leg room, the some extra steering wheel telescoping would be nice. The rear seat isn't quite as nice, but there is a good amount of headroom, and legroom falls below average for the class. Cargo capacity is also smaller than others in the class, with only 20.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats. However, the wide opening makes upright hatch design provides useful space.

Photo from Toyota.com
      Despite the sporty styling, the iM has performance that is just adequate. The 4-cylinder engine is rather thrashy and almost gutless, and the acceleration is poor, as expected. The competition is not only more powerful, but better on gas as well. The only bright spot would be the CVT, which does a good job of selecting the proper ratio without being a burden.

      I am also impressed with the ride quality of the iM, which soaks up the bumps, but still has enough firmness to inspire confidence in the twisty bits. However, there is plenty of body-roll, and the steering is devoid of almost any feeling. Overall, it falls short of the standard set by other compact hatchbacks, but I can see why it made the jump to Toyota after the closing of Scion was announced.

My Final tC review


Photo from Toyota.com
Toyota had created Scion to inject some youthful life into a company that was seen as studgy. At this point, it is safe to say that they achieved their goal, offering a range of small, reasonably priced cars that you can make your own. The 2016 Scion tC is a 2-door, 4-seat hatchback coupe that fits right in the middle of the Scion range. While it's not the fastest car in the line-up, it is still capable and has mass appeal.

      Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED front accent lamps,folding side mirrors with LED turn indicators, keyless entry and ignition, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a panoramic sunroof with dual manual sunshades, a six-way adjustable (manual) driver seat with height adjustment and one-touch track and seatback angle memory, a leather-wrapped shift knob and tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, silver interior accents, reclining and folding 60/40-split rear seatbacks, Bluetooth connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen display, voice controls and an eight-speaker Pioneer sound system with HD radio, Aha smartphone-app integration, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB port.

      The front-wheel-drive 2016 Scion tC has a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine that generates 179 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard, while a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters and automatic rev-matching on downshifts is optional. During testing, my tC equipped with the manual transmission did the run to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, while an auto equipped tC did the same run in 7.8 seconds. Both are good times for the class.

Photo from Toyota.com
      Standard safety features include traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, front knee airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and active front head rests. In brake testing, the tC stopped from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is average for the class.

      As with the exterior, the 2016 Scion tC's cabin has an overtly sporty look. With its thick, flat-bottom steering wheel, cradling seat bolsters and controls canted toward the driver, the tC strives for a high-performance sports car aesthetic. Unfortunately, the cabin's ambience is sullied a bit by the abundance of cheap plastic trim and thinly padded armrests. Happily, the touchscreen interface is clear and easy to use, and its smartphone integration connects Internet radio, Yelp and other popular social media applications.

      From the standpoint of practicality, the tC is a top choice among compact coupes. The rear seats have above-average legroom, and getting in and out of the back is exceptionally easy by two-door standards. The rear seatbacks even recline, a feature typically found in crossover SUVs (and never in this segment). Behind the rear seats the tC can hold up to 14.7 cubic feet of cargo, while folding those seatbacks yields a total of 34.5 cubic feet of space. The hatchback body style also means it's easier to load bulky items in the tC than in traditional coupes like the Kia Forte Koup.

Photo from Toyota.com
      Though the 179-hp four-cylinder engine in the 2016 Scion tC isn't the most thrilling powertrain in the class, it's got enough power to pull the tC around with some authority. This is the same workhorse motor used in the Camry and other products in the wider Toyota family, but since the tC is relatively small and light, it feels more eager here. If you're up for shifting your own gears, the six-speed manual is smooth and easy to operate. But the more popular automatic is just fine (it even matches revs for you on downshifts) and fuel economy won't suffer, either.

On the road, the tC may not be particularly exciting compared to the rear-drive FR-S, but well-weighted, precise steering and the car's light-on-its-tires nature make for respectable fun. The ride quality is mediocre, however, as surface irregularities seem to produce more jiggles and vibrations than the norm. Additional drawbacks include excessive tire noise and an incessant exhaust drone that sounds more like a leaf blower than a sporty coupe.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Can This Forte make an inroad?

Photo from Kia.com
Kia redesigned the Forte for the 2014 model year, and the results were amazing. Here is a car that in any of its iterations, sedan, hatchback, or coupe, that offers a decent price, acceptable acceleration, generous standard features, and a comfortable cabin with good material quality. Regardless of the body style you prefer, you might find the 2016 Kia Forte to be one of the most attractive options.

      The 2016 Forte keeps that ball rolling with nothing more than minor tweaks and option changes. You can get three different engines on the 2016 Kia Forte, and 2 out of those 3 offer competitive power and acceleration. The 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine make it one of the quickest cars in the segment, while an even stronger 1.6 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is optional on the SX versions of the coupe and hatchback. If you place economy ahead of power, than rest assured that all of the Kia Forte's powertrains offer competitive fuel economy.

      The 2016 Kia Forte is available as a sedan in LX and EX trim levels, The 2-door coupe is offered in both EX and sportier SX trims, while you can get the hatchback in all 3 trim levels.

Photo from Kia.com
      Standard features on the LX sedan include  15-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, a/c, full power accessories, trip computer, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, height adjustable driver seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, and a 4-speaker sound system.

      Optional on the LX is the Popular Package, which includes automatic headlamps, cruise control, upgraded interior upholstery and trim, rear seat armrest, rear view camera, a 4.3 inch touchscreen and 6 speakers. There is also a Popular Plus package, which adds all of the above, as well as 16-inch alloy wheels.

      Upgrade to the EX and you will enjoy all of that plus the more powerful 2.0 liter engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, LED running lights, power folding outside mirrors, a leather wrapped steering wheel, adjustable steering effort and a cooling glovebox.

      For the EX there is an optional Premium Package that includes a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, auto dimming rear view mirror, leather upholstery, heated front seats, 7-inch touchscreen, a navigation system, and Uvo.

      On top of this you can add the EX Premium Plus package that adds LED tail lamps, 10-way power driver seat with ventilation, driver memory settings, a heated steering wheel, dual zone a/c, an upgraded gauge cluster and heated outboard rear seats.

Photo from Kia.com
      From a features standpoint, the EX hatchback and coupe essentially mirror the sedan. The SX versions include those features but add a turbocharged engine, larger front brakes, 18-inch wheels and unique front and rear styling. The EX and SX's Premium Tech packages pretty much provide the options found in the Premium and Premium Plus packages.

      The Forte LX is powered by a 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine making 145 horsepower and 130 lb ft of torque. Power is to the front wheels by either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto transmission. EPA ratings are 31 mpg combined with the auto, and 30 mpg combined with the manual.

      The EX gets a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine kicking out 173 horsepower and 154 lb. ft of torque. This engine only comes with the 6-speed auto transmission. EPA ratings are 28 mpg combined for both the sedan and hatchback body styles.

The SX versions of the Forte Koup and hatchback come with a 1.6 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that thumps out 201 horsepower and 195 lb. ft of torque, On both body styles, you can get either the 6-speed manual, or 6-speed auto transmission. EPA numbers for the 1.6 are 25 mpg combined with the manual, and 25 mpg combined with the auto.

      Every 2016 Kia Forte comes standard with anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rear-view camera is optional on the LX and standard on the EX. Uvo is also optional, and works much like OnStar.

Photo from Kia.com
      In brake testing, my Forte5 SX tester stopped from 60 mph in 114 feet, which is starting to get a little on the long side for this segment. The Forte also earned 5 out of 5 stars for overall crash protection.

      The 2016 Kia Forte is much more than an econobox stuffed full of gadgets. Boasting an attractive cabin that is trimmed with quality materials in the higher trim levels, the Forte gives the more premium brand compacts a run for their money. Also, the Forte's high tech features are well designed and easy to use. Seat comfort front and rear in the sedan are good. The Koup's back seat is also large enough for adults, and resonably easy to get to. The driver seat on the Koup is mounted higher for those of us who might be vertically challenged, but for those that aren't, it creates a headroom issue.

      The 2.0 liter engine in the Forte EX is one of the more responsive engines in this class. Although the output doesn't lead to blazing acceleration, the Forte EX is certainly faster than most. However, this powertrain can be loud and buzzy at points. The available 1.6 liter turbo engine in the Koup and hatchback have the power to turn this into a speedy little car.

      The auto transmission provides smooth shifts, and is surprisingly responsive during downshifts in more spirited situations. The manual transmission is slick-shifting and makes the most of the 1,6 liter engines' power.

      Most of the shoppers in this segment will likely be ok with the overall ride quality of the Forte. However, the suspension can occasionally be a tad firm and unrefined. Rougher roads provide a somewhat busier feeling, while rivals feel more controlled. While the Forte feels steady on the twisty bits, other cars give you a more connected feeling.

A Best Seller for a reason

Photo from Toyota.com
      The balancing act continues for the 2016 Toyota Camry. With nimble, aggressively styled rivals nipping at its rear bumper, Toyota debuted an all new Camry for the 2015 model year. At the same time, the Camry faithful demand things like an easy to use control layout, and a quiet, smooth ride. Serving up these 2 traits will likely keep the Toyota Camry at the front of the pack.

      The 2016 Toyota Camry is a 5 passenger midsize sedan available in LE, SE, Special Edition, XSE, and XLE trim levels. The Camry Hybrid may be reviewed at a later date.

      Standard equipment on the base LE trim includes 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, heated mirrors, a/c, keyless entry, a rear view camera, cruise control, 8-way power driver seat, 60/40 split folding rear seats, cloth upholstery, a 6.1 inch touchscreen with Entune, voice controls, Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, and a 6-speaker sound system.

      The SE builds on the LE by adding 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport tuned suspension, sporty exterior styling, cloth and synthetic leather upholstery, a leather trimmed steering wheel with paddle shifters, and a 4.2 inch driver information screen.

      Optional on the LE and SE is an Entune Audio package which includes a 7-inch touchscreen, satellite and HD radio. A sunroof is also an option.

Photo from Toyota.com
      The SE based Special Edition gets the Entune Audio package and a sunroof as standard, as well as 18-inch wheels, smoked tail lights, keyless entry and ignition, blue interior trim, unqiue gauges, and Qi wireless charging for your smart phone.

      The XSE doesn't come standard with the sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, or the wireless phone charger, but it does retain the sport tuned suspension, and adds different 18-inch wheels, LED running lights, leather and synthetic suede upholstery, heated front seats, a 4-way power passenger seat, and dual zone a/c.

      A Convenience package is offered on the SE and 4-cylinder XSE trims that includes keyless entry and ignition, and an auto dimming rear view mirror.

      The XLE is similarly equipped to the XSE, but switches to the LE's comfort tuned suspension and forgo's the sporty styling elements. it has 17-inch alloy wheels and leather upholstery.

      The sunroof is optional on the SE, 4-cylinder XSE and XLE, while the wireless phone charging is optional on the latter 2 trims.

Photo from Toyota.com
  Of note is that the V6 powered versions of the XSE and XLE get a few extra goodies, like LED headlamps, a noise reducing windshield, the sunroof, Convenience package, the wireless smartphone charger, and an upgraded Entune system. The latter is optional on all but the LE, as is a navigation system.

      Optional on the XSE and XLE is a blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert, a Technology package, and a 10-speaker JBL audio system.

      Every 2016 Toyota Camry trim comes standard with front wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic, and a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque.

      In testing, a 4-cylinder Camry LE did the run to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, which is average for the class.

      The XSE and XLE trims also offer a 3.5 liter V6 engine that produces 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. An XSE that I tested last year did the sprint to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which is quick for the class in a car with the upgraded engine.

      EPA estimated fuel economy numbers for the 4-banger are 28 mpg combined, while the V6 comes in at 25 mpg combined.

Photo from Toyota.com
      Every 2016 Camry comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, front knee airbags, full length side curtain airbags, and a rear view camera.

      The XSE and XLE can be equipped with a blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert. The Technology package adds a lane departure warning system, and a collision mitigation system. Optional on the XLE only is Safety Connect.

      In brake testing, my tester was able to stop from 60 mph in about 123 feet, which is on the longer side for this class. In government crash test ratings, the 2016 Toyota Camry was able to earn 5 out of 5 stars for overall crash protection.

      The 2016 Toyota Camry provides one of the largest and most comfortable in the midsize sedan class. There is plenty of headroom and legroom up front, and hardly much less in the rear. Moreover, a rear facing child seat can fit in the back with no problems at all, unless you are child seat deficient like me. Of note on this subject, the fixed rear headrests can make installing a forward facing seat a bit of a chore. With the trunk rated at an average 15.4 cubic feet, you shouldn't have much of a problem fitting luggage for the family in there.

      From the driver's seat, most of the physical buttons that you touch are surely large enough, easy to understand at a quick glance, and are even glove friendly. The smartly designed climate controls should get praise for their simple, logical operation.

Photo from Toyota.com
      Thanks to a host of improvements last year, the 2016 Toyota Camry is more responsive to inputs from the steering wheel, and more composed when going around the twisty bits. This is especially true of the SE, Special Edition, and XSE trims which dial up the driver engagement level with their sport tuned suspensions.

Of course, the Camry has been long known for its comfort and quietness, and thankfully, those traits still make an appearance. Even the sport tuned suspensions have a plush ride, but the LE and XLE certainly have the most. Under the hood, the base 4-cylinder engine delivers enough power for everyday driving, but for those of us that like more power and seemingly endless thrust, the V6 is the engine of choice for the 2016 Toyota Camry.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Performance Overload

Photo from Audi.com
Few things in life can kick rational thoughts to the curb, and the 2016 Audi S7 is certainly one of them. The rational decision would be to purchase the cheaper, but still just as good A7 hatchback, on which the S7 is based. However, the S7 kicks it up a few notches from its sister, by adding a 450 horsepower, turbocharged V8 to the mix, along with upgraded suspension and brakes. Saying this, the S7 is quick enough to hang with most sports cars in a straight line, and it goes around corners with more pizazz. Good luck going with the rational option when you have that kind of performance under your foot.

      The 2016 Audi S7 comes in one rather well equipped trim level. Unlike the A7, which can seat 3 people in the rear, the S7 has 2 distinctive seats, meaning it can only hold up to 4 passengers total.

      Standard features include 19-inch wheels, full LED exterior lighting, an adaptive air suspension, sunroof, power lift gate, heated and auto-dimming mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system and keyless entry and ignition. Inside, you will find a head-up display, a driver information center with a 7-inch screen between the gauges, Audi Drive Select, diamond-stitched leather upholstery, 8-way power heated front sport seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with paddle shifters, driver memory settings, 4-zone auto a/c, Audi MMI, a rear view camera, a navigation system with voice controls, Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth, and a 14-speaker Bose audio system.

Photo from Audi.com
      Options for the S7 come in a number of different packages. The Cold Weather package adds heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel that lacks the flat bottom design, while the Driver Assistance package adds automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, a corner view camera parking system, and Audi Pre-Sense Plus. The Comfort Seating package comes with contour front seats with ventilation and massaging features, passenger memory settings, comfort rear seats and leather upholstery without the diamond stitching.

      The Sport package comes with variable ratio steering, a sport rear differential, and a sport exhaust with black tailpipes. The Black Optic package adds special 20-inch wheels, body color exterior mirrors, a blacked out grill, and gloss black window surrounds.

      Individual options consist of 20-inch wheels, power closing doors, a faux-suede headliner, night vision assist, rear side airbags, and a 20 speaker B&O sound system.

      Under the hood of the 2016 Audi S7 is a turbocharged, 4.0 liter V8 that pounds out 450 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft of torque to all four wheels. Shifting is done via a 7-speed automated manual transmission.

Photo from Audi.com
  In testing, the S7 made the sprint to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, which is considerably quicker than most other offerings in the class. Also impressive is the EPA rating of 21 mpg.

      Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, front seat side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, and front knee airbags. Front and rear parking sensors, a rear view camera, lane keep assist, and a blind spot monitoring system are also standard as well. Rear side airbags and a corner view camera, however, are optional. In brake testing, the S7 stopped from 60 mph in about 112 feet, which is average for this class.

      In usual Audi fashion, the 2016 S7 interior is characterized by a sleek, attractive design and top-notch materials quality, with some S-specific measures thrown in for giggles. The standard MMI system features a dash mounted display screen, while controls are center console mounted. The system boasts logical menus, good graphics, and a touchpad to enhance the experience. Certain other systems may be easier to get used to, but MMI should become second nature in a short amount of time for most shoppers.

      Whether you stick with the standard sport seats or opt for the massaging contour seats, you'll enjoy excellent support during every drive you take. However, due to the design of the S7, rear seat headroom is on the small side for averaged sized folks. Legroom is good, thankfully, and there is something to be said for the snug fit of the rear buckets versus the bench found in the A7.

Photo from Audi.com
      The S7's handy hatchback design allows for easier loading of items that wouldn't fit in the trunk of a normal sedan. Official luggage space is rated at 24.5 cubic feet, while lowering the rear seats will give you even more space.

      With 450 horsepower itching to be set free, the 2016 Audi S7 is a pretty quick car by any means. Throw in the crisp shifting transmission, and all wheel drive, and you have at your hands one of the most satisfying and rewarding powertrains known to mankind. It is worth noting that the RS7 makes do with a conventional auto transmission, so the S7 might feel a little more quicker and responsive when you are manually selecting gears.

      The S7's standard adaptive air suspension delivers a smooth ride along with plenty capable handling, a herculian task that once again sets Audi apart from everybody else. Around turns, the S7 can feel like the heavy and sizable car that it is, but it does inspire confidence in the driver, no matter the situation. In short, few 4-doors can match what the S7 can do.

German Luxury

If the 2016 Audi A6 were a baseball player, it would be a player molded in the likes of Derek Jeter, the type of celebrity athlete who does everything but sell the food and beer. Indeed, with it's expertly crafted cabin, roomy interior, athletic handling, and strong yet fuel-friendly engine line-up, this Audi treats its occupants rather well, and looks sharp while doing it.

Photo from Audi.com
      The overall sense of refinement is perhaps the A6's most notable trait. Underway, the engines are smooth, and provide performance stronger than their respectable numbers would suggest.

      The 2016 Audi A6 is a midsize luxury sedan offered in 6 trim levels; 2.0T Premium, 2.0T Premium Plus, 3.0T Premium Plus, 3.0T Prestige, TDI Premium Plus, and TDI Prestige. The 2.0T, 3.0T and TDI designations denote the engine equipped, like the 2.0T Premium is equipped with a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. The S6 will hopefully be reviewed at a later time.

      Standard equipment for the 2.0T Premium includes 18-inch wheels, Audi Drive Select, automatic xenon headlamps, LED running lights and tail lamps, automatic wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, sunroof, tri-zone auto a/c, heated 8-way power front seats, driver memory settings, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, Audi MMI, a 6.5 inch display screen, and a 10 speaker audio system.

     Going with the 2.0T Premium Plus gives you front and rear parking sensors, a rear view camera, blind spot monitoring system, Pre-Sense Rear, power folding exterior mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, an 8-inch display screen, a voice-activated navigation system, Bluetooth, an upgraded MMI with enhanced controller, and Audi Connect.

      The 3.0T Premium Plus is equipped much like the 2.0T version, but adds chrome exterior bits, a stop-start system for the engine, and a power adjustable steering wheel.

Photo from Audi.com
      Going with the 3.0T Prestige gets you adaptive LED head lamps, ambient LED cabin lighting, a power open and close trunk, head-up display, ventilated front seats, power lumber for the front passenger seat, a 14 speaker Bose audio system, and the Warm Weather Package.

      The TDI Premium Plus is equipped like the gas version, as does the TDI Prestige.

      The 2016 Audi A6 2.0T is powered by a turbocharged, 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 252 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft of torque. Front wheel drive and a 7-speed automated manual are standard, but you can get it equipped with Quattro, or all-wheel drive, which comes with a conventional 8-speed auto. The EPA says you can expect 28 mpg with the front wheel drive version, and 26 mpg combined with the all wheel drive version.

      The Audi A6 3.0T gets a supercharged, 3.0 liter V6 engine that produces 333 horsepower and 325 lb.ft of torque. The 8-speed auto and all wheel drive are standard, as is stop-start technology. EPA fuel economy estimates come in at 24 mpg combined.

      The Audi A6 TDI gets a turbocharged 3.0 liter diesel V6 that cranks out a whopping 240 horsepower and 428 lb.-ft of torque. Like the 3.0T, it is paired up with the 8-speed auto and all wheel drive. Fuel economy comes in at a very respectable 29 mpg combined.

Photo from Audi.com
Standard safety equipment includes things like anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, front seat side airbags, front knee airbags, and full length curtain airbags. Rear side airbags, rear view and top view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, and a night vision camera system are all optional. In government crash testing, the Audi A6 earned 5 stars for overall crash protection.

      The 2016 Audi A6 has one of the best cabins in its class, with an attractive dash layout, excellent materials quality as well as fit and finish. The familiar MMI system controls an astounding amount of functions using a pop up screen and a rotary controller as well as buttons on the center console. The system boasts logical menus and crisp graphics, and the MMI Plus upgrade includes USB integration and a touchpad that can recognize fingertip scrawls.

      The A6's front seats are supportive and comfortable, even on longer trips. The rather spacious back seat offers more real-world legroom than most other cars in the class. The A6's 14.1 cubic foot trunk is a little smaller than average, but the rear seat backs fold or offer a pass through when more space is needed.

      The 2016 Audi A6 is a fun car to drive, especially considering the size and weight of the car. It changes directions eagerly, with plenty of grip coming from all 4 corners. Not many midsize luxury sedans forge such a satisfying connection with the driver. One small demerit is the overall light and numb feeling of the steering, however that effort level firms up as you gain confidence in the car.

Photo from Audi.com
      The 2.0T and 3.0T offer spirited acceleration as well as quick and unobtrusive shifts from either the 8-speed auto, or the new 7-speed automated manual in the front drive 2.0T. If cost wasn't an issue, the TDI would be the pick of the litter, as it provides a large mountain of torque, and by far the best fuel economy of the power plant options.

      Although the A6 has a composed ride that you might hardly ever consider harsh, it certainly is firm, and there are more rough jolts than you might like on rough pavement. For this reason alone, you might want to forgo the 20-inch wheels and the stiffer suspension offered with the Sport package. The regular A6 rides and handles just fine with the standard 18-inch wheels and all season tires.

Hot Hatch Legend

Photo from VW.com
 You never quite outgrow a machine like the VW Golf GTI. A super versatile machine, the GTI has all the space and comfort of any other Golf, but thanks to the professional performance enhancements, it's loads of fun to drive. This formula is what gave the GTI legendary status, and it carries through to the current model.

      The redesign completed last year made the GTI a more visually entertaining model than previous years. While not totally different in personality from recent GTI models, the current model has more responsive steering and brakes that make it far more capable and fun to drive on country roads. Accelerating out of the turns is made easier by the equally legendary 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine packed into the engine bay on the 2016 VW Golf GTI.

     The 2016 VW Golf GTI is offered in 2, and 4-door hatchback body styles, while being offered in trim levels of S, SE, and Autobahn. All-season tires are standard on all trims, and summer performance tires are a no-cost option.

     Standard features for the base GTI S 2-door include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED fog lights, rear spoiler, heated mirrors, cruise control, a/c, cooled glovebox, plaid cloth upholstery, heated front seats, a leather wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, rear 60/40 split folding rear seats, a 6.5 inch touchscreen technology interface, Bluetooth, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, rear view camera, and much more. 4-door versions of the S also get power reclining front seats.

     Available on all GTI's is the Performance package, which includes an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential, larger front and rear brakes, and an extra 10 ponies.

Photo from VW.com
     Stepping up to the GTI SE adds a sunroof, auto headlamps and wipers, keyless ignition and entry, leather upholstery, and a Fender Audio System. The range topping GTI Autobahn adds a navigation system, 10-way power drivers seat, and dual zone a/c.

     Any GTI can be ordered with the Lighting Package, which includes adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and LED running lights. Optional on the SE and Autobahn models equipped with the Performance Package is Dynamic Chassis Control which provides driver-adjustable shocks and a larger rear stabilizer bar. Optional on any SE or Autobahn model, the Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a frontal collision warning system with emergency brake assist, lane departure warnings, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alerts, automated parallel parking and an auto dimming rear view mirror.

     The front wheel drive 2016 VW Golf GTI uses a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine the produces 210 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft of the good stuff. If you opt for the Performance Package, you get an extra 10 hp, for a total of 220 horsepower. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, and VW's DSG automated manual is optional.

     During testing, a 4-door GTI with the optional Performance Package and a 6-speed manual did the traditional 0-60 mph run in 6.0 seconds. Fairly quick for sporty compact cars.

Photo from VW.com
     Standard safety features on the 2016 VW GTI include anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes, automatic hill-hold, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and a drivers knee airbag. A post-crash braking system is also standard and automatically applies the brakes to reduce the chances of a secondary crash. A rear view camera is standard while front and rear parking sensors are part of the optional Driver Assistance package. Said package also includes a frontal collision warning system, lane departure warnings, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alerts.

 In brake testing, a 4-door GTI with the summer performance tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 108 feet, which is a really short distance. In government crash testing, the 2-door GTI earned 5-stars for overall crash protection.

     You will fall in love with the interior of the 2016 VW GTI within 30 seconds of getting inside. It really is just that good. Materials are well grained and soft to the touch, and the overall design is European, comfortable and sporty thanks to bold red stitching. Buttons and switches are placed close to the driver and offer simple, easy to use controls.

     Every 2016 GTI includes a 6.5 inch touchscreen with all new software behind it. Autobahn models also include navigation, but with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility across all trims, you don't really need a factory nav system anymore. The touchscreen is still small compared to the 8-inch screen that you get in the Focus ST, but it is a huge step forward compared to the screen offered on last year's model. Also, a universal USB port is finally included.
Photo from VW.com

     Passenger space is excellent for this class. The front seats provide good support and comfort, even during long driving stints. Best of all, it doesn't come with the sacrifice of rear seat passenger space either. Wide, tall doors combined with a moderately high seat make this an easy car to get in and out of. Even the 2-door models have good rear seat access. up to 22.8 cubic feet of stuff can be stored behind the rear seats, or up to a massive 52.7 cubic feet of space if you fold the rear seats down.

     The 2016 VW GTI lives up to its hot hatch heritage with sharp handling and steering, brisk acceleration, and a rather manly engine and exhaust note. These are best explored on twisty mountain roads, where the GTI playfully darts around every corner, while giving the driver plenty of confidence.Though all GTI's are fun to drive, you should think about opting for the Performance Package if you are planning on taking the occasional challenging road or a track day or two.

     Either the slick-shifting manual or the well-executed DSG would be a good choice, but for a proper experience, I would go for the manual. When compared to traditional autos, the DSG is quick and smooth, and offers perfectly rev-matched downshifts. However, the DSG can be frustratingly slow to respond to gas pedal inputs when you want to accelerate quickly, or you are slugging along in traffic.

     Although it is comfortable on long drives, the GTI can ride harshly over imperfect pavement, especially when equipped with the summer tires. Models with the adaptive suspension are more forgiving, but not enough so to justify the added expense if you weren't already planning on getting the Performance Package. I have yet to drive a GTI with the all season tires, and there is a decent chance that rubber compound would offer a better ride.