Sunday, October 23, 2016



It's interesting how things coincide sometime.

One recent morning I got an email linking to a story about how the Chevy Camaro had surpassed Ford’s Mustang in sales for September for the first time since October 2014. That afternoon what should show up in my driveway but a new Mustang coupe.

Aha, I told myself, here is a chance to see if the 32 percent drop in sales for the Mustang for the month (compared to a 25 percent rise for the Camaro) was because of something wrong with the Mustang or was it something right for the Camaro.

Well, I can’t say if it was the latter because it has been a while since I have driven a Camaro. I do remember that the last time I did, however, I was impressed with how much attention Chevy had given to the Camaro’s interior. It was nice.

But I can say for sure that it isn’t because of Ford’s doing anything wrong with the Mustang. The company did right by the Mustang when it gave it a redesign for 2015. This is probably the best looking Mustang in several generations and is a much more refined vehicle than the ground-breaking Pony car that dates back to 1964.

It’s much more comfortable than in the past, and the interior exudes a more genteel aura while retaining the traditional Muscle Car attitude. The refinements reflect a combination of strength and stylishness usually found only on performance vehicles at the entry level luxury segment.

With little to be done as far as appearance and mechanics after the 2015 makeover, for 2016 Ford took aim at brushing up technological features such as the company’s new SYNC 3 infotainment system that simplifies operation of such features as audio and navigation via voice or an 8-inch touchscreen at the top of the center stack. It also added some appearance packages and added new colors and optional over-the-top racing stripes, a nod to Mustang’s racing DNA.

The result is a Muscle Car that won’t wear you out while performing routine daily driving chores.

The Mustangs is offered with three engine choices with the Ecoboost four-cylinder having joined the V6 and V8 last year.

The thought of a four-banger under the hood of a Muscle Car may go against the grain for purists, but this is no fuel-sipping, punchless wimp under the hood. The 2.3-liter turbo-4 offers up 310 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 320 pound-feet of torque between 2500 and 4500, which is 10 more horses and 40 more pound-feet of torque than what the V6 offers. And it does do on 87-octane fuel.

Mated with a six-speed manual transmission, the turbo-4 delivers plenty of kick in the performance department, and its throaty roar is pleasing to the ear as well. And, of course, it’s the most fuel-efficient of the engine choices.

With the manual, which I highly recommend, EPA figures are 22 miles-per-gallon city, 31, highway and 25 combined with the turbo-4. Numbers are 21/32/25 with the six-speed automatic.

The V6 is rated at 22 mpg combined with the automatic and 21 with the manual. The V8, with its 435 hp and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, checks in at 19 mpg combined with either transmission.

Frankly, the overall winning package seems to be the turbo-4, that is unless you want to go all out and get the Shelby GT350 or the coming Shelby GT500 Mustang versions. Of course, you’re going to be shopping in the $50,000 to $60,000-plus range for those super cars.

The turbo-4 coupe that served as my test vehicle, the 2.3L Coupe Premium, came with a base MSRP of only $29,300 with extras like adaptive cruise control, the Ecoboost performance package, voice-activated navigation system (plus the destination and delivery charge of $900), and a 12-speaker Shaker Pro Audio system running the total MSRP to $37,540.

Standard equipment included HID projector headlamps, LED fog lamps and signature lighting, LED taillights with sequential turn signals, the 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment systems (also voice activated), dual zone climate control, leather-trimmed seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel (the telescoping function was missing on the previous generation), rear-view camera, and Track Apps (for measuring performance).

What I liked about the 2016 Ford Mustang Coupe Premium: Loved its overall appearance, especially with the optional 19-inch black-painted aluminum wheels. The Ecoboost turbo-4 engine offers a nice combination of throttle response, fuel economy, and engine sound. Oh, yeah. The mustang image that is projected on the ground when approaching the car at night is kind of neat as well.

What I didn’t like about the 2016 Ford Mustang 2.3L Couple Premium: Want to experience your birth again? Just cram your way into the backseat and then extricate yourself by popping headfirst through the rear door jamb and the back of the front seat. You’ll pop out just like your entry on earth. Oh, yeah. That backseat is on the crowded side as well, but I’m not making any more analogies here.

Would I buy the 2016 Ford Mustang 2.3L Coupe Premium? Yes. It’s fun to drive, and I don’t need the extra horsepower from the GT350. Plus it gets that performance using regular fuel.

Friday, October 14, 2016


There was a time — and not all that long ago, by the way — that if you were shopping in the bargain section of the automotive market you had to be prepared to do without many of the creature comforts, and in some instances even safety measures, found on more upscale cars.

Even if the those features were available in the price range of the model you were seeking, and they often weren’t, you had to pay extra.

“Oh,” the salesman would say. “You want a steering wheel? Well, that will cost you extra.”

But “trickle down” isn’t just some economic theory that politicians like to throw out every couple of years to gather a spare vote or two. It also applies to automotive vehicles as well. The niceties introduced on high five-figure or even six-figure vehicles have a tendency to eventually  work their way down the food chain. (Still waiting for that night vision camera from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class to show up, however.)

The “trickling down” goes back to the introduction of such features as power steering, antilock brakes (ABS), and power windows all first shown on luxury makes to more recent advances like rearview cameras, blindspot warning and lane-keeping assist systems, Bluetooth communications, and technological advances like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Many of them are standard on upper trim levels and even available as options on base models of the economy makes.

The Hyundai Elantra I recently had for a week is one example. It’s a new model in the Elantra portfolio and the only thing extra in the total MSRP of $21,610 for this particular Elantra Eco were the $835 destination and delivery fee and $125 for the floor mats. (BTW, mats need to be included in the MSRP period, not serve as a bargaining chip! But that’s the topic for another day.)

The base MSRP of $20,650, which falls between the $17,150 for the SE trim and the  $22,350 for the top-of-the-line Limited, included as standard a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines (i.e., lines that follow input from the steering wheel to show you where you may be headed), cross-traffic detection, blind-spot detection, projector headlamps and LED daytime running lights, a 7-inch touchscreen for audio operation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connection, dual A/C, Bluetooth hands-free phone operation, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats that are height-adjustable for driver and passenger, keyless ignition with push-button start, and a tire monitoring system that not only alerts you to a low tire but also shows the pressure for each of the four wheels so you don’t have to go hunting to find out which one needs some inflation.

Oh. And it also has electronic stability and traction control and anti-lock brakes.

Two optional tech packages that include navigation and HID headlights and adaptive cruise control also are available for a couple of extra thousand dollars depending on which one you choose, but the point here is that you don’t have to go there and still get many features that once were offered only vehicles falling in the luxury class.

But what about performance?

The 2017 Elantra Eco is equipped with a new 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that is rated at a maximum 128 horsepower and 158 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that essentially works like an automatic. That results is fuel economy ratings of 32 miles-per-gallon city, 40 highway and 35 combined. (The SE and Limited models get a 2.0-liter 4-banger with peak horsepower and torque ratings of 147 hp and 132 lb.-ft. mated with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission and delivering fuel economy figures of 29/38/33.)

Don’t let those power numbers fool you. The Elantra Eco is no jack rabbit getting away from intersections, and it’s not the most-fun-to-drive in the segment. But it’s far from boring when set in “Sport” mode. That enlivens the performance over the other two settings, Eco and Normal, and doesn’t cost you that much in fuel mileage (though how much is hard to tell).

In addition to some nice touches and use of quality materials in the interior, not to mention more room for passengers because of the slightly extra overall length (179.9 inches to the 179.1 of the 2016 Elantra), Hyundai also has given the Elantra’s exterior a nice makeover. The front features the company’s new hexagonal grille flanked by catlike headlight components.

Overall, this doesn’t look like what you might associate the typical economy car as looking like. That’s true both inside and outside.

What I liked about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco: The interior is nicely appointed and designed as well as roomy and quiet. Technological features are simple enough to operate. My test vehicle did not come with navigation, but nav systems in Hyundai’s other models have all been very easy to operate been for the non-technological inclined. At 14.5 cubic feet, the trunk is pretty good size for its class.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco: Throttle response can be inconsistent. A couple of times the turbo seemed to lag and then kicked in with a lurch, which can be disconcerting in high traffic.

Would I buy the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco: Yes, though I might take a look at the Limited as well. If you really would like the company’s Sonata sedan but it stretches your budget too much, the Elantra Eco is a very nice alternative.

Thursday, October 6, 2016



When you wade through all the SUVs, crossovers, and performance coupes and sedans — i.e., the “V” series — and get down to basics, the new 2016 CT6 really represents what Cadillac has been all about for well over a century.

That is, a full-size luxury car that coddles customers with lots of room (especially in the backseat where up to over 40 inches of space for your legs is offered) and creature comforts like ventilated front seats power adjustable 20 ways, four-way climate control, and lots of cushy leather surfaces plus standard technological features like navigation, surround-vision camera system, lane departure warning and satellite radio on high-end trims.

That’s on the inside.

On the outside, though not a radical departure in design from its stablemates ATS and CTS, the CT6 has a sleeker profile than Cadillac’s other sedans with a new grille and lighting elements and, thanks to generous use of aluminum throughout the body, is lighter than its competitors, making for an agile performance more appropriate to a midsize car.

Cadillac marketers note that the CT6 has the dimensions of a a short-wheel based BMW 7-Series but is lighter than the BMW 5-Series and 6-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, resulting in — in the words of Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen — “the exhilaration of a true driver’s car.”

Of course, publicists are known for hyperbole, but there’s no mistaking that while this may serve as Cadillac’s new flagship sedan, it doesn’t drive or handle like its predecessors, even when the gearshift is put in normal or “Touring” mode and especially with the 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 (404 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque) under the hood.

The website clocked it at a flat 5.0 seconds, a little over a second quicker than the 2.0-liter turbo (265 hp, 295 lb.-ft.) that serves as the base engine.

Put it in “Sport” mode and the throttle response is even quicker, though I did hear a complaint that the resulting stiffer suspension created a slightly “bumpier” ride.

Go figure.

Frankly, even in “Touring” mode, the ride is not as soft as what was once found on high-end Cadillac models, but I did not find that necessarily a distraction.

All three engines — also available is a 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V6 (335/284) — are mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection via steering wheel-pounded paddle shifters.

Fuel figures with the twin-turbo V6 are 18 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, which are decent numbers considering the power and performance you get. With the four-banger, they are 22/31and with the naturally aspirated V6 18/27. Premium fuel is recommended but not required. Rear-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available.

Pricing for the CT6 covers a wide expanse.

The base model with the four-cylinder engine starts at $54,490, which makes it very competitive in the segment. But the Platinum edition with AWD and the turbo-V6 comes with an MSRP of $88,460, including the $995 destination and delivery charge. That’s getting up there, but that includes all the equipment listed above.

What I liked about the 2016 Cadillac CT6: This is a full-size sedan that doesn’t handle like a full-size sedan. It’s much more nimble, and the four-wheel steering system (which Cadillac dubs Active Rear Steer) enhances accounts for some of that.

I don’t know about the four-banger, but the twin-turbo V6 packs plenty of punch as well without gulping fuel at an alarming rate.

When it comes to amenities, the screen for the navigation system is a nice, large 10.2 inches, and the Bose sound system (standard on the Platinum model) is top-notch. You can adjust some functions by using a pad on the console similar to the way you do on a standard laptop computer.

What I didn’t like about the 2016 Cadillac CT6: Cadillac has refined its “CUE” — it’s an acronym for Cadillac User Experience — system for all that technology and it is much less annoying to operate than the original. It no longer jumps to one function or another if your fingers happen to get near the screen like it did earlier.

There are no knobs to clutter up the center stack, but this means some adjustments get tricky to make. The driver can adjust the audio volume, for example, with the buttons on the steering wheel, but the passenger has to run a finger on a horizontal bar to raise or lower it.

That was the way you had to make adjustments for about every function on the earlier CUE system, so cutting back on the number of those is a major improvement. The system overall is much simpler than ones you find on luxury cars from German manufacturers, but it still needs a little more “dumbing down.”

It certainly is not a deal-breaker as I found on some of the systems of its competitors.

Would I buy this car? Yes. Cadillac has a sedan that is truly competitive in its class. You may lean toward imports for the panache they bring, but Cadillac is getting back to vehicles that made the company the luxury leader when I was growing up. You may be pleasantly pleased by what you might find in the showroom.

Friday, September 30, 2016


Since reintroducing the brand to the U.S. market with its 2012 500, Fiat has continued to expand its portfolio with several variants of the trendsetting subcompact coupe, often adding a letter to the "500" to distinguish the different models.

Thus we have the 500L (a slightly larger version), the 500e (electric), and 500c (convertible).

For 2016, Fiat introduces the 500X, a subcompact crossover that offers a bit more in the way of interior room than the others while still maintaining the Italian design flair and touches that set the original 500 apart from its rivals.

It may be just the solution for those who would like a smaller car not just for fuel economy but for less stressful urban driving conditions yet not so small that it brings with it a fear of being squashed between semis.

It has a pretty solid feel to it on the road, though it still retains the nimbleness typical of the segment, and when it comes to parking, it's tough to beat.

The 2016 500X comes in five flavors all with rather distinctive labels. The base model is designated Pop and is followed by Easy, Trekking, Lounge, and Trekking Plus going up the scale. Pop comes with a 1.4-liter turbo four as the base engine. The 2.4-liter naturally aspired four that is standard on Easy, Trekking, Lounge, and Trekking Plus is an option on the Pop.

Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive available on all but the base Pop model. The Pop also gets a six-speed manual transmission as standard with a nine-speed automatic, again standard on the other trims, as an option. You can manually shift gears with the automatic via the shifter on the console. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters aren't offered.

The turbo is rated at 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and is expected to get a respectable 25 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway using regular fuel.

The larger engine is rated at 180 hp and 175 lb.-ft. and drinks fuel at the rate of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 31 highway with FWD. AWD versions get about a mile less in each category. Those aren't particular impressive numbers for the genre, and some critics have been unhappy with the kind of performance the 2.4L delivers.

But I found that switching the knob on the console from Eco to Sport mode does enliven the performance to a more respectable level. A third setting is Traction-plus for snow and ice, but this being South Florida, I never got the opportunity to really see how that works. Imagine that.

I left it mostly in Sport or Performance setting until I got a complaint that the ride was a bit on the "jerky" side. Sigh.

Among standard features on the Lounge model that served for my test drive were such niceties as a backup camera, keyless ignition with push-button start, remote start, the U-Connect infotainment system from Chrysler that included a 6.5-inch screen for the navigation map, voice command operation, satellite radio, an eight-way power driver's seat with four-way lumbar support (the passenger seat is manually adjusted), 17-inch aluminum wheels, and automatic on/off Halogen headlights.

That all was included in the base MSRP of $27,105 (including the $995 destination and delivery charge). The optional Lounge Collection Package (leather trimmed bucket seats, rear parking assist, and blind spot and cross path detection) added another $1,650 which ran the total MSRP up to $27,655, making the 2016 Fiat 500X competitive price-wise.

The Pop starts at $20,995, the top-of-the-line Trekking Plus at $28,095.

The 500X's cabin, by the way, is quite nice with evidence of high-grade materials used throughout. and the front seats are comfortable with nice legroom provided. The backseat is on the snug side when it comes to legroom with a little less than 35 inches offered, but it's not really cramped.

Cargo space is what you might expect from a subcompact. Only 12.2 cubic feet is offered behind the second row expandable to 32.1 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded.

What I liked about the 2016 Fiat 500X: The A/C vents on the center stack, which I regularly find end up blowing directly on my hands on the steering wheel, essentially freezing them, are mounted lower on the stack than usual so that is no longer an issue. This is a small thing, but I really appreciated it. In fact, I loved it! The UConnect system also is easy to operate and responds to voice commands well.

What I didn't like about the 2016 Fiat 500X: In Eco (standard) mode, the engine labors to get up to speed. The nine-speed transmission can be slow to respond, though neither is a major problem.

Would I buy the 2016 Fiat 500X? Yes, I would consider it for a second vehicle for sure.

Friday, September 23, 2016



BMW has another entry in the plug-in parade with the 2016 X5 xDrive40e midsize SUV, or Sports Activity Vehicle, as BMW prefers.

Frankly, I’m not sure why, but it has naught to do with this particular vehicle. I’m just not a big fan of the craze for plug-in versions of hybrid vehicles. Too much bother for, in many cases, little benefit.

Yes, I understand why some people like them. They’re on the cutting edge of new technology driving around on electric power, which the X5 xDrive40e allows you to do. (For short distances, any way. I’ll get to that later.)

And I get it that if you’re going to have all-electric vehicles, you’ve got to have someway to charge them up.

But overall, I find the plug-ins a big pain.

That has something to do with my garage, which is more of a storeroom than a garage and the power outlet is about as far away from the front garage door as you can get. So when it comes to plugging in an electric car, I have to leave the garage door open and ease the nose of the vehicle as far as I can into the garage (which isn’t very far) so that I can get it as close as possible to the electric outlet.

But more then that, it takes forever to get maximum juice into the battery on regular household outlets.

Which means that if you have a plug-in, you probably should get one of the charging kits that speed up the charging process or at least hope that your place of work has charging stations and they’re not all occupied during the day.

And with the X5 xDrive40e, you’re going through all that to get 14 miles of driving on electric power only. Yes. That is one-four miles on electric power only. Or maybe a couple of miles more or less, depending on how much you’re pushing it. Top speed in electric mode is 75 mph, btw.

The good news with the X5 xDrive40e is that you don’t even have to fool around with plugging it in to enjoy the benefits of the hybrid setup, and you can have fun doing it. With 308 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque from the combination of the 2.0 twin-turbo four-cylinder gas engine and the electric motor going to all four wheels via an eight-speed transmission, the zero-to-60 mph time is 6.5 seconds, according to the company.

That’s quite a performance from a vehicle in this class.

Individually, horsepower and torque from the electric motor, which gets the X5 xDrive40e moving even when you’re not in all-electric mode, is 111 hp and 184 lb.ft., which certainly is a nice kick in the butt when you’re getting out of an intersection. The turbo four gas engine alone is rated at 240 hp and 260 lb.-ft.

As for fuel mileage, in electric mode, the X5 xDrive40e is rated at 56 MPGe, but the gasoline only number is 24 mpg combined city/highway.

As one would expect of a vehicle coming from a company that boasts it builds the “ultimate driving machines,” the X5 xDrive40e is very nimble for a vehicle its size (just over 16 feet long with a curb weight of 5,220 pounds). It is firm through corners yet comfortable when cruising. And quiet.

There’s no question BMW knows how to handle luxury and performance in a good-looking package. Unlike the somewhat bulky, unattractive rear end on its larger sibling, the X6, the X5 xDrive40e looks good from any angle.

But when it comes to operation of the wealth of techno features the company incorporates into its infotainment system, the Teutonic influence on the German mind seems to come into play.

It just seems like in an effort to get where you want to go as far as the navigation, audio, and other systems, you have to make a couple of extra turns of the control knob on the center console to get there, not to mention deciphering what all those symbols on the screen mean and making sure you’ve dialed into the correct one. Apparently, there is no word for “user-friendly” in German. On the plus side, though, the high-resolution screen for the standard navigation system is a generous 10.2 inches.

Pricing for the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e starts at $63,095 including the $995 destination and delivery charge. Among standard equipment are Xenon adaptive headlights, 14-way adjustable heated front seats with four-way lumbar support, panoramic moonroof, power rear liftgate, and the navigation system.

Extras like a cold weather package (heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and retractable headlight washers), a Premium package (BMW’s “comfort” keyless entry, four-zone climate control, and a year’s subscription to satellite radio), and other items (including the rear-view camera which added $400) ran the total for my test vehicle to $71,695.

What I liked about the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e: The performance was more power than you would expect from a hybrid. It’s also a very quiet ride, though I did hear a complaint about the comfort of the passenger seat.

What I didn’t like about the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e: The infotainment system is a bitch to operate and can be very distracting. And there was no AM band on the radio! Yes, I’m the guy who often listens to AM. I like it for sports and news. Some of it is available on the SXM band, of course, but not all the local talk shows are there.

Would I buy the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e? No. I find the plug-in system too much trouble to bother with for what little you get. Where I live, you reach the 14-mile range pretty quickly. Operation of the infotainment systems also is a deal killer for me. Hey, BMW! Remember benutzerfreundlich! (Darned if there isn’t a word in German for user-friendly.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016



According to a recent story from the Automotive News website, sales of midsize sedans (i.e, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord) are on the wane and could be taken over by compact crossovers (i.e., Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V) by the end of this year.

In fact, the trend is so strong that midsize sedans could actually drop to fourth behind the crossovers, full-size pickups and compact cars by the time all the numbers are in for 2016. Already, RAV4 knocked off the Camry as Toyota’s No. 1 seller for August with 33,171 RAV4s sold to 32,864 for Camry.

The Camry still leads in year-to-date sales 266,746, but the RAV4 is not far behind at 230,942.

(You can check all this out by clicking here for the Automotive News story (subscription required) or here for all the sales figures through August.)

I bring this up now because there is a touch of irony here. As the overall numbers go down, this is probably the deepest field of midsize sedans in quite some time, maybe ever. Many approach entry-level luxury sedans when it comes to styling, quality, and technology while rivaling smaller cars in terms of handling and fuel economy.

The options are myriad, and I’m not talking exclusively traditional segment leaders Camry and Accord here. The Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, and Subaru Legacy are worthy of being on your shopping list as well.

So, too, is the sedan I had last week, the 2016 Volkswagen Passat.

When it showed up in my driveway, I was looking forward to getting behind the wheel because my wife has driven a Passat wagon for several years now and we both like it very much. I was curious to see if the 2016 VW Passat sedan lived up to my expectations, and I’m glad to say it did.

Oh, it’s not perfect (I’ll get into that with my comments on what I liked and didn’t like about it) but I’ll stack it up pretty much against any of its competitors.

As with most German cars, the interior has a luxurious feel to it, not necessarily nicer but bolder than what you find on the models from the other side of the world. At the risk of being labeled a sexist, I’d say the emphasis on the darker interior colors gives off a more masculine ambiance, especially with leather seats that are standard on the top-of-the-line Passat SEL and SEL Premium models.

Built in VW’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Passat is offered in five trims (S, R-Line, SE, SEL, and SEL Premium), all front-wheel drive with either a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 3.6-liter VR6 under the hood. The 1.8-liter is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and the V6 to a six-speed automated manual (DSG) shiftable with steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The four-banger is rated at 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque with estimated fuel economy of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 38 highway, and 29 combined, which the company notes is an improvement of 2 mpg over the 2015 model. Numbers for the VR6, available only on the SEC Premium models, are 280 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque drinking premium fuel at the rate of 20/33/28. Fear not. The company says you can also use regular fuel with the VR6.

The SEL-Premium model I had featured the four-banger, but it certainly didn’t lag when it came to performance. clocked the 1.8 SEL’s zero-to-60 mp time at 7.7 seconds. Not surprisingly, the VR6 made the trip in over a second quaicker at 6.4.

Pricing for the 2016 VW Passat starts at $23,260 (including the $820 destination and delivery charge) for the 1.8T S models and tops out with an MSRP of $36,835 for the V6 SEL Premium.

The 1.8T SEL Premium I had, which included such standard features as keyless entry with push-button start, navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED automatic headlights, power sunroof, dual-zone climate control, power front seats with lumbar support, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and lane departure warning systems, Bluetooth communications, and a rear-vision monitor, came in at $35,090.

What I liked about the 2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium: There is a near luxury feel to this car. It handles well, and the ride is comfortable and quiet. You can adjust the radio and A/C blower and temps with knobs on the center stack! Whoopee!

What I didn’t like about the 2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium: The screen for the navigation system is on the small side and it’s not easy to read what’s there at a glance. Responses to the voice commands can be erratic (or maybe that’s just me). Phone calls came in through the system without ringing a couple of times, which I found strange.

Would I buy this car? Yes, and I’d go for the SEL Premium if it was in my budget. If it wasn’t, I would look over one of the lower trims. In any case, forget what you may have heard/read about VW’s fudging on diesel emissions testing. That has nothing to do with the 2016 (or 2017) Passat. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016



When I decided to revive this blog, I really didn’t plan to make it always about car reviews, but recently, that seems to be the current trend. Of the 14 blogs before this one, eight were car reviews, and this one will be the fourth in a row.

A couple of reasons for that.

One is that college football season is upon us and writing reports for the Sports Xchange (yes, there “E” at the start is dropped) has impinged on my time. But I expected that and built that factor into my decision to resume the blog in the first place. So that’s no excuse.

Of more import is that recently I really have had the privilege of driving some pretty fine vehicles that have seen significant updates, like the 2016 Infiniti Q50S I had last week. It’s better when you have something new to write about than starting a review with “The Hupmobile is basically unchanged this year from 2015.”

That happens from time to time, of course.

In fact, it happened to the Q50 for 2015. After being introduced as a new model in 2014, essentially taking over the G Series with the company’s new nomenclature (Q for passenger cars, QX for crossovers and SUVs), it was basically unchanged for last year.

For 2016, however, it gets some subtle and some not-so subtle changes. One of the former not obvious to the naked eye is an updated version of the Direct Adaptive Steering system that works out some of the kinks of the previous system and available adjustable suspension dampers. (If you want to know more about DAS, go to www.

Among the latter are three new turbocharged engines and a new Red Sport 400 model that takes performance to a higher level. It gets the more powerful version of the two 3.0 turbo V6s, upping horsepower to 400 and torque to 350 pound-feet over the 300/295 of the 3.0T and 3.0T Premium trims. The base engine in the 2.0T and 2.0T Premium  is a 2.0-liter turbo four rated at 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive also available on each trim.

There is a hybrid drivetrain available as well. 

All the engines are mated to a seven-speed shiftable automatic transmission. Sport models get extra long paddle shifters mounted on the steering column rather than the steering wheel so they don’t move with the wheel when you turn. Frankly, I’m sure I see a big advantage over having them mounted on the wheel itself, but it’s not a major issue. I have to wonder how many drivers actually use them in normal street conditions. I suspect not many.

My version for the week was the Q50S Red Sport 3.0T 400. With the most horsepower and torque available, driving it was a great experience even when the transmission was set in standard mode. Setting to Dynamic and Dynamic-Plus further enhances the throttle response. For the fuel conscious, there’s also an Eco mode and also a “Personal” mode to suit your style.

Speaking of fuel conscious, EPA mileage numbers for the Q50S are 19 city, 28 highway, 23 combined drinking premium fuel.

Infiniti designers have given the Q50’s cabin an elegant, clean look with lots of gee-whiz technology offered either as standard or in the optional Premium Plus package. The center stack features two screens with the upper one devoted mostly to navigation functions, which also can be adjusted by turning the knob on the center console.

The lower screen is used for some settings for navigation, such as entering a destination, and for other systems such as phone and audio. Hard buttons control climate, making it easier.

I have seen some critics who pan the two-screen approach, but I like it. Too often when everything works off one screen you have to switch from the navigation map to audio to change the radio station. So far, though, I have seen this setup only on Acura and now Infiniti models

Reviewers also picked at the comfort of the seats in the Q50, but the Q50 Red Sport gets eight-way adjustable, leather sport seats with manual thigh extensions and power lumbar and side bolsters, so comfort was not an issue at all with them.

Pricing for the Q50 starts at only $34,855 for the base 2.0T model, but the top-of-line Red Sports starts at $48,855 for RWD models and adds another $2,000 for AWD.

Option packages that add such features as blind spot warning, predictive forward collision warning, front and rear parking sensors, surround view camera (rearview is standard) or Infiniti In-Touch with navigation can add another couple of thousand dollars or so.

What I liked about the 2016 Infiniti Q50S Red Sport 400: I liked that it is big enough to be comfortable while agile and responsive enough to make for a fun driving experience.

What I didn’t like about the 2016 Infiniti Q50S Red Sport 400: The voice command system allows you to push the button again to skip the introductory message and go directly to your command, which is good, but a couple of times it took a second and even third try to get to the correct radio station. At 13.5 cubic feet, the trunk is kind of small.

Would I buy this car? Sure. It’s a nice package of practicality and fun driving experience.