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.

Friday, September 2, 2016



I’ve never been a big fan of hybrids. the gas-electric powered cars that first came to the U.S. from Japan around the turn of this century.

Oh, it’s not like I don’t believe in saving gas, because I do, and it’s not like I’m against technological progress when it comes to automotive drivetrains, because I’m not.

It’s just that I think they have been overhyped and are really just a preliminary step on our way to fully electric vehicles while some Hollywood types seem to think they are the answer to all our fuel issues.

Overhyped because when it comes to fuel saving, newer conventional cars powered by either diesel or gasoline engines are getting mileage figures approaching those of the hybrids, and you have to drive a lot of miles to make up for the premium you have to pay in the hybrid’s higher MSRP. I figured it up several years ago that you would have to drive it at least for five years for it to pay you back.

Frankly, I don’t remember what the fuel prices were back then, but I’m assuming that time period probably has varied over the years and may have been a better deal a few years ago when fuel prices were so high. But now that prices are a bit more reasonable, at least by today’s standards, the savings in fuel costs probably are not as great.

But, someone once pointed out, I’m not buying a hybrid just to save money on gas. I also want to protect the environment because greenhouse gas emissions are much lower with a hybrid than with a conventional sedan.

Yes, but that advantage is somewhat mitigated by the pollution generated in the manufacturing process of hybrids compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. I say “somewhat” because a recent study (see shows that if you drive both a hybrid car and a conventional car for 160,000 miles, the conventional car requires more energy and emits more pollutants over its lifetime than the hybrid.

I’m sure you drive your car at least 160,000 miles, right?

I’m not sure how the disposal of the battery pack of the hybrid might figure into this equation, but I really didn’t intend to spend this much time making this point. What I really want to get into here is this:

One of the biggest reasons for my reluctance to jump on the hybrid bandwagon was how funky the first hybrid vehicles to hit the market, i.e. the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius, looked. The Insight looked like something from an old Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon serial (check it out at Netflix). The Prius? Let’s just say that once I approached one from behind as I was walking up a slight rise (we don’t have hills in South Florida, unless you count Mt. Trashmores) and was struck by the similarity between the back end of a Prius and the rear of a Pontiac Aztec.

That is not a compliment.

But the good news is that manufacturers have expanded their hybrid portfolios to include real cars, and thus you can buy something like the Chevrolet Malibu with a hybrid drivetrain and not look like a dork behind the wheel.

The Malibu Hybrid was completely redesigned for 2016 and features the same powertrain and technology found on the electric Chevy Volt. No, you won’t drive 40 miles on electric power only, but you will get 47 miles per gallon of fuel in town, 46 on the highway and 46 combined, according to EPA ratings, which is among the leaders for hybrids.

The combination of the 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine and two electric motors for the Malibu produces 182 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, so it’s not like you’re dealing with a slug when it comes to performance.

The website lists a clocking of 7.4 seconds for the 2016 Malibu Hybrid. That is actually a tad quicker than the Malibu LT1.5T, which is essentially the Malibu model the Hybrid is based on, and pretty quick for hybrid models in general. They caught the 2016 Prius in a pedestrian 9.6 seconds, which, TV ads to the contrary, I think detracts from its use as a getaway car from a bank robbery.

That alone would likely set the Malibu Hybrid apart from some if its hybrid rivals, but the Chevy has taken the Malibu Hybrid to new heights with its classy interior and sleek exterior profile. Chevy always did have a bold exterior, but the interiors always seemed to spartan.

Not any more.

The Malibu Hybrid’s cabin may fall a bit short of luxury class, but not by much. The new dash gives the impression it was designed with some thought with the 8-inch touchscreen included in the optional convenience and technology package integrated nicely into top of the center stack instead of sticking up in the middle of the dash like an afterthought.

Included in the base MSRP of $27,770 are such standard features as keyless start/stop, 17-inch alloy wheels, Chevrolet’s MyLink system for hands-free operation, rearview camera, dual zone A/C, steering wheel controls for audio, cruise control, and Bluetooth, Apple and Android capability, satellite radio (subscription service), OnStar, and 4G WiFi hotspot.

My test vehicle included several optional packages that added such features as the 8-inch touch screen over standard 7-inch, front and rear parking assist, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert with blind spot warning, and wireless device charging, among many other features.

With $875 destination and delivery charge and $745 discount on the leather package, that ran the total MSRP to $32,625.

What I liked about the 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid: I was aware I wasn’t behind the wheel of a sports sedan, but never did I feel I was being cheated when it came to performance. The cabin is really nice, and the ride is smooth and quiet. The backseat is pretty roomy for a midsize sedan.

What I didn’t like about the 2016 Chevy Malibu: The trunk capacity is reduced to 11.6 cubic feet because of the battery pack for the hybrid setup. Storage capacity is 15.8 cubic feet for the other trims (L, LS, 1LT, and Premier 1LZ).

Would I buy this car?: If I were in the market for a hybrid, I would give it a long look. But I’m not, so I probably wouldn’t. If I were looking for a family car, I especially would have to think it over because of the reduced trunk size. Thinking of family vacations here with the kids and all their stuff.