05/05/2017 - wrote:

2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class includes a range of sedans, coupes and convertibles, each of which offers stunning good looks. The sedan was launched for 2015, the coupe for 2016, the Cabriolet for 2017. They come with a selection of powertrains, designated by their nomenclature: C300, C350e, AMG C43, AMG C63, AMG C63 S.

The Mercedes-Benz C300 uses 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 241 horsepower, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission, with rear- or all-wheel drive. It accelerates from zero to 60 mph in about 6 seconds.

The C350e plug-in hybrid uses a turbo four and battery pack combining for 275 horsepower.

The AMG C43 uses a turbo V6 making 362 horsepower, with a nine-speed automatic new for 2017. It shoots from zero to sixty in less than five seconds, and has sports exhaust and adaptive sports suspension. It’s a good fit, between calm C300 and radical hot-rod AMG C63.

The C63 and C63 S use a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, making 469 and 503 horsepower, respectively, blasting to sixty in less than four second and reaching a top speed of 180 mph. It competes with the Cadillac ATS-V and BMW M3.

The C300 sedan gets an EPA-rated 24/34 mpg City/Highway, 28 mpg Combined. With all-wheel drive it gets one less mile per gallon, while the coupe and convertible get two less. Over a 90-mile run in the C300 sedan, a mix of freeway, suburbia and country two-lanes, we got more than 30 mpg. The high-performance C43 AMG gets 20/28/23 mpg. The powerful V8 in the C63 sucks gas, with a score of 17/23/19 mpg.

The 2017 C-Class earns Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, despite a Poor rating for the headlights (and frankly we wonder how a car with poor headlights can be a top safety pick), and got five stars overall from NHTSA, with four stars in frontal crash and rollover. The Audi A4 does better.

For 2017 a rearview camera becomes standard. Some airbags are also new, the lot includes pelvis airbags in front, a new window airbag, side airbags in the rear, and driver knee airbag. Advanced safety technology includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, driver attention alert, and a semi-autonomous traffic assistant that follows the car ahead at up to 37 mph. There’s also an advanced brake assist system that detects pedestrians and parked cars, and automatically brakes, at up to 45 mph. The lane-keeping system applies the brakes on one side of the car to stop drifting. Active parking assistance, surround-view cameras, and traffic sign assistance (which warns of speed limits, no-entry signs, and other information) are also among the available high-tech safety equipment.
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05/05/2017 - wrote:

2017 BMW 4 Series
2017 BMW 4 Series
The BMW 4 Series is built on the platform of the 3 Series, and is the same size. The 2017 BMW 4 Series comes in two-door Coupe, hardtop Convertible, and five-door Gran Coupe versions, while the 3 is a sedan or wagon. Rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are offered, even on the Convertible.

There are two new engines, resulting in the 2017 BMW 430i from the previous 428i, and the 2017 BMW 440i from the previous 435i.

The four- and inline six-cylinder turbocharged engines are both new for 2017. The BMW 430i with the 2.0-liter inline-4 makes 258 pound-feet of torque, while the BMW 440i with the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 makes a healthy 320 horsepower with an emphatic 330 pound-feet of torque.

All models offer a flawless eight-speed automatic, though an engaging six-speed manual transmission is also available for the Coupe.

BMW created the 4 Series out of the 3 Series, but lost that old BMW magic in the process. We find the value in the 4 Series questionable, and its appearance frumpy compared to the Mercedes C-Class. The Gran Coupe seems to combine the best of the 3 and 4, which makes it the best of the 4 Series models. The 4 Series Gran Coupe has more room inside, with a sleek profile outside.

The 2017 BMW 430i coupe with the eight-speed automatic gets 23 miles per gallon City, 34 mpg Highway, and 27 mpg Combined. On the far side, the BMW 440i xDrive convertible gets an EPA-estimated 20/30/24 mpg.
Model Lineup

The 2017 BMW 430i Coupe ($42,150), BMW 430i Convertible ($50,300), and BMW 430i Gran Coupe ($41,950) come with the four-cylinder engine, leatherette upholstery, air conditioning. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)

The BMW 440i Coupe ($48,500) and BMW 440i Gran Coupe ($48,300) include the six-cylinder engine; the BMW 440i Convertible ($57,300) also upgrades to leather upholstery.

All-wheel drive comes on models denoted xDrive; the sDrive models are rear-wheel drive.

Leather upholstery and wood trim are optional. Navigation, rearview camera, and Apple CarPlay are options. M Sport packages include sports suspension, wheels and tires, and special trim. The Track Package has active suspension and bigger brakes.
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03/17/2017 - wrote:

2017 Toyota Sienna
2017 Toyota Sienna
Toyota Sienna is big and roomy and may be configured to seat seven passengers with second-row captain’s chairs or eight with a three-position bench. It’s the only minivan we know of that offers all-wheel drive as an option.

The 2017 Toyota Sienna gets an upgrade to its 3.5-liter V6 engine in the form of direct fuel injection, hiking horsepower by 30 hp. 2017 Sienna models also get a new 8-speed automatic transmission. EPA-estimated fuel economy has increased for 2017 Sienna: up to 22 mpg Combined (city/highway) with front-wheel drive, or 20 mpg Combined with all-wheel drive.

Notably well-equipped, the Sienna comes in five trim levels, plus three Premium variants. All-wheel drive is available for Sienna LE, Sienna XLE, and Sienna Limited. The upgraded V6 engine now develops 296 horsepower and comes with all models.

Sienna stresses family-oriented features, versatility, interior space, reliability. Upper trim levels add entertainment options and accessibility equipment. A 6.1-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity comes standard. Extras include rear-seat entertainment, power sliding doors, navigation, and voice projection for communicating with back-seat passengers.

Side-curtain airbags protect occupants in all three rows. Outward visibility excels. All Siennas include a rearview camera, which has been upgraded to provide a 180-degree view. Government and insurance-industry crashworthiness scores are good but the best. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Sienna a five-star rating overall, but only four stars for frontal crash protection and for rollovers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranked the Sienna Good in most areas, but only Acceptable for the small-overlap frontal crash procedure.

A number of contemporary safety features are optional. Among them: forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, front/rear parking sensors.
Model Lineup

The 2017 Toyota Sienna comes in L, LE, SE, XLE, and Limited models, plus premium editions.

Sienna L ($29,750) gets seven-passenger seating with fabric-trimmed upholstery, three-zone climate control, rearview camera, 6.1-inch touchscreen, 3.5-inch information display, Bluetooth connectivity, 17-inch wheels.

Sienna LE ($32,540) has eight-passenger seating, power sliding doors, power front seats, and a 7.0-inch touch screen. All-wheel drive with seating for seven and 18-inch wheels ($2,540) is optional. Automatic Access Seating is available.

2017-sienna-profileSienna SE ($36,110) features leather seating surfaces, eight-passenger seating with heated front seats, sport mesh grille, foglamps, LED taillights, sport instruments, 19-inch wheels, and smoked exterior accents. Sienna SE Premium ($40,830) includes a 16.4-inch rear entertainment system with Blu-ray player, keyless ignition/start, and a Driver Easy Speak system that amplifies the voice.

Sienna XLE ($36,310) reverts to 17-inch wheels, with seating for eight plus woodgrain accents, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a moonroof. All-wheel drive with seven-passenger seating and 18-inch wheels is optional ($2,210). An Automatic Access Seat is available. Sienna XLE Premium ($39,505) adds the Blu-ray player and Driver Easy Speak system. All-wheel drive is optional ($2,210).

Sienna Limited ($42,800) has seven-passenger seating and adds navigation, an upgraded 10-speaker stereo, 18-inch wheels, chrome exterior accents, and dual moonroof. All-wheel drive with seating for seven is optional ($1,140). Limited Premium ($46,170) seats seven, adding the Blu-ray player and rain-sensing wipers. Adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning systems are available. All-wheel drive is optional ($1,740).

The Toyota Sienna looks like your typical minivan and does not try to masquerade as something else. Little has changed visually since the 2015 model year. A finned grille is installed on LX, XLE, and Limited trim levels. Limited and SE versions display LED headlights.

The Sienna SE looks the sportiest of Toyota’s minivans, especially with an optional appearance package. Rocker panels and larger-diameter wheels stand out a bit, as do the SE’s clear taillight lenses; but the overall shape differs little from other trim levels.

2017-sienna-interiorInside, Sienna offers a smart interior appearance and convenient layout. Siennas are among the biggest and most spacious of minivans, promising exceptional comfort to all riders. Adults should have no difficulty entering or exiting the rear compartment.

A sweeping, contoured dashboard separates front occupants, placing essential controls on the driver’s side. Instruments are large and easy-to-read. Audio and climate controls can be reached easily by the front passenger.

A 6.1-inch touchscreen is standard. Lower trim levels also get a 3.5-inch black-and-white LCD information screen, while upper models upgrade to a 4.2-inch color display.

Front occupants enjoy comfortable, supportive seating. Most models have a second-row bench, for eight-passenger seating. The bench slides to expand either occupant or cargo space. Removing one section provides access to the foldaway third row, which can actually carry grownups and isn’t so difficult to reach.

Captain’s chairs are standard with all-wheel drive, though they don’t fold totally flat. In the front-wheel-drive Limited, reclining lounge-type seats include footrests and leg-cushion extenders.

Small-item storage is bountiful, with a deep console and dual gloveboxes. A handy storage platform below the center dash between the front seats provides a convenient place for a purse or your take-out order.

Cargo space totals 117.8 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded and pushed forward and the third-row seats folded. That’s a lot of cargo space. Behind the third-row seats is 39.1 cubic feet of cargo space, and the deep well in the floor there easily holds and confines a massive load of groceries, superior to SUVs.

We found the power doors could be reluctant to open at times. A passenger we picked up curbside at a busy airport struggled to get the side door open, trying to operate it manually, which is what so often happens when passengers are trying to get in under pressure. And the rear hatch required holding down the button on the remote several beats longer than expected.
Driving Impressions

2017-sienna-drivingPerformance in minivans is more a matter of safety and maneuverability than acceleration or passing power. As long as it reaches highway speeds promptly, halts effectively, and is agile enough to steer around trouble spots, a minivan scores well.

That said, the Sienna feels heavy and sluggish, slow to respond in transient maneuvers and seems to require more steering input than many SUVs do.

Because of its size and weight and its tall profile, handling is lethargic. There’s a fair amount of nose dive when braking. Sienna isn’t quiet on the highway, either.

With nearly 300 horsepower for 2017, the V6 suffers no shortage of energy on the road, ranking above average for its class. Shifts are smooth and practically imperceptible from the new 8-speed automatic, though downshifting to pass can be slow. The engine and transmission do not seem perfectly coordinated, however. When taking a right-hand turn at an intersection the transmission often selects a relatively high gear (third) in the middle of the turn; then, as the accelerator is depressed to accelerate out of the corner, the transmission has to downshift (to second gear) to call up sufficient torque to accelerate, an annoying trait.

With its tighter-tuned suspension and 19-inch tires, the Sienna SE is the sportiest model, but differences from top trim levels are subtle. With a towing package, a Sienna can haul as much as 3,500 pounds, a lightweight boat, for example.

Fuel economy ranks as respectable with the new, stronger engine and 8-speed automatic, though all-wheel drive lowers the mileage significantly. The front-wheel-drive Sienna is EPA-rated at 19/27 mpg City/Highway, or 22 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops those figures to 18/24 mpg City/Highway, or 20 mpg Combined.
Final Word

The Toyota Sienna is relatively expensive, but it delivers interior space, seat comfort, convenience and versatility, as well as Toyota’s reputation for reliability.

Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.
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02/22/2017 - wrote:

2017 Ford GT
2017 Ford GT
The 2017 Ford GT, the second generation of the mid-engine supercar inspired by the GT40 that won the Le Mans 24-hour race four times, was revealed at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

When revealed, the 2017 Ford GT generated more oohs and ahhs than any other vehicle on display, no mean feat in a show loaded with hot rides such as the long-awaited NSX supercar and a 200-mph Cadillac sedan and the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. In addition to popular acclaim, the GT was selected by the Eyes on Design judges, all automotive designers, as the Detroit show’s best production vehicle.

17s-fordgt-walkAt a glance, “best production vehicle design” might seem a little confusing, since Ford billed the GT as a concept. But Ford made it clear that it fully intends to build this blue bullet, as a prerequisite for a return to the Le Mans 24-hour race.

Ford created the first GT40 with the goal of beating Ferrari at Le Mans, and it won the Sarthe classic four consecutive times, in 1966, ’67, ’68, and ’69. Those victories were among the company’s greatest motorsports achievements.

Ford’s latest plan targets the 2017 running of the Le Mans 24-Hour.

17s-fordgt-overheadTo enter the race, Ford must build at least 100 production examples. It’s called homologation. Unless Ford plans to price each car at $1 million or more, there will certainly be more than 100 cars. As an example, production of the previous Ford GT, conducted between 2004 and 2006, came to about 4150 cars. And there was no factory racing plan for that one.

Here’s what Ford has revealed so far:

The 2017 Ford GT is mostly carbon fiber (passenger compartment and body panels) with aluminum subframes front and rear to support suspension components, also aluminum. Racing touches include inboard shock absorbers, activated by pushrods, and carbon ceramic brakes.

17s-fordgt-rearRide height is adjustable, as is the active rear spoiler, which can be varied for both height and pitch. The doors are scissor-style, a la Lamborghini, rather than the gull wings of the 2005-2006 Ford GT. The missile-esque profile clearly shows wind tunnel sculpting, though Ford refrained from furnishing any aerodynamic values, such as coefficient of drag.

Nor was there any reference to curb weight. However, the minimum weight for the GT Le Mans class, or GTLM, where the Ford GT would be opposed by the Ferrari 458, Corvette, Aston Martin, Porsche 911, and Audi R8, is 2745 pounds.

The engine will be an updated version of an EcoBoost V6 with twin turbos, variable port/direct fuel injection, generating more than 600 horsepower, according to Ford engineers.

Production of the upcoming Ford GT is due to begin in late 2016. We look for street versions to begin reaching selected Ford dealers before the race.
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02/10/2017 - wrote:

2017 Chrysler 200
2017 Chrysler 200
The midsize Chrysler 200 competes in the toughest field of all, against the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, as well as the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion, all solid midsize sedans. After years of chugging uphill, Chrysler has announced the end is near. The 2017 Chrysler 200 could be the last model year. It’s a good car. If prices drop to get rid of the last of them, you could do worse than to snatch one. The current-generation is a fairly new product.

The Chrysler 200 is stylish, comfortable, and appealing. It’s not as soft as the Nissan Altima, nor as sporty as the Ford Fusion, but rather finds its own way. It’s built on an extended version of the Dodge Dart compact sedan platform and wheelbase.

Not surprisingly, there aren’t many changes for 2017. But then this model was only introduced for 2015, so not many changes were needed.

For 2017, Chrysler 200 gets better looking, with a new package called Dark Appearance, with glossy black 18-inch wheels, halogen headlamps with black moldings, and black exterior trim. It appears the Chrysler 200 is mourning itself.

The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making a decent, if uninspired, 184 horsepower, mated to a sophisticated 9-speed automatic. There’s also a quick V6 making a strong 295 horsepower and using that same transmission with paddle shifters, with all-wheel drive available.

EPA fuel mileage for the four-cylinder is 23 mpg City, 36 Highway, 27 Combined. The V6 gets 19/31/23 mpg, about 1 less mpg with all-wheel drive. Not much if any better than some midsize crossovers.

The safety results are excellent, with the top Good rating in all crash categories from the IIHS, and that includes the difficult small-overlap front test. For its forward collision avoidance system, it was rated Superior, although for headlamps it only got Marginal. Overall it made Top Safety Pick. The NHTSA gave it five stars in everything except rollover, where it got four stars.

Standard safety equipment includes front knee airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, active front headrests, and a rearview camera. The top 200c Platinum model offers heaps of optional safety equipment, including lane-departure warnings and prevention, forward-collision warnings with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts.
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02/10/2017 - wrote:

2017 Hyundai Accent
2017 Hyundai Accent
The 2017 Hyundai Accent subcompact sedan and hatchback offer a good value, but are now in the sixth year of their generation. Fortunately, the styling still holds up and it gets excellent fuel mileage. The Accent hatchback offers more room than almost anything for the money,

Acceleration performance is adequate for everyday commuting but lackluster, especially with the automatic. Handling is predictable but not notable. The Accent can ride roughly, like rivals with short wheelbases.

It’s powered by a direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 138 horsepower, mated to a standard 6-speed manual gearbox with a light clutch; this transmission gives the best acceleration, fuel mileage, and enjoyment. The available and more common 6-speed automatic shifts smoothly but reduces get-up-and-go, even with Sport mode and manual control.

The Accent got a light facelift for 2015, but this fourth-generation design dates back to a 2011 model. A redesign is expected soon.

Fuel mileage is EPA-rated at 27 mpg City, 37 Highway, and 31 Combined with the manual transmission, or one less mpg with the automatic. It used to be that manuals always got better fuel mileage than automatics, but nowadays that’s opposite. However not so, here. Which is an indication that the automatic transmission, although smooth, isn’t as efficient and modern as others. (That said, the new automatics, especially the 9-speeds, can be jerky.)

In the Accent, the automatic has an ActiveEco button that triggers early upshifts to improve gas mileage, while the manual gearbox uses an eco shift light that flashes at the shift point for the best fuel mileage. Assuming the EPA uses the driving technique for maximum mileage, the moral to the story must be that humans win over computers. When they listen to the computers.

The Accent doesn’t score so high in safety tests, with four stars overall from the NHTSA, with a comment saying the left rear door was a weak spot, as impact there injured the crash-test dummy. Still, the Accent got mostly top Good ratings from the IIHS, with Acceptable in side impact, and Poor in the difficult small frontal overlap test. Six airbags and active headrests are standard. Warranty is five years or 60,000 miles.
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02/10/2017 - wrote:

2017 Toyota Tacoma
2017 Toyota Tacoma
The Toyota Tacoma midsize pickup truck, partially redesigned for 2016, is the most rugged truck in its class. It’s the best truck for commuting over boulder fields or hauling a dirt bike through the desert. It’s tough, reliable, and highly capable over rugged terrain.

The 2017 Toyota Tacoma lineup includes a new TRD Pro model that raises the suspension by one inch, and adds skid plates, all-terrain tires, black alloy wheels, cat-back exhaust system, LED driving lights, and badging on the grille. The Tacoma TRD Pro includes the off-road features of the Tacoma TRD Off Road model.

The 2016 model year brought new powertrains for the entire line, with a new hood and front fascia, a redesigned cabin structure, tuned suspension, upgraded features, and noise insulation.

2017-tacoma-trdTacoma comes in four configurations: Short Bed and Long Bed, (five feet and six feet), with Double Cab (full rear seat) or Access Cab (small folding seat). There’s rear-wheel or four-wheel drive.

Base engine is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder making 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission, depending on the cab. The four-cylinder is rated at an EPA-estimated 19/23 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined, with automatic and rear-wheel drive. The four-cylinder might be a good option for a low-cost work truck.

More popular is the 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection making 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, mated to 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. V6 fuel mileage is about the same as the four cylinder, while it’s considerably smoother and more powerful. The V6 with automatic and 4WD gets an EPA-rated 18/23 mpg City/Highway, or 20 mpg Combined. The manual gearbox drops mileage by about two miles per gallon, while two-wheel drive improves it by one.

The four cylinder can tow 1620 pounds, while the V6 is rated up to 6800 pounds, with a package including a heavy-duty oil and transmission cooler (with the automatic), 130-amp alternator (manual), and Trailer Sway Control. That said, we’d prefer the Toyota Tundra or another full-size pickup to tow anything heavier than a bass boat or motorcycle trailer.

Off-road capability and durability is a big part of the Tacoma brand. Its Multi-Terrain Select system (taken from the 4Runner) is similar to systems on Land Rover, Jeep and Ford. Drivers can set the modes for mud, sand, slick rock and more, changing the throttle and braking. The four-wheel-drive transfer case, set with a knob on the dash, isn’t meant to improve cornering on the road, unlike all-wheel drive on sedans. TRD Sport models include an automatic limited-slip rear differential, while TRD Off Road and TRD Pro models go a step further with a locking rear differential.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awards the Tacoma its top scores for both moderate front-overlap and side-impact crashworthiness. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has only crash-tested the Crew Cab, giving it four stars overall.
Model Lineup

The 2017 Toyota Tacoma comes in six models: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road, TRD Limited, and TRD Pro. The SR Access Cab I4 automatic with six-foot bed and two-wheel drive ($24,120) is the base model. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charges.)
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12/27/2016 - wrote:

2017 Honda Fit
2017 Honda Fit
The five-door Honda Fit, last redesigned for 2015, is an exceptional hatchback, for its performance, packaging, cargo/interior capacity, looks, and fuel efficiency.

Tall in height, short in length, the Fit is a benchmark of versatility and space efficiency. Fit is roomier inside than many midsize sedans, with 39.3 inches of rear legroom. It’s like a Harry Potter tent, tiny from the outside, impossibly large inside.

The Fit is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder with direct injection, making 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. A smooth 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, but a seven-step continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters comes on most models.

Fit with CVT rates an EPA-estimated 33/41 miles per gallon City/Highway, 36 mpg Combined. The manual transmission in the Fit LX and Fit EX gets 29/37/32 mpg.

NHTSA and IIHS both give the Fit excellent safety ratings, although the option of automatic emergency braking isn’t available; it’s standard in Toyota’s subcompacts.
Model Lineup

The 2017 Honda Fit comes in three models. Fit LX ($15,990), available with CVT ($16,790), comes with air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, rearview camera. Fit EX ($17,900) adds 16-inch alloy wheels, pushbutton start, upgraded infotainment, and Honda’s LaneWatch view in the sideview mirror, which provides a wide rear view using a camera. Fit EX-L adds leather ($20,265) and Fit EX-LN adds navigation ($21,265).

2017-fit-rearThe Fit is five inches taller than the Honda Civic sedan, and has a long roofline with ample glass, so it looks more like a boxy wagon with a wedge-shaped nose, than a squat hatchback. At 60 inches to the roof, it’s one of the tallest subcompacts on the market.

The Fit is not sleek like the Ford Fiesta, but it’s attractive and eye-catching (especially in white) in its angular way. The windshield is nearly as steep as the short nose. A sharp character crease low on the sides exaggerates the length. The rear end hints Volvo, with long vertical taillamps that drop from the liftgate to the bumper. A big chrome bar runs across the back, blowing the otherwise cohesive styling.

The look and feel of the interior aren’t impressive, but the space and flexibility are unrivaled. The rear seatback drops down and rear seats flip up, to create relatively vast cargo space, from an event called Magic Seat, with four cargo/seating arrangements.

2017-fit-interiorA Refresh mode tilts the rear seatbacks like a lounge chair. The front passenger seat in Long mode also can fold flat, wonderful for sports equipment or construction materials. A whole bicycle can be swallowed in the cargo area, something that’s not possible with some significantly larger crossovers.

The rear seat is also very comfortable, with great legroom and headroom, although the Magic Seat cushion is a bit thin. The tall door openings make entry and exit easy for a subcompact.

However the front seats are only adequate, again with thin cushions, but also compromised legroom because the seats won’t slide back far enough. The passenger footwell has an odd shape that cants the seating position.

The interior materials are durable enough, but not at all luxurious. The carpeting and headliner appear cheap. The ambitious and busy dashboard feels somewhat haphazard, with many angles, shapes, bits and pieces. The small crossover Honda HR-V, based on the Fit, is simpler and more relaxing to the eye and brain.

The Fit is one of the quieter cars in its class, however there’s wind noise on the highway coming from around the large sideview mirrors. And there’s engine noise at full throttle, suggesting thin sound insulation.
Driving Impressions

2017-fit-drivingThe 1.5-liter engine is peaky, reaching its maximum torque of 115 pound-feet at 4600 rpm, while its sweet spot for zip is about 4000 rpm. Yet it’s not particularly high-revving, meaning its horsepower isn’t way up there. This powerband makes the paddle-shifting 7-speed CVT a well-matched transmission, because downshifting for torque is quick and easy. The CVT has a sport mode that quickens throttle response, as well.

The standard 6-speed manual transmission is precise and shifts sweet, about the best we’ve experienced in a subcompact. However the CVT is also good, as it doesn’t bear the rubberband-like burden of too many CVTs; and it’s way better than the Nissan unit. Honda appears to be refining its CVTs, making their operation indistinguishable from a smooth automatic.

As for driving dynamics, we liked the pre-2015 Fit better, especially on curvy roads where it was delightful. The 2017 version is fun, but the redesigned suspension of front struts and stabilizer bar (starting with the 2015 models) does more to make the ride solid than it does to keep the handling quick. It leans more in the corners and dives more under braking than the pre-2015 models did. The H-type torsion beam rear suspension controls the ride well at the rear wheels. It might be a bit more choppy than compact and midsize cars, because of its wheelbase that’s shorter than those cars, but it’s at the top of its own subcompact class. The brake pedal is precise and easy to modulate.
Final Word

2017-fit-finalYou can’t go wrong with a Honda Fit, and few have. It’s in a class of its own for a subcompact hatchback, in reliability, economy, performance and interior versatility.

Sam Moses contributed to this report, with driving impressions by The Car Connection staff.
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12/04/2016 - wrote:

2017 BMW X1
2017 BMW X1
The BMW X1 is a crossover that’s called a subcompact because it’s built on the Mini platform, but given its height, no one would think of it as being sub-compact.
This second-generation X1 was launched as a 2016 model. New for 2017, X1 is available with front-wheel drive.
Besides the twin-kidney grille, there isn’t that much to differentiate the X1. The handling is pleasant enough, but not inspiring; from behind the wheel, especially with front-wheel drive, you might think you’re driving a Ford or Kia. The X1 is less costly than you might expect from BMW, and the interior materials reflect that.
BMW sees among its competitors the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q3, but we’d add the Acura RDX, Volvo XC60, or even the Ford Escape Titanium to the list. Comparing the features of these vehicles to the X1, they look pretty good.
The BMW X1 uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, mated to a paddle-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s really quick, maybe the best thing about the car, with strong power for passing.
BMW engineering almost always brings good fuel mileage. The X1 rates an EPA-estimated 23/32 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined with front-wheel drive, one per gallon lower with xDrive all-wheel drive.
The IIHS gives it its best rating, Top Safety Pick Plus.
Model Lineup
The 2017 BMW X1 sDrive28i ($32,800) comes with front-wheel drive, X1 xDrive28i ($34,800) comes with all-wheel drive. Leatherette upholstery comes standard.
The Luxury package ($1550) upgrades to leather seats and wood or aluminum trim. A Premium package ($3250) brings LED headlamps and panoramic roof. The Technology package ($2550) adds navigation and a head-up display. An M Sport package has a firmer suspension, quicker programming in the transmission, sport seats, and body tweaks.
Given its height and shape of the greenhouse, it looks like the crossover it is, and not a stylish BMW wagon. But the nose is pure BMW, with twin-kidney grille and cat’s eye headlamps, with icing-like sculpting on the sides and high taillamps. Dark cladding wraps around the rear and touches the low air intakes up front.
The dashboard looks smart, with its big round analog gauges, but the standard interior materials look and feel cheaper than you expect in a premium vehicle. And the front seats are woefully inadequate in thigh bolstering and thin on back support. We haven’t tried the sport seats, but they have to be better than the base seats. The back seats might actually be more comfortable.
There’s good headroom thanks to the height, and generous legroom in the rear for a subcompact, although not enough width back there for three adults. They’re easy to climb in and out of, thanks to wide door openings. You can opt for a rear seat that reclines and slides rearward by five inches.
Cargo space is good for a subcompact, but less than a compact crossover. It’s 27.1 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 58.7 cubic feet with it down. That’s more than the Audi Q3 or Range Rover Evoque, but way less than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.
We like the optional wood trim and leather with contrasting stitching, and the head-up display, and the 8.8-inch touchscreen that’s mounted on top of the center console festooned with audio and climate buttons. The screen comes with a touchpad on the iDrive knob.
The low dashboard and fairly thin windshield pillars allows excellent visibility.
Driving Impressions
The 2.0-liter turbo engine, with 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, accelerates from zero to sixty in 6.4 seconds, quick for its class.
The speed-sensitive electric power steering is quick and well weighted, while lacking in BMW feel, but you can still run the X1 on twisty roads harder than your everyday crossover. The good brakes complement such conditions. We haven’t tested the stiffer M Sport yet.
The ride is comfortable, even on standard 18-inch wheels with run-flat all-season tires; conventional all-season tires with a space-saver spare are available at no extra cost.
The Driving Dynamic Control modes are Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro, which change the sensitivity of the steering, throttle, and transmission. Not surprisingly, given the intent of the X1, we found a significant difference between the settings, as it’s supposed to be. Power is quite slow to arrive in Eco Pro, medium slow in Comfort, and quicker in Sport, or if you’re using manual control in the shift gate or the paddleshifters. In any mode other than Sport, the transmission stubbornly resists shifting down during uphill acceleration.
BMW’s all-wheel drive xDrive uses a clutch and hydraulic pump system that can shift 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels in a small fraction of a second. Our seat time included some miles in the mountains on roads with rocks and mud from recent landslides. The X1’s good ground clearance was useful, however, on some gravelly spots, we lost some confidence along with lost traction.
Final Word
The BMW X1 is a competent subcompact crossover SUV, with a strong powertrain, excellent safety, and good fuel mileage.
Sam Moses wrote this review, with staff reports by The Car Connection.
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12/04/2016 - wrote:

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser
2016 Toyota Land Cruiser
The Toyota Land Cruiser is getting long in the tooth, but it remains the real deal. It’s no crossover-car masquerading as a rugged vehicle. A Land Cruiser is for offroad adventures, and don’t use it for that you’re wasting your money. It might be the perfect vehicle for crossing the Outback, but it’s overkill for crossing America on Interstate 90, or even taking the family to the Outer Banks on vacation.
Not that it doesn’t work as an on-road luxury SUV. For a family of eight with three little ones that doesn’t want a minivan, the Land Cruiser is a reasonable choice. It looks like a luxury SUV, not a rugged off-roader, even though it is. For mere urban needs, you get the about same utility from the far less expensive Toyota Sequoia. With its off-road capability combined with luxury, the Land Cruiser is more comparable to the fancier Lexus LX 570 or Range Rover.
Despite a sophisticated suspension, the ride can be choppy on a bumpy highway, although it’s smoother with eight passengers because of the weight.
A big 5.7-liter V8 making 381 horsepower drives this massive 5700-pound truck with body-on-frame construction. The Land Cruiser is equipped with trailer sway control and is rated to tow up to 8100 pounds, though we’d opt for a heavy-duty pickup for any trailer approaching that weight. Four-wheel drive with a locking differential is standard, along with a sturdy suspension.
For 2016, the Land Cruiser engine gets paired to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain accelerates smoothly and competently. Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 13/18/15 City/Highway/Combined.
Because of the small numbers of Land Cruisers, the NHTSA hasn’t gone to the expense of crash-testing it. But you know it’s a tank, and your worries about coming out the loser in a crash with a responsible small car are few. Plus, standard safety features include 10 airbags, active headrests, rearview camera, parking sensors, and Toyota’s Pre-Collision System, which tightens the belts if sensors see a crash coming. For 2016 there’s a new suite of active safety features, including automatic headllamps, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors with rear cross traffic alerts, lane departure warning, and a forward collision warning system with pedestrian protection that applies the brakes at speeds below 24 miles per hour.
Model Lineup
The 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser ($83,825) comes fully equipped, with leather, heated rear and front seats, sunroof, rear entertainment system, Bluetooth, navigation, HD radio, Toyota’s Entune suite for mobile apps, and on and on.
2016-landcruiser-rearDespite its size, no one is going to look twice at the Land Cruiser. It used to have some chunky distinction, but its styling today is lost in the crowd. The big chrome grille is boring. The LED headlamps aren’t designed in any creative fashion. It doesn’t have an iconic style or a true-luxury presence like a Range Rover. It’s just big and square with chrome.
The Land Cruiser’s cabin is nearly as luxurious as that in the Lexus LX 570, but the materials aren’t as rich as those in the Range Rover. Given the price, the Toyota materials not impressive. The Toyota Highlander’s materials are nearly as nice.
2016-landcruiser-interiorIt doesn’t look or feel like a truck or offroad-oriented vehicle inside. The instruments are heavy on technology, with a big nav screen on top. It’s very quiet, with negligible wind and road noise, and the front seats are extremely comfortable. You sit way up high, so forward visibility is outstanding.
The second-row seat slides several inches, for good legroom to go with good headroom. But the third row is unimaginative. Because of the big rear axle for off road, there’s no room for the seat to fold into the floor when it’s not used; each side swings against the bulkhead, reducing cargo space.
Driving Impressions
The engine lets out a nice growl when you floor it and manually upshift the automatic transmission through the eight gears. That 381-horsepower V8 also makes 401 pound-feet of torque, which can open your eyes.
The steering feels numb because of its full-time four-wheel drive (50 percent front, 50 percent rear), and also loose, but it handles well for its size, and it’s happy enough on the road. There’s a limited amount of body roll in the turns, thanks to the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension that stiffens the front and rear anti-roll bars on the road and essentially disconnects them off the road. The KDS system is great on washboard dirt roads, but it’s a bit firm on highway big bumps and potholes, where you are reminded that your Land Cruiser is a truck.
Off road, you are reminded the Land Cruiser is a champ. It has an approach angle of 30 degrees, a low-range transfer case, traction control integrated with the stability control, and a locking center differential that can swing 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels, as determined by electronics. The rear suspension allows up to 9.5 inches of travel to get the wheels over rocks and logs.
Hill descent control helps going down steep, muddy trails, hill start assist is useful when stopped at a traffic light in San Francisco. Crawl control sets the throttle and applies the brakes according to one of five settings the driver makes for rocks, mud, sand, or snow. Finally there’s Off-Road Turn Assist, which pulses the rear brakes to help the heavy Land Cruiser take sharp turns on rugged terrain.
Final Word
The Land Cruiser is comfortable and highly capable, but it’s dated and is outclassed by Range Rover.
Sam Moses reported to New Car Test Drive from Australia, with staff reports from The Car Connection.
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