Reviewed 2013 Lexus LS460 F Sport: Akio's LS

The Lexus LS series has always been the safe choice for those who want a luxury car, but don't care about cars.  It's always been fantastic at being reliable, and comfortable, if a bit emotionless.
With Akio Toyoda taking control of his families company, he has tried to put emotion and driving dynamics back into the conversation for Lexus and Toyota.  With the LS there is now the F-Sport.  Is this something to challenge the 7 Series BMW or S8 Audi, or, is it the Lexus LS formula taken to finishing school.  That's what we find out on this edition of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.


Reviewed 2014 Mazda6: The Zoom Zoom Family Sedan

The Midsize sedan market is hugely competitive with names like Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat and Chevy Malibu.  In this segment, to be successful, you have to do a lot of things very well, and the Mazda6 does most things well, so you have to ask why isn't it more successful.
Other than the audio system, which had a number of issues connecting to various iPhone, iPod and Android units, we really liked the car, but is it best in class?  That's what we are going to find out in this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive


First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla

With the 2014 Corolla, Toyota brings to market a completely updated version of its bread and butter car.  Besides the Camry, the Corolla is the highest selling vehicle in the Toyota lineup with approximately 300,000 units sold per year.  Since entering the market in 1968, Toyota has sold 10 million Corolla's worldwide. Meanwhile, Corolla is responsible for 38% of the company's overall U.S. sales.

The appeal of the Corolla crosses demographic lines. While its modest price makes it a desirable buy among younger shoppers, the Corolla's inherent value has made the car a favorite among older buyers, as well as Hispanic and African American buyers, who have made the Corolla the #1 vehicle sold to both communities. 

With the 2014 model, Toyota has done a 180 with the Corolla, turning the car into a purchase made out of passion and not just necessity.  This starts with an exterior design that is more dramatic than the 2013 model. It certainly makes a statement, as the Corolla will no longer blend in to the background of mall parking lots. Different trim lines are accompanied by different appearance packages.  The S model has a unique shape to the grill, grill inserts and fog lamps.  The LE Eco model offers a rear spoiler, low rolling resistance tires, and a smoothed out under tray to lessen aerodynamic drag.  LED headlights are standard across all models - a first for the compact segment.

The S model, with it's blacked-out trim and grill, makes for a very striking vehicle, particularly in silver or blue.  Other trim lines are more conservative in their style, but still maintain a handsome look.

The wheelbase of the 2014 Corolla has been stretched 3.9 inches, which leads to an additional 5 inches of rear legroom, giving the 2014 Corolla more legroom than some midsize sedans.  This added space means two adults will be able to fit very comfortably in the back, with enough headroom for a 6-foot tall person.

The dash area is all-new as well, with a horizontal design and a significant upgrade in materials.  While hard plastics are used throughout  most of the cabin, each piece has a solid look and feel to it.  The steering wheel has a nice thick design that's very comfortable to grip, meanwhile S models come with a leather-wrapped wheel that gives a more premium feel compared to the standard steering wheel.

Seat materials are also well done. The standard cloth seats offer a nice thickness that leads one to believe the material will stand up to the test of time.  Higher-end models use Toyota's Tex Leather that also has a solid look and feel to it.

Bluetooth is standard on all models, as well as eight airbags, power windows, and the aforementioned first-in-class LED headlights.  LE trimmed Corolla's add Entune audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, as well as a backup camera with dynamic glide slope guidance.  For 2014 Entune has been upgraded with a simpler user interface, an improved voice recognition system, and additional apps. Unlike in previous years, Entune is now a subscription-free service, allowing all 2014 Corolla owners to enjoy the service.

There are three transmissions available on the 2014 Corolla.  Base L model's come with a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic transmission.  LE and LE Eco models come only with a CVT that is available on the sportier S model with integrated paddle shifters. A six-speed manual is standard fare on Corolla S models.

The CVT transmission is a Toyota designed and built unit that is programed to simulate a seven-speed gearbox.  Most of the "shifting" is felt only under heavy throttle settings, otherwise the transmission provides the seamless drive and feel associated with CVTs.

From behind the wheel, the Corolla offers a rather firm but very comfortable ride that soaks up bumps and potholes well at normal city speeds.  As you approach highway speeds, the suspension transmits more road imperfections into the cabin. It's not jarring, but it is noticeable.  

One item that drivers will immediately take note of is that the Corolla gives you the feeling of going much slower than the speed you are actually traveling at.  Going 70 mph, gives you have the perception that you are actually going 50-55 mph.  This speaks to the quality of the Corolla's chassis and sound deadening materials.  

This also translates to the feeling of acceleration in the 2014 Corolla. Between the quiet cabin and the dynamics of the CVT, the perception is that the Corolla is accelerating rather slow; however while not quick, Corolla's available power is more than adequate for all driving situations.

The LE Eco is unique over other Corolla models in that it employs Toyota's Valvetronic system.  While the standard VVT system adjust the opening and closing of the valves for maximum efficiency, Valvetronic goes one step further in adjusting valve lift and allows Toyota to maximize the engine's efficiency. The net result is a Corolla with 8 extra horsepower and an EPA-rated 42 mpg on the highway.

The 2014 Corolla will come with two additional airbags over the outgoing model, raising the number to eight.  Toyota has also increased side impact resistance by incorporating a new support beam for additional safety protection.

Available in four trim levels, the 2014 Corolla L has a base price of $16,800, while the LE stickers at $18,300, the LE Eco at $18,700, and the S at $19,000.  Option packages have been simplified into two categories: Plus and Premium. Toyota made the decision to simplify the Corolla's option packages from customer feedback and observed buying dynamics.

Toyota knows its customers very well, and the latest Corolla will appeal strongly to them.  The core essentials that have made the Corolla so popular are still the cornerstones of the 2014 model; however the car's dramatic new styling and modern interior that challenges that of the Sentra, Civic, and Forte, give the car a newfound glory.  The Corolla continues to fall short of being an all-out "driver's car" but it is a very competent compact car. With the Corolla entering dealership lots, Toyota's challenge is to see if the 2014 model can increase the car's customer base, as Toyota wants to increase Corolla sales by 10%.

First Take: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

We were invited by Honda down to Ohio to have a first drive of the 2014 Accord Hybrid.  This new hybrid has some unique technical items, like a CVT transmission that isn't really a transmission, that we hope to get to shortly.
Honda advertises 50MPG City, 45 MPG Highway and 47MPG Combined.  We all know that what hybrids advertise on a sticker and what they get in the real world, with real drivers tends to be something quite different.  Turns out though that this hybrid actually delivers on the numbers.  And, if we are honest, drives better than the regular gasoline Accord.
What else did we think?  That's what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive


First Drive: 2014 Toyota Tundra

Toyota has brought a refreshed Tundra to the market to do battle against Ford, Ram, Chevy and GMC.  The body was restyled, the interior gets a complete makeover, but is that enough to make a dent against the Detroit 3?  That is what we find out on this First Drive on Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive

Reviewed 2013 Lexus LX570: The Velvet Hammer

Based on the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser, the Lexus LX 570 has real off road credentials of it's own, winning the Baja 500 & Baja 1000 in the hands of Joe Bacal in the Stock Class.
But with all that, 99.95 percent of the people who buy the LX570 will never drive it off road, unless you count dirt roads.  So we have to ask, how does the LX570 stack up as a luxury SUV, expecally when compared to the new Range Rover and the Mercedes-Benz GL?  That's what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive



Reviewed 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe: Road Trip Perfection

While we have had the opportunity to drive the 5 passenger Santa Fe Sport, we had not had the chance to drive the 7 passenger version.  Since we were about to embark on a 1100+ mile road trip to pick up our new English Mastiff puppy, the question became, would this 6/7 passenger crossover be able to handle it.
It wasn't just the miles, it wasn't just that we were getting a new puppy, it was also that we were taking our 11 year old English Mastiff with us as well.  So, how did the Santa Fe do?  That is what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

Reviewed 2013 Audi allroad: When Wagons Are Better Than SUVs

A bit of a longer review, but for this one dive deep into the Audi allroad to talk about what we like, and don't like about this Wagon.  Our big question, has Audi set this car up to fail?  It is similar in size and capability to the Q5, but yet, it cost thousands more.
What's the answer?  That's what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive

Reviewed: 2013 Ford Explorer Sport The "Sporty" Utility Vehicle

Rather than being a rugged off roader the 2013 Ford Explorer Sport is designed and built to be a "sporty" utility vehicle, with the focus on driving dynamics. With the exception of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and perhaps the Dodge Durango R/T, this is usually in realm of $80,000+ BMW's and Porsche's.
So how DOES Ford's Explorer Sport stand up? That's what we find out today on Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

First Take: 2014 Hyundai Equus

There is no need to rehash the evolution of Hyundai in the American market in the last eight years, that has been done to death.  In that time, Hyundai has built a reputation for quality products that provide excellent value.  Where Hyundai has really shined, is in providing high levels of content compared to it’s competition at the same price or less.  

When Hyundai decided to bring the Equus to the U.S. a few years ago, many said that Hyundai had gone to far, no one would buy a top end luxury car from the brand, they should focus on what they were good at doing, high value cars for mainstream America.

If there was one car in the Equus’ sights it was the Lexus LS series, the original usurper in the top end luxury segment, Hyundai looked at that playbook, and looked to repeat the success.  While the Equus did not take off like the original LS, that was partially due to supply constraints and conservative sales estimate from Hyundai corporate.  While the Equus was good when compared against the LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class it felt about half to three quarters of a generation behind those two in the quality of materials and some overall refinement.

Come the 2014 mid-cycle refresh and most of the issues have been addressed.  There is an upgrade to the quality of materials throughout, though there are one or two striking misses, the aircraft style map lights in the rear being a noticeable one.

The styling has been tweaked, a nice clean up in removing some chrome trim from the front and rear bumpers along with the tail light lenses, gives the Equus a more refined look, the new 19” turbine style wheels look very striking as well.  Hyundai have also changed out the headlamps and taillights to LED’s as well.

Inside there is an all new dash, instrument panel and center stack.  In Ultimate trim there is a control dial on the steering wheel for the infotainment system’s 9.2” display that provides haptic feedback.

The infotainment system is an up to date system with a 64 gig SSD drive, with 30 gigs reserved for music, videos and photos.  The Nav system has “Junction View” giving you a graphical representation of Interstate interchanges and which lane and route to take.  Also down in the Nav system menus, there is the ability to see how far a rest stops are down the road.

In the instrument cluster there is a 7” display between the speedometer and tachometer,  for additional information, including turn by turn directions from the Nav system.  The Equus also is, in Ultimate trim, equipped with a Heads Up Display.  If you’ve never driven with a modern HUD unit, it is something that is very nice to have.  The HUD unit will display speed, turn by turn directions and blind spot warnings.

If you choose to ride in the back, this is an “Executive Luxury Sedan” after all, there are dual 9.2” displays, power door closure, and four way power lumbar adjustments to the rear seats.

Out on the road the Equus drives well, it feels like a large solid car.  There are two drive modes for the suspension, “Normal” and “Sport”.  Most people will not move out of the Normal setting and that’s fine, the ride and handling are compliant, and there is no float to the ride.  Change to Sport and things firm up, the steering has a little more weight and feel to it, but the change in settings does not transform the Equus into a “Sport Sedan”.

Power for the Equus is the excellent 5.0 liter Tau V8 engine producing 429 horsepower, matched up to an 8 speed automatic transmission.  While one would not call the Equus fast, the power is more than adequate, you never feel as if you are laking for power.  You can get up to speed quickly, on a two lane road you have plenty of torque to get you around slower cars and safely back into your lane.  Merging on to highways is not a problem at at all.  Best of all, unlike some other cars in this class the Equus does not require Premium Fuel.

The Equus comes in two trim levels, Signature and Ultimate.  Pricing for the two models is $61,920 for the Signature and $68,920 for the Ultimate, that is $1,750 more than the outgoing model.  Compared to others in the category the Equus is $11,000 less than the Lexus LS, $33,000 less than the BMW 7 Series and $37,000 less than the Mercedes S-Class.

While many might think that people who would buy a Lexus, Mercedes, Audi or BMW would not be interested in the Equus, according to Hyundai America CEO John Krafcik, they have had a significant amount of conquest business from those other brands.

While at the end of the day the Equus might not be quite as good as the Lexus LS, it’s 95-98% as good and at a much better price point.  The interior and ride quality are on par with the outgoing Mercedes S-Class, at a huge savings, without some of the service headaches that come from owning a German car.  

The Equus is a player in the market and shouldn’t be discounted, we saw 20+ years ago how the German luxury makers dismissed Lexus, and we saw how well that worked out.  Given what Hyundai is doing with their mainstream products, the Equus shouldn’t be dismissed either.