Monday
Sep012014

Reviewed: 2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport 

This current generation of Lexus IS's are very solid cars, however, the choice of engine is critical.  We've sampled the 2.5 liter V6 and were less than impressed, Can the larger 3.5 liter V6 transform the IS F-Sport  That's what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

Monday
Aug112014

Reviewed 2014 Chrysler 300C: Benchmark American Sedan 

The Chrysler 300 is a bit of an icon when it comes to American sedans.  The styling for the previous generation and this one makes an aggressive statement.
It's all well and good to look nice, but what's it like to drive?  Thats what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

 

 

Wednesday
Aug062014

First Drive 2015 Lexus NX 200T: Lexus Enters The Luxury Compact Crossover Segment 

It’s no secret that the fastest growing segment in the car industry is the Compact Crossover segment.  Within that segment the luxury models are growing at even a faster rate.  Until now, Lexus did not have a model to compete against the likes of the Mercedes GLK, Audi Q5 and BMW X3, however, that all changes now with the new NX.

The new NX is aimed at a younger demographic with a more active lifestyle.  Lexus is targeting those buyers who want looks that stand apart, a sporty character, but without any sacrifices to luxury.  Lexus also estimates that 50% of the NX buyers will be new to the Lexus brand.

If you like and enjoy the Lexus IS, then the NX is right up your alley.  While the ES and RX models are aimed at what was Lexus’ “traditional owner”, like the IS, the NX makes more of a statement, both outside and within.  Lexus calls IS/NX buyer the “next wave” of Lexus owners.

Based loosely on the RAV4 platform, 90% of the platform has been changed and upgraded.  There are unique parts and chassis components that result in a 20% greater structural rigidity.  Because of the greater strength, a quieter, more composed ride, the kind you expect from Lexus, is possible.

The exterior of the new NX is sure to draw comments.  It has the Lexus corporate spindle grill, but in two flavors.  The 200T and 300h models have horizontal bars, while the F-Sport has a black honeycomb structure.

The rest of the vehicle has strong lines throughout, the F-Sport model will have a unique facia, wheels and interior trim, a unique Ultrasonic Blue paint color and red interior available.  All models will come with LED headlamps as standard and the arrow day time running lamps.  LED high beam lights and tail lights will be offered in higher level trim models.  There are also lighted door handles and puddle lamps that activate as you approach the car at night.

On the 200T and 300h models 17 inch wheels are standard, with 18 inch wheels an option.

Inside all models get a 7 inch video screen, with navigation as an option.  In non-navigation models the “mouse” is now replaced with a knob, similar to what you’d find on German luxury models, while vehicles equipped with Navigation will get a touch pad that features pinch to zoom, swipe and haptic feedback just like most smart phones.

The navigation system also has a 3D street view to make it easier to recognize landmarks as you drive to a destination.

The standard audio system in the NX comes with 8 speakers along with free HD Traffic and Weather, the upgraded audio is a 10 speaker system with radio cache, so that you can pause live music, sports or talk radio if you have to take a call.

The center stack has some unique features, starting with a design that mimics the nose of the NX.  There are specific spots in the center console for holding sunglasses, the cup holders get attention to detail with a material on the bottom that will grip bottles, so that you can open them in the holders with one hand.  Lexus will also offer wireless charging using the Qi (pronounced Chee) standard.  If your phone is not quipped for this standard there are adapters sold to make it possible, including for the iPhone.

There have been significant upgrades to the Lexus Enform system.  For those with young drivers in the household, you can set distance limits, speed limits, curfews, and maximum miles and elapse time.  Other convenience features inside the app include remote lock and unlock, for instance when you are on the shuttle bus to the airport and you can’t remember if you locked your car, just use your app.  Remote start is available with the ability to set the temperature in the cabin.  The car will run for 10 minutes before shutting off automatically if you have not entered the vehicle. 

The latest in safety feature are available on the new NX including eight air bags, blind spot warning with cross traffic alerts, lane departure, pre collision alert with customizable distances and all speed dynamic radar cruise control.  The radar cruise control will bring you down to a full stop, then as traffic begins to move again, bring you back up to your set speed.

Overall length on the new NX is 183.3 inches, while the wheelbase is 104.7 inches, those numbers are very close to the original RX crossover.  Cargo room is 17.7 cubic feet with the back seat up and 54.6 cubic feet with it down.  Again, there is attention to detain in the cargo area as below the load floor there is a designated spot for the tonneau cover.

There will be two engine options for the 2015 NX.  For the 200T and F-Sport models it will be Lexus’ first turbo motor, a 2.0 liter four cylinder unit.  The engine produces 235 horsepower at 4,800 rpm’s and 258 lb/ft of torque from 1,650 through 4,000 rpm’s.  The abundance of low end torque makes darting in and out of traffic easier, merging with traffic on the freeway a breeze, and with a twin scroll turbocharger there is no turbo lag.  This engine also has an advantage if you drive at higher altitudes as turbos will continue to make power while naturally aspirated motors, especially small capacity ones will struggle in the thinner air.

Fuel economy for the front drive model is estimated to be 22 city, 28 highway and 24 combined, while in all wheel drive it will be 21 city 28 highway and 24 combined.

The 300h will come with a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine and the hybrid drive system.  The NX 300h will be the first all wheel drive hybrid on the market.  In all wheel drive trim the engine will drive the front wheels and the rears will be driven by the hybrid system.  Fuel economy is estimated to be 35 city, 31 highway and 33 combined for the front drive while the all wheel drive is estimated at 33 city, 30 highway and 32 combined.

On the road the NX drive like a European luxury vehicle, it is firm and well controlled without being overly stiff or abrupt.  While it is no track day vehicle, if you enjoy driving on twisty roads, the NX won’t let you down.

The 2015 Lexus NX goes on sale at the end of November to early December with a starting price of just under $40,000.  Lexus estimates about 3,000 sales a month, we feel it will be much more successful than that.

 

Wednesday
Jul232014

First Drive 2015 Hyundai Sonata: "Modern Premium"

 

When Hyundai debuted the past generation Sonata in 2011 it caused quite a stir with it’s “fluidic sculpture” design.  It was a fairly aggressive design for the mid sized sedan category, which, when it comes to design, errors on the side of ultra conservative.   While many people did not like the design, it was an overwhelming sales hit for Hyundai, to the tune of a capacity constrained 210-220,000 units a year in sales.

Hyundai’s M.O. is to provide high quality and high content levels at a savings compared to it’s competitors, and this value proposition works well, not only in the Sonata, but across the lineup at Hyundai.

Now with this next generation of Sonata, Hyundai it trying to tweak it’s formula.  They are still shooting for the value proposition, however, this time their goal is to have a more mature looking car, less “look at me” and communicate a “higher quality” aura, both inside and out.

This “modern premium” philosophy, both inside and out, comes through with a much more conservative exterior, and a simplified interior.  Competing, volume wise, with the likes of Camry, Fusion, Altima, Accord and Malibu, there is much to like, yet there is much to question, mostly about the exterior design, but we will get to that in a bit.

There will be three powertrains offered in the 2015 Sonata.  The volume of sales will be with the 2.4 liter four cylinder which will be prodding 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 178 lb/ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.  Fuel economy for the 2.4 is rated at 25 mpg city, 37 highway and 29 combined.

A 2.0 Turbo four cylinder is also available, this unit will produce 245 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 260 lb/ft of torque from 1,350 through 4,000 rpms.  Once again, as in the last generation, there will be no V6 option, rather the two liter turbo provides similar power in a smaller package with better fuel economy.   For the Turbo Sonata that equates to 23 city, 32 highway and 29 combined.  According to Hyundai, the take rate on the turbo, is similar to other brands V6 packages, of somewhere between 17 and 22 percent of model sales volume.

For the first time Hyundai is breaking out a dedicated Eco model.  A 1.6 liter GDI Turbo engine with 177 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 195 lb/ft of torque from 1,500 through 4,500 rpms will be rated at 28 city, 38 highway and 32 combined.  While the 2.0 Turbo and 2.4 liter four’s make due with a six speed automatic, the Eco model gets a seven speed dual clutch unit, with updated electronic shift actuators.  Hyundai’s goal was to give a traditional automatic transmission feel, with the performance and fuel economy benefits of a dual clutch gear box.

If there was an area that was lacking in the last generation of Sonata it was the suspension tuning.  While fine over smooth pavement, it felt harsh and abrupt over rough or choppy pavement.  The new generation attacks that in several directions.

First there is a significant use of high strength steel in the 2015 Sonata.  51% of the Sonata contains high strength steel, and, along with the use of aero grade adhesives, it results in a chassis stiffness that is up 41% from the previous model.  Secondly both the front and rear suspensions have been redesigned.  The McPherson struts up front have a different geometry, and the rear suspension has been upgraded from a single to a dual link system.  Lastly a revised steering rack and column shaft communicate a more connected road feel.

The wheelbase for the Sonata checks in at 110 inches, pretty close to standard for the class, as is the overall length at 191 inches, however, the Sonata is the widest in the class at 73.4 inches.  All this translates into what Hyundai says is the largest interior in the class, at 106.1 cubic feet, and the EPA actually classifies the car as a Large, rather than Mid-sized with that volume.

As mentioned, the interior layout got a rethink with the new Sonata.  The dash layout drops the waterfall center stack for a more linear layout similar to the new Genesis sedan.  Hyundai have focused on what they call the “human machine interface” to make it more logical and intuitive for the driver to focus on the driving and not have to search around for HVAC and audio controls or the AV monitor.

There will be two different sized monitors in the 2015 Sonata, either a 5 inch model or an 8 inch when navigation is ordered.  Sometime in the next few months Hyundai will be rolling out Apple Car Play in models ordered with the 8 inch touch screen, though models ordered with the Nav, but not Car Play, may be able to be upgraded to Car Play through a software update at a later time.  Hyundai is also working on the Android Auto system as well, but the Apple car play will be live for some time before the Android system.  We have a video of the pre-production unit being demoed for you to have a look.

Other options that are available in the interior are items like driver memory seats, heated steering wheel ride side window sunshades, heated and cooled front seats along with heated rear seats and LED interior lighting.

There is some hard plastic used in the interior but it is kept to a minimum, but even the hard plastics have a good look and feel to them.  The rest of the materials inside are quite good, on the top end models the leather is nice and supple. 

Two things are quite apparent when you drive the new Sonata, number one, the changes to the suspension have made a huge difference.  We drove both the 2.4 Limited and the 2.0T Sport versions of the car over some very chewed up sections of Michigan roads and the ride was excellent.  There was no harshness transmitted into the cabin or through the steering wheel, yet the car didn’t feel too isolated either, it was a nice balance.

The second item was how quiet the cabin was.  There is a combination of items here, better glass, a smooth full under body tray and overall Cd of .27, there is little to no wind noise, and other than on very textured pavement, little no little tire noise as well.  While we didn’t take a db reading of the cabin at speed, based off our experience with most of the other cars in the class, it’s among the quietest.

While we didn’t get a chance to drive the Eco version, we do prefer the Turbo model to the 2.4 naturally aspirated unit.  Not so much for the power, but the low end torque of the turbo model made it much more enjoyable to drive in stop and go driving and typical city environment situations.  With the 2.4 engine, power and torque are high up in the power band, so, you have to really give it some stick to get up to speed.

Overall driving dynamics are solid.  This IS a family sedan, make no mistake there are no real “sporting” characteristics, even in the Sport model, but it gets the job done, and it doesn’t feel like an appliance, rather a competent road car.

The elephant in the room though is the styling.  It’s said good design should draw an emotion, good or bad.  The previous generation Sonata made a bold statement, and it was very much a take it or leave it design.  It’s understandable that Hyundai wanted to evolve the design, and in many ways you can see what they were trying to do.  Rather than bold they wanted Brooks Brothers or Savile Row, not flashy, but when you see it, you know it’s well tailored.  What they ended up with though is a nice off the rack look.

The styling was pulled back so much, that now it just blends in, and while Hyundai is on a roll, we’re not sure their at a point where they can succeed with average styling.  As you walk around the car, it has some good angles, but someone in design pulled back about 10-15% too much.  A few lines need to be crisper, others a bit more aggressive.  Following other cars in the drive we were on the rear could easily be mistaken for the new Mazda6, the front could be one of many cars in the class.  Also not as well done as it should have been is the cover plate for the radar cruise control.  It’s a large block of shiny black metal that sits just below the logo, it looks very much like an afterthought, not well integrated into the overall look and design.

Pricing starts at $21,960 with destination, and goes up through $33,500 in top spec Sport trim.  There are only 12 build combinations for the new Sonata, and when put spec for spec against the competition they do come out ahead for value.

Value is going to have to be the calling card for the new Sonata, styling, at least on the exterior will not.  Interior and driving dynamics are solid, maybe not as good as some, but better than most.

The mid-sized sedan segment is an interesting one.  With the large volumes on offer, it’s understandable that manufactures don’t want to take chances in a segment where most people are looking for a solid transportation vehicle.  That said, the easiest way to stand out from the crowd and draw interest is good exterior design.  Now if the rest of the car is substandard it doesn’t matter, but that’s not the issue for Hyundai.  Six or seven years in now on making large inroads they have momentum, the question is, with the redesign, will that momentum continue, or have they gotten too conservative.  Only time will tell.

 

Tuesday
Jul152014

Apple Car Play Demo In The 2015 Hyundai Sonata 

While we are on our first drive of the all new 2015 Hyundai Sonata, that review to follow shortly, we had a demonstration of Apple's Car Play system in the 2015 Sonata by Hyundai Product Manager Miles Johnson.   

This is a pre-production unit and you will see a few errors that pop up, but this is 90-95% done.  Look for it sometime late in 2014 or early in 2015 as an option in the Sonata.  As a side note the screen in this 2015 Sonata is 8 inches