Wednesday
May152013

First Drive: 2014 Lexus IS

Over the last 18 months you can really see Akio Toyoda’s fingerprints on the Lexus brand.  For many years Lexus was considered a brand of fine cars with excellent build quality and a dealer network that set the standard for the industry. However, they were also thought of as bland and emotionless vehicles.  Cars and SUV’s for those that wanted something nice, but didn’t care about cars or want to think about cars.

Akio’s statement was that cars bearing his family’s name WOULD have emotion, would have a connection to the driver, they would NOT be thought of as just a commodity item.

The all new GS was the first real statement along those lines and now with the 2014 Lexus IS, the third generation of the car, Akio has focused Lexus’ efforts into not just drawing event with cars like the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4, but setting the standard for the small luxury performance segment.

The new IS draws from it’s larger stablemate, the GS, in several areas.  The front end is a further, more aggressive evolution of the spindle grill, the interior continues the horizontal theme dash, and the rear suspension is derived from the GS as well.

The new IS gains 2.5 inches in wheelbase allowing for a further 1.6 inches of rear seat legroom.  The overall length has been extended 3.5 inches, the trunk now has an additional .5 cubic foot of space and the first time offering a 60/40 split folding rear seat for additional cargo capacity.

When the new IS is ordered with Satellite Navigation, it comes loaded with 3D mapping including Street View.  Traffic and weather information are now subscription free, weather is updated every 10 minutes and traffic every 2 minutes.  Traffic also has the addition feature of Predictive Traffic which can forecast ahead 15, 30 and 45 minutes so that you can see what your route may look like, and if you should choose a different way.  Also when you are running low on fuel gas stations will appear as Points Of Interest on the map.

The 2014 IS has all of the safety features you’ve come to expect on a car at this level, 10 air bags, Blind Spot Warning with Cross Traffic, lane departure alert, and Pre Collision Radar cruise control down to 25 miles an hour.

The F-Sport version of the new IS, available on both the IS 250 and the IS 350 is distinguished by a different nose and bumper, different seats, LED daytime running lights, variable adaptive suspension and additional drive modes of Sports S and S+.  Also in the F-Sport is a different gage cluster that draws it’s inspiration from the LFA Supercar.  The center dial slides from the center to the right and alters the information on the LCD gage cluster. 

Optional on all models is the 15 speaker, 835 watt Mark Levinson audio system.  The system features a full digital (Class-D) amplifier, 5.1 channel/7.1 channel surround system, a total of 15 GreenEdge™ ultra-high efficiency speakers and a Lexus-first Auto Volume System,which automatically adjusts volume when changing between sources or radio channels.

The IS 250 and 350 can be had either as Rear Drive or All Wheel Drive.  Power comes from either a 2.5 liter V6 in the IS 250 offering 204 horsepower and 184 lb/ft of torque, or the 3.5 liter V6 in the IS 350 which offers up 306 horsepower and 277 lb/ft of torque.  

Fuel economy is rated in the IS 250 at 21/30/24 (city/highway/combined) for the Rear Drive and 20/27/23 for the All Wheel Drive model.  The IS 350 rates as 19/28/22 for the Rear Drive and 19/26/21 for the All Wheel Drive.  

All IS 250’s, plus the IS 350 AWD will use a six speed automatic transmission, while the Rear Drive IS 350 will use the eight speed automatic from the outgoing IS-F.

On the road the new IS has a very comfortable and controlled ride quality, the cabin is very quiet, as you’d expect.  However, when you put your foot down, there is a very sporty sounding exhaust, and when tossed aggressively into corners, the body stays very flat, and the handling is very neutral, with just a hint of understeer to keep you safe.

Lexus believe you can have your cake and eat it too with the suspension in the new IS.  They have soften the springs at all four corners to make the ride more supple, yet larger anti roll bars allow the handling to be very sporty and controlled without being overly stiff.  When you want a more aggressive suspension you can dial it up with the drive mode selector.  In the standard IS you have a Sport mode, and in the F-Sport there are Sports S and S+ options.  The additional modes will not only change the suspension calibrations, but alter how aggressive the throttle is as well. 

For 30 years the BMW 3 Series has set the benchmark for the small sport luxury segment, and Audi in the last decade has been running neck and neck with BMW with their A4.  Lexus have now gone all in on this segment, and just like when Lexus entered the market with the original LS, the Germans will be may need to re-evaluate their current efforts.

Pricing for the IS 250 begins at $35,950 and $39,465 for the IS 350, All Wheel Drive adds $2,515 to the IS 250 and $2,235 to the IS 350, all models of the new IS will be available mid Summer.

Tuesday
Apr302013

Reviewed: 2013 Hyundai Azera

When the original Azera first debuted it heralded the beginning of Hyundai as we know it today, great value for money, good style, high levels of content and more.  As Hyundai looks to take the next step does the Azera also take the next step to compete with cars like the Buick Lacrosse, Lexus ES, Toyota Avalon and more?  
Thursday
Apr182013

Reviewed: 2013 Kia Soul

 

We had the opportunity to spend a week with Kia's signature vehicle, the Soul in mid February, and came to understand why it is so popular.  So, for this installment of Ten Minute Test Drive we will dive in to the 2013 Kia Soul.

Tuesday
Apr092013

Ford Announces New 2014 F-150 SVT Raptor Special Edition

Normally we don't re-post press releases, there are plenty of other sites out there that pass of news and coverage as just pushing out press releases.  That said the Ford Raptor is one of our favorite vehicles that we've ever tested, so excuse us if we do it this one time.

 

Ford’s F-150 SVT Raptor, the ultimate high-performance off-road pickup truck, has a new Special Edition package customers can order that adds more unique touches to the hot-selling pickup.

 

Ford today reveals the 2014 F-150 SVT Raptor Special Edition, which adds unique new touches to Raptor’s existing Luxury Package, including a Ruby Red Metallic exterior color and box-side graphics. Interior upgrades include Brick Red seat bolsters with black inserts and cloth honeycomb highlights, console top finish panel, and center stack and door panel appliqué accents. Raptor Special Edition is also available in Tuxedo Black Metallic.

 

The 2014 F-150 SVT Raptor Special Edition goes on sale this fall.

“Raptor owners are looking for a high-performing, uncompromising off-road pickup truck with the features and luxuries found in today’s premium trucks,” said Doug Scott, Ford truck group marketing manager. “Since its launch in 2009, we’ve continually moved Raptor forward in capability and design, and the 2014 Special Edition is the best Raptor yet.”

Raptor has found an enviable niche in full-size pickups. SVT Raptor sales are up 14 percent in 2013, with five out of the past six months seeing record sales. More than 13,000 Raptors were sold in 2012.

SVT Raptor prowess and power

Since launching as a 2010 model, the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor has set the benchmark for low- and high-speed off-road performance through aggressive all-terrain tires, industry-exclusive internal triple-bypass FOX Racing Shox dampers, skid plates and standard Hill Descent Control.

A Raptor development imperative has been continuous improvement, so Ford expanded Raptor’s footprint for 2011 with a four-door SuperCrew model joining the two-door SuperCab original.

For 2012 Ford began offering a grille-mounted camera to improve driver visibility when climbing over rocks or other obstacles. The 2012 addition of a Torsen® limited-slip differential to Raptor’s 4WD system enables the truck to balance traction between both front wheels.

For 2013 industry-exclusive beadlock-capable wheels were added to help increase grip in low-traction conditions, along with high-intensity discharge headlamps for improved visibility. SYNC® with MyFord Touch® was also made available for added connectivity.

SVT Raptor is available exclusively with a 6.2-liter V8 engine producing best-in-class 411 horsepower and 434 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to an electronic six-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode and SelectShift Automatic® functionality. The 4WD system features electronic shift-on-the-fly capability for the transfer case.

The front axle features a Torsen® differential with 4.10 to 1 gearing. The rear axle is also 4.10 to 1, with an electronic-locking differential.

Wednesday
Mar272013

Wednesday's Words: Thoughts on the "New" Lincoln

 

Lincoln is at the beginning of rebooting it’s brand, and with that the opportunity to position itself to stand out among all the other “premium” car brands.


It would appear that Lincoln is positioning itself to compete against brands like Volvo, Lexus, Acura, and Audi.  We think, to quote Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart, they are missing it by that much.


“Premium Luxury” is the new black, everyone is doing it.  To stand out in that very crowded demographic, you have to do something different, and what Lincoln is bringing to market isn’t different enough.


Rather than compete against such a crowded field, we believe that Lincoln needs to look further up market, to take on former Premier Auto Group members Jaguar and Land Rover, the reasons are several.  


Number one, there is less to compete against. When there are few competitiors to draw your attention away, it’s much easier to be the point of focus.


Number two, pricing separation.  As it sits right now, Lincoln will continue to have the issue it has had for a number of years, and that is, it’s just a gussied up Ford.  Look at the Ford Fusion in Titanium trim, out the door it’s going to sell for between $34,000 and $36,000.  The new Lincoln MKZ starts at $37,000 and can go out the door, similarly equipped to the Fusion for about $42,000.  That’s not much of a premium.  The same goes across the board when you look at Edge vs. MKX, Taurus vs MKS and Flex vs. MKT.


While there is now more of a difference in both interior and exterior design, it doesn’t take much of a discerning eye to tell they share a common platform.


Number three, in moving further up market, you have much more pricing power and hence profitability, with the added benefit of having the ability to bring unique looks to both the exterior and interior of the vehicles.  The ability to use much higher quality materials in a more top shelf brand also would help distinguish it from it’s parent brand.


Lastly, in reaching to a higher demographic, Lincoln would have the opportunity to truly be an aspirational brand, rather than just another “premium luxury” brand.  They could redefine what an “American Luxury Brand” is.  Rather than some cliche’ from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, American Luxury doesn’t have to be “boulevard smooth” nor does it have to be the the latest in consumer electronics, rather than “custom” it should be “bespoke”  Most anyone can have “custom” few can have “bespoke”.


Lincoln should not get carried away with “gimmick” interiors that are all about the latest in technology.  As we are beginning to see, most interiors that but a focus on the latest in consumer electronics of the moment, are (a) 9-24 months behind the curve to begin with, and (b) don’t age well, both from looks and from function.  Classic and timeless should be the focus when it comes to interiors at Lincoln.  Simplicity is it’s own luxury.


If Lincoln is to be successful in it’s reboot, it will have to be something different than it’s competitors.  Pretty advertising is great for getting people in the door, but the product must, not match expectations, but far exceed them.  In rebooting the brand, Lincoln HAS the opportunity to place itself where it wants, as they try to start with a clean sheet, the question is, are they positioning themselves for success, or just to get lost in the crowd once again.