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The Forums Test Drive Team

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Comments

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I won't call this a full review because a quick drive isn't enough to truly evaluate it, but I'll share my first driving impressions, which were very positive overall.

    The tranny that Bob complained about was my favorite feature, even in Drive it really knew what gear to choose, and held the right gear in a turn so you could accelerate out of it. Floor the throttle and you get a lower gear ASAP, quicker than with Sportshift it seemed, oddly enough.

    That smart tranny kept the engine in its sweet spot, so it felt plenty quick to me. If you need more power budget for speeding tickets, because you will get them. Acceleration makes my Miata and Forester seem slow, easily under 8 seconds to 60 here.

    It's the opposite of the Highlander and Pilot. Those cars seem torquey until you push them, then they kinda run out of steam (is it their weight?). The Tribeca is quiet and smooth, and then you hit the throttle and the engine comes alive and has plenty of steam. The H6 likes high rpms and the tranny does a good job keeping it there when needed.

    Tinted windows - darker than I recall, I really liked them. This was a big surprise because I didn't think they'd be this dark. Big thumbs up.

    Steering felt a little light to me, though feedback was good. Not as light as Honda/Toyota, but I would prefer about 20% less power steering boost.

    Ride was very impressive, in fact that and the quietness impressed me the most. I went over a speed bump at about 35mph and it absorbed it so that you hardly felt it. And let's face it, getting over speed bumps is more important that whatever off road ability it might have. Good job given the 18" rims and 55 series tires.

    They really did a good job with the seals and you heard tire noise rather than wind noise so the shape is very functional. At low rpms you can't even hear the engine, so check the tach before reaching for the starter.

    Doors were heavy, but I'm used to lighter frameless doors. It closes with a thunk but it requires more effort than I'm used to. Of course this pays off in quietness, so there's your trade off.

    When I parked it I had to back it up into a tight spot on their lot, and had no problem using the big mirrors. I thought the rear view mirror was small, perhaps the auto dimming one is bigger? I do think my wife would not want to back up into a tight spot like that so the rear view camera would be a welcome addition.

    To summarize -

    Likes:
    * smart tranny
    * smooth engine at high revs
    * impressive ride/handling balance
    * tint offers good privacy
    * quietness

    Dislikes:
    * steering could be more weighted
    * doors seem heavy
    * could use bigger interior rear view mirror and/or camera
    * spare is a donut

    Bottom line is it drives much better than the Highlander and leagues ahead of the Pilot, which will seem like a truck to you if you've just stepped out of the Tribeca. Pilot has more room, so if you have 3-4 kids you might have to choose a Pilot (or minivan).

    But you will want to drive a Tribeca.

    -juice
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    This weekend Mercedes hosted an event they called the M Class Road Rally, here in DC it was at FedEx Field.

    You may recall I didn't exactly rave about the last M class, well I was hoping for a big improvement given the new one's unibody and the 3.5l engine I loved in the SLK.

    Not so. The same engine in the ML is saddled by a whole bunch more weight, so it could barely get the ML going. In the SLK is was spunky, here it was just lumpy. The slow-shifting tranny tried too hard to be smooth and only delayed things further.

    The interior had nice quality materials except for a noticeably cheap vinyl headrest cover that did not match the seat leather. Plus the design was too plain, it reminded me of a TrailBlazer and not in a good way. Maybe it's those vents. At least the burled walnut is real and warms things up.

    Ride was good, as was the wheel travel over obstacles they'd put in place for us to test the suspension. Problem is that resulted in a ton of lean in corners, the ML is just not happy going fast around a curve.

    So the ML350 just did nothing for me, not an ounce of excitement. We then sampled an ML500 and that at least got my attendion. The V8 makes this SUV come alive, and somehow the lazy tranny interferes less.

    Problem is handling it still a weak spot, with plenty of lean. My brother was in the passenger seat and we both had the windows open - it felt like we would fall out of the vehicle if our seat belts were not fastened.

    Likes? Commanding view, great seats. The ML500's that is, they had deeper side bolsters. 19" rims available, though we sampled 18"s. I like the styling, especially how the shoulder tapers out towards the rear, and the crease on the back of the hatch runs parallel to the tail lights.

    Some other nice touches are appealing, but you have to spend $50 grand or so for an ML500, and that's just crazy. The ML350 should be this nice given that even for $40k it's not nearly fully equipped. There's just no value to be found here.

    Nice improvement, but Mercedes needs to toss in a big rebate to get me interested in this SUV that just doesn't stand out from the herd.

    -juice
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,727
    I was with juice at this ML event, and my feelings were not nearly so negative:

    I think MB did a very nice upgrade with this vehicle. Yeah, sure the V8 ML 500 is more fun; that's what an additional 1.5 liter will do for you. In all honesty, I think the ML 350 is just fine.

    Juice did point out the seat/headrest issue, but whatever the difference, it was minimal IMO, and certainly not something to get upset about. I wouldn't have even noticed it if he hadn't pointed it out to me—and I notice EVERYTHING! ;)

    As to handling, again, this is not a sports car, but an SUV with a much higher center of gravity. Yes, it did feel heavy and somewhat of a bull-in-a-china-closet in the very tight stuff, but better than most for this type of vehicle. I didn't hear any tires squeal, and they gripped the road very well as I tossed it through the corners.

    My sense is that the Subaru B9 Tribeca will out-handle it, but that shouldn't be too surprising as it has a lower center of gravity thanks to the boxer engine and is about 500 pounds lighter.

    I liked the interior a lot; it's much better than the old model, and roomier too. I especially like the new gearshift lever, which is very similar to that used on the BMW 7-Series. It's just a short stalk on the steering column. To engage Drive, you just pust down on the lever. To Engage Reverse. To engage Park you just push the button on the end of the stalk and you hear a "ding" indicating the vehicle is now in Park. It also has "SportShift" buttons on the steering wheel if you want to shift the 7-speed automatic yourself. Yes, I did say "7-speed" automatic.

    I do have a few complaints however:

    • A Low Range transfer case is MIA for '06. Rumor had it at the Detroit Show that it would be part of an optional "off-road package," which would be available. Well it turns out, yes it may be available—but not for MY 06.

    I think this is a big mistake; not because ML owners go off road, but because many do pull boats up steep boat launches, and having a Low Range can be very useful in these situations. In fact, a current ML 430 owner overheard my conversation with a MB rep regarding this. This owner pulled me aside afterwards and was very surprised to find out the Low Range is not offered—and very disappointed too. In fact he indicated that not having that feature could be a deal-breaker for him, as he uses the low range in his current ML all the time when pulling a boat out of the water—and he's got a V8 ML!

    • The other item I don't like is the lack of a full-size spare. I believe all SUVs should have full-size spares, especially if you tow a trailer.

    • I'm surprised they didn't offer a 7-passenger version, as I think this feature is quickly becoming a "must-have" for this type of vehicle.

    • Minor nit: I wish the NAV unit sat a bit higher on the center stack of the dashboard; more like the Subaru B9 Tribeca and other Japanese models.

    Lastly, MB has said that they've gone to great lengths to make sure this car as trouble-free as possible. I hope that proves to be true, as that was not the case with the old ML. We will only know if they've been successful once these cars start getting some miles on them. Any takers?

    Bob
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    I took a short road test today in the all-new 2006 Honda Civic sedan. It was a Royal Blue LX model with 5-speed manual transmission, made in Japan. Sticker price is $17,060 including destination charge. The 5-speed automatic is $800 more.

    The car's swoopy styling is better looking in person than in pictures, I think. Its long, low roofline and sharply raked windshield do not shriek "Small car!" as do some of its competitors. The front is reminiscent of the Prius, but overall the car has unique and pleasing lines. Even the plastic wheel covers on the 16" wheels are nicely done, making it easier to justify the purchase of an LX vs. the EX with its alloys. The dark blue paint was smooth and lustrous. The only exterior flaw I could see was a slightly mis-aligned trunk lid--and I emphasize slightly.

    The medium-grey cloth and plastic interior is also well-executed, with a dual-tone dash and faux aluminium trim bits. As on most low-buck cars these days, most of the plastic is unyielding, but the parts most likely to be touched--around the instrument binnacle and the tops of the doors--have some padding. Some people will probably quibble about the plastic door handles, but they can spend some more money and get an Accord if they want to grab metal. The dash didn't look as strange and asymmetrical sitting in the driver's seat as it does in photos. I was glad to see the trim on the steering wheel is toned down compared to that on the Si. The overall look is subdued, with just enough flourishes to make it interesting without being distracting. For example, Honda used two different fabrics on the seats and carved interesting shapes into the dash and door panels.

    Speaking of distracting, the dual-level instruments feature a huge digital speedometer and bar graphs (all in white) for fuel and temperature at the top of the instrument panel, above a large tach centered behind the steering wheel. It sounds gimmicky, but works well in practice, at least in daylight. I would hope the digital readouts are dimmed at night, or they would be distracting. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel fit right between the digital readouts and tach, making the gauges easily visible. The steering wheel itself was plastic, but was pleasingly fat and grippy with little bulges in the 10 and 2 position. Cruise controls are embedded in the right-hand spoke, but there were no dash-mounted audio controls as on some competitors.

    Secondary controls and displays had traditional Honda precision and quality. The HVAC controls were smooth knobs and push buttons, easy to decipher. I briefly tested the 4-speaker, 160-watt CD/MP3 stereo and it sounded fine for this class of car. One quibble is that most cars in this class have at least six speakers. I was disappointed to find out that the LX doesn't have the auxiliary input jack--need to move up-trim for that.

    The driver's seat was comfortable, with lever-type height adjustment. Although I prefer two height adjustments on the seat bottom, the angle on the Civic's seat cushion was acceptable. The dead pedal was large and comfortable, and the short-throw shifter fell easily into my right hand. (One nit is that I'd like a grippier cover on the shift knob; it was smooth plastic on top.) There is a large center console (finally Honda got this detail right on the Civic!) with a big, comfy armrest that slides fore-and-back, and a huge well for CDs etc. Two large adjustable cup holders are covered by a sliding door. The are connected so you can store other stuff in there if you aren't thirsty. There are also numerous little cubbies in the console and dash for cell phones and other stuff, plus pockets in each door. Unfortunately, there's only one power outlet, so leave that to your passengers and concentrate on the driving. The A/C outlets are huge, and the car cooled quickly in 90-degree heat after sitting in the sun. After a couple of minutes, I was able to turn the fan down to low to better hear (or not) the sounds of the car.

    And your back-seat passengers (up to two medium-sized adults or three kids) won't mind too much being back there. Despite the relatively low interior volume number compared to other cars in its class (less than little cars like the '06 Kia Rio for example), there's a lot of usable space in back. With the driver's seat set for my 5'10" frame (32" inseam), I was quite comfortable in back, with plenty of knee and head room. Toe room was just adequate with the driver's seat raised about half way. The rear seat cushion is angled up at the front to provide decent thigh support--something rare in this class. Another nice touch is that each door has a storage bin. But there is no center armrest--again, you need to move up to the EX to get that feature.

    The trunk is relatively small but boxy, to make the most of its size. There is some storage room around the temporary spare tire; the tools are clustered neatly on top of the spare. It would have been a good idea to put struts on the trunk lid to make the smallish trunk even more usable, but Honda opted for the usual intrusive hinges. At least they are covered in plastic to do minimum damage to luggage.

    OK, on to the fun part--the driving. The car was being prepped to go out to a golf tournament to be shown off, so I didn't get much time behind the wheel. But I was impressed by what I heard and felt during the drive. First off, the key has a handy integrated remote (door and panic only, no trunk). The engine is quiet at idle. The shifter and clutch have the typical Honda butteriness, with the only nit being a faint clunk shifting into third. Acceleration with the new 140-hp engine is more than adequate for the class--some people will always want more power, but it was fine for a small family sedan, especially considering the 30/38 mpg EPA fuel economy ratings (30/40 for the automatic). The car truly felt as if it were carved out of a single block of metal. Incredibly solid, not a hint of a creak or squeak even when driving over railroad tracks at 40 mph. Road noise (albeit over smooth suburban streets) was low. The ride was well-composed--I could feel large bumps, but they seemed far removed. I thought the Civic actually rode more smoothly than the larger Accord, and definitely more smoothly and quietly than the New Jetta. I didn't tax the car's handling on the short test drive, but it tracked perfectly straight and took turns without any lean. The steering had just the right amount of assist. (Continued...)
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    At the end of the drive, the salesman asked what I thought. I told him I was very impressed and will definitely consider the Civic when it's time for my next car in the near future. I also told him I thought the Civic would take sales from the Accord, and he agreed. The Civic has nearly as much usable people-room as the Accord, rides and drives as well or better than the Accord, and offers nearly as much luxury (on the EX with nav and leather) but with better fuel economy--and the Civic costs thousands less.

    I have trouble thinking of any significant flaws on the new Civic. Even the outside mirrors fold (non-folding mirrors are one of my pet peeves). There are a few nits, as mentioned above. In addition, I suspect that the bodyside moldings are too low to be effective in warding off parking-lot dings. And it would be nice if fifth gear were taller so that the stick shift car could at least match the slushbox in fuel economy. But that's about it.

    With the new Civic, I think Honda has climbed back to the top of the small-car heap, neck and neck with the Mazda3. The 3 still leads in power and sportiness, but the Civic has the edge in economy and refinement. For people willing to spend around $17,000 for a small car, the Civic LX gives them a great new alternative.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Haven't written in a while so figured I'd take this opportunity to write up an overall Long-term test of my Armada, now standing at 12,000 miles since April 15th.

    The Nissan Armada is the first Full-size SUV put out by Nissan. This also being the last of the Super-utes to hit the market has given Nissan a distinct edge over the competition (Chevy Suburban/Yukon XL, Ford Excursion/Expedition, Toyota Sequoia) since Nissan could learn from the other's mistakes.

    Engine/Driveline:
    5.6 liter DOHC, Variable Valve, Variable Intake, V8 motor. This is a finely crafted piece of machinery, pumping out 305hp and 385lbs-ft of torque and running on good old 87 Octane! This helps to make this the fastest SUV in it's class 0-60 at a surprising 7.1 seconds. Towing is also at the to of it's class with the exception of the Yukon XL w/optional 8.1L engine and the Excursion with the Diesel or V10 option. Nissan really did some nice work on this driveline, not only is the engine great but the exhaust note is super. It sounds almost as if they put Flowmaster mufflers on from the factory! The 5-speed Automatic transmission is extremely smooth. You can barely tell it's shifting, and the 5th gear OD is great for highway mileage. At 80mph it turns about 2200 RPMs give or take a few. The 4wd system is also very versatile. It includes RWD mode, AWD Mode, 4wd High (locked 50/50 torque split), 4wd Lo (locked 50/50 torque split w/low range) This gives you the most choices as far as the terrain you are using the vehicle for. Included standard is also Front and rear ABLSD which is electronic Limited Slip differentials that use the ABS system to shift power from wheel that is slipping to the wheel that isn't. VDC is also standard that includes Yaw control, Power cut, and ABS application to prevent skidding in inclement weather or emergency maneuvers.

    Suspension:
    4 wheel independent suspension is standard. 18" Aluminum rims standard On the LE and any other trim with towing package auto-leveling rear suspension is standard as well. The 4-wheel independent suspension gives this vehicle an outstanding ride. It's a quite smooth, almost Cadillac like ride. Handling however isn't wallowy or soft considering it weighs in at 5400lbs and is a massive vehicle.

    Interior:
    This is probably the best part of the Armada. The interior is extremely roomy. With it's cab-forward design you have a nice big windshield and a very airy interior. The doors are huge and allow for easy ingress and egress. They really thought of everything in this vehicle's interior. 2nd row seats have almost as much room or more room than the 1st row. On the LE 2nd row includes bucket seats that are as comfy as the 1st row. Arm rests are standard with reclining positions as well. Front driver and passenger get electronic controls as well. The transmission tunnel doesn't interfere with leg room which I found to be a problem on the GM trucks. Center consoles in 1st and 2nd row are large enough to hold 2 or 3 laptops easily each. Gauges are totally complete and include Oil Pressure, Coolant Temp, Volts, Fuel, and Transmission Temp. Tire pressure monitors and ABS are standard as well. In the 2nd row the floor is flat without any driveshaft tunnel interference and the 2nd row folds flat to form a smooth transition from the 3rd row that folds flat as well. Grab handles and overhead bins are everywhere as well as large bins in the doors with a slot that will hold up to a 1 liter bottle in each. Rear air conditioning is also standard and can be controlled by the 2nd row and has it's own condenser unit. Power fold out quarter windows are also standard on the LE model this allows for spring and summer cruising without the AC. First row windows have auto-up and auto-down as well. 2nd row windows go all the way down into the doors as well, a nice feature IMHO. Behind the 3rd row there is ample storage, enough for me to keep 3 milk crates across and 2 high with the 3rd row up. Another feature that is nice is the 3rd row is actually a leather seat rather than vinyl that is found in the 3rd row of the GM trucks that have leather 1st and 2nd rows. Finally the rear lift gate is a 2-part unit where the glass can be lifted separate from the liftgate. Great for loading gear without it falling out the back. The rear lift gate is also motorized and can be controlled by the key FOB for opening and closing. The key FOB will also allow you to roll down both front windows remotely. The stereo on the 04-05 has a 6 cd Bose unit with 10 or 12 speakers. Sound is good and it provides RDS service for your station to send data to the display. Nifty item is a headphone jack input for connection up Ipods or other input devices to the stereo without using an FM modulator. Standard also is auto dimming mirror with compass and outside temp. Auto headlights I found to be very useful too. They really didn't miss a detail on here with footwell lights, glove box lights, plenty of overhead reading lights for the 2nd and 3rd rows. The passenger front seat also can be folded down so you can fit a 10ft ladder front to rear with all the seats folded down! Upon opening the driver door the seat moves to the back most position for easy entry/exit and then returns to the original position when you start the car up. I know i've gone on here fairly in depth but I'm not very easily impressed but this car really grabbed me as far as the interior use of space.

    The Good, The Bad, The Ugly....

    Towing is also outstanding. I routinely tow my race car trailer and this does the job flawlessly. This past summer I towed my race car to 5 different tracks here in the northeast and mid-atlantic area. Loaded at roughly 6000lbs the trailer was not even noticeable. In the middle of July with 90-100+ degree humid days we were able to get 13-14mpg doing 75mph and full blast A/C going. The auto leveling suspension worked flawlessly and leveled out the trailer nicely. Wiring up the brake controller for the trailer took about 20 min and was totally integrated with the wiring harness.

    Looks, well it takes some time to get this vehicles looks to grow on you. It's a bit on the ugly side, but IMHO once you are inside visibility is excellent and then you aren't looking at the outside from the inside.

    The running boards are good but don't attempt to offroad with them on. I did and will probably have to replace them since they got a bit mangled while offroading. Offroading however was flawless with this vehicle, the ABLS worked amazing well and was almost as good as having a locker. breakover angle was the only other issue, with the wheelbase we hit the running boards often.

    Milage. hasn't been that bad so far. In city driving I'm averaging 13.5mpg over 5000 miles, 5000 miles of highway I'm averaging 19-20mpg. Not bad for the comfort and size of this vehicle.

    Brakes have been discussed over and over and people have complained a
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Brakes have been discussed over and over and people have complained about warping. I had this issue at 3000 miles and noticed extremely large volumes of brake dust on the rims. At 3000 miles Nissan replaced the Rotors, Caliper Brackets and pads with upgraded ones and so far for 9000 miles no issues, no dust and it stops almost as well as my race cars!

    I have a slight pull to the left and after offroading I think I took off all the grease on the bushings so the front supension is squeeking like crazy.

    Upgrades that I would like to see? -Locking Gas Door - On a vehicle that is the flagship of the Nissan line, it should have this. Also it should have HIDs The Murano, Maxima and the Altima get them as options! For 06 they have also addressed the Power-retracting mirror issue that I would have suggested the put in as well as turn signals in the mirrors are std in 06. I'd say add in 2nd row heated seats would be nice.

    That's about it, I'll keep you all updated on this longterm test of the Nissan Armada. Feel free to e-mail me at the e-mail address in my profile if you have questions or comments. -Mike
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    With gas prices in the U.S. around $3.00 a gallon, small cars are gaining in popularity here. Thus it was excellent timing on Kia's part to recently introduce an all-new Rio sedan and Rio5 5-door hatchback. With these models, Kia will go head-to-head with other automakers who will soon unveil all-new small cars in the U.S.: Hyundai (Accent), Toyota (Yaris), Honda (Fit), and Nissan (Versa).

    I drove a white Rio LX sedan with a 4-speed automatic transmission and no options. Sticker price with destination was $13,905. This was the only Rio in the dealer's stock and had literally just rolled off the truck. It still was still wrapped in plastic on the outside and inside, and the radio and HVAC controls were not operational. Still, I was in a hurry and the last Rio they got in stock was sold the day it arrived. So the sales rep handed me the keys, told me to have fun, and and off I went.

    The first thing I noticed as I drove off the lot was that the engine made a faint rattling sound at idle, reminiscent of a diesel engine. This was the first time I had heard that type of noise in a test drive of a brand-new gas-engined car. But then, it was right off the truck. I didn't notice the noise after the engine had warmed up. Otherwise, the engine, a 1.6L, 110 hp CVVT unit, hummed under full throttle (but not excessively so) and was quiet when cruising on the freeway at 65-70 mph (engine revs were 2500 at 65). Acceleration with the automatic was adequate under gentle throttle. I didn't push it since it was brand-new, 6 miles on the odometer. Upshifts were smooth, and downshifts imperceptible. I really didn't notice the operation of the automatic at all--which is a good thing. You won't get neck-snapping take-offs with this car, but that's not it's mission. People will buy it for its EPA 29/38 mpg fuel economy ratings, not its power.

    Handling with the power steering was quick, even a bit twitchy. I thought to myself, this car would be fun to toss around town. The chassis felt rock-solid, and although bumps were felt, they were remote "thrums" rather than kicks. The car tracked well on the freeway, although it seemed a little skittish. I wondered if the tires were at the proper inflation. (When I returned, the sales rep volunteered that the tires were over-inflated from being on the truck, even before I could ask about it.)

    The most impressive thing about this smallest Kia is that it doesn't look or feel cheap. The white paint (after the sales rep peeled off the plastic wrap) was glossy, even, and smooth. All panels lined up perfectly, with narrow, even gaps. The wheel covers looked almost like alloys. Fat, sporty-looking black moldings protect the doors. As noted, the car is solid on the road, with no squeaks or rattles, and little noise at cruise except faint A pillar wind noise at about 70 mph.

    Inside, the tan interior has a quality look. There's a lot of plastic on the dash, but it has pleasing textures and colors (with a two-tone treatment), smooth--even Lexus-like--switchgear (with the exception of the temperature knob), clear gauges (including a tach), damped grab handles above the doors, and a meaty, 3-spoke steering wheel. What betrays the low price point of the car is that all the plastic surfaces inside are hard--even the armrests on the doors. There is a comfy fold-down right armrest for the driver, but none for the front passenger. There's a map light above the dash, but it's a single lamp. Also, storage space is limited. There are a few small storage bins around the dash and center console, but only the glove box and smallish bins on the doors to hold big stuff. The back of the passenger's seat has a pocket too. There are only three cupholders in the car: two in the front (actually only one if you smoke), and one Big Gulp-sized holder for the rear.

    One plus on the Rio is the multi-adjustable driver's seat with two knobs for height adjustment. With that and the tilt steering column, I was able to dial in a perfect driving position. The seat cushion felt a little small compared to that of, say, an Elantra, but it was comfortable. The seats are covered in an ivory tricot-type cloth which looked and felt fine, but I wonder how durable it will be (and how easy to keep clean). With the driver's seat set for my 5'10", 32" inseam frame, I was able to fit fairly comfortably in the back seat. My ankles were up against the front seat, but that part of the seat was padded and there was plenty of room under the seat for my feet. The backrest angle felt good and thigh support was OK. Headroom front and back was fine; the Rio has a raised roofline compared to the old model. I could see spending a couple of hours in the back with no problem, but in general I think it's an area best left for kids.

    The trunk is surprisingly roomy for a car this small, but it's quite shallow. The trunk expands via a 60/40 split folding rear seat. "Big deal", you say. Well, it's actually a nice surprise on an inexpensive car, considering Honda doesn't even put this feature on its $18,000 Civic LX.

    And maybe that's the best way to sum up the '06 Rio: it's a nice surprise. Kia has built a car that is a vast improvement over its predecessor. It's small on the outside, roomy on the inside (roomier than the Civic, for example), sips gas up there with the best of them, is fun to drive (as long as quick 0-60 times aren't important to you), and even has an aura of quality (as long as you don't start squeezing all the plastic trim inside). And like all Kias, it has a 5-year, 60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

    But what about value? At $13,905 for a car with crank windows, no power mirrors or locks, no cruise control, no ABS, and 14" wheels, the Rio (and Rio5) face some serious competition from the Chevy Aveo and even from slightly larger cars like the Suzuki Forenza and Reno, the Hyundai Elantra (which has lower pricing for '06), and even the Rio's stablemate, the Spectra. The Rio has in its favor standard side curtain airbags (in addition to front-row side bags) and better fuel economy than those cars. But within a few weeks, the Rio will face direct competition from its cousin, the all-new Accent--based on the same platform and offering many of the same features, but with standard ABS. And close on the Accent's heels will be all-new competitors from Toyota, Honda, and Nissan--all expected to start around $12,000.

    Personally, I think the Rio makes a more compelling case in 5-door guise, as the Rio5, due to its greater versatility and more attractive styling, which includes 15" alloys. Even then, I think the Rio will have its work cut out for it in an increasingly competitive small-car market. For now, I think the Rio is the best of a relatively small group of cars, which include the Aveo, ECHO, and (old) Accent. A few months from now? We shall see...
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    The new Fusion is Ford's latest attempt to entice buyers in the hotly-contested mid-sized family car market. It is the replacement for the Taurus. How does it stack up against able competitors such as the Accord, Camry, and the newly-redesigned Sonata?

    Ford clearly aims the Fusion at younger drivers who look for style and a sporty driving experience in their mid-sized cars. Thus I decided to test a stick-shift Fusion, which comes only with the 4-cylinder engine. My local dealer had only one 4-cylinder Fusion on the lot, and it was a base S model with no options. That was fine with me, as I wanted to see how a Fusion with no options would fare.

    The test car was Redfire Metallic with a camel interior (with black accents). MSRP was $17,795 including destination. For that, you get quite a lot of standard equipment, including power windows/locks/mirrors, 4-speaker MP3 stereo, 16" wheels with decent-looking plastic covers, 4-wheel disc brakes, tilt/telescope steering column, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, speed-sensitive wipers, remote entry, A/C, two-tier center console with armrest, and height-adjustable driver's seat. What was missing was a few safety features that are increasingly standard on cars of this class, and even much lower priced cars: side airbags, side curtain airbags, and ABS. Those safety features are all available on the Fusion, but would add almost $1200 to the sticker price. What is not available at any price on the Fusion is electronic stability control, a useful safety feature that is standard or at least optional on most competitors.

    The exterior of the Fusion is dominated by five big horizontal chrome bars up front. It's an aggressive look that many people like; I'm just not one of them. Also noticeable on the Fusion is wide gaps around the hood and trunk lid--wider than on competitors like Accord and Sonata. The gaps were at least even, but lent an unfinished appearance to the car. The trunk itself is large--almost 16 cubic feet--and nicely trimmed; even the underside of the decklid is covered. The struts supporting the trunk lid are a nice touch, expanding usable trunk space while helping to protect luggage and groceries. The trunk expands easily by pulling knobs in the trunk to lower the 60/40 rear seat backs. They do not lie very flat, however.

    Sitting in the driver's seat, you get the feeling the car was designed to be more than just a family hauler, with its relatively low height and intimate interior. It feels more like the Accord in that respect than cars like the Camry and Sonata. The deeply-textured black dash and matching trim on the tops of the doors looked and felt good, as did the fat four-spoke plastic steering wheel (leather on the high-zoot SEL). But other trim did not exude the same quality feel. The deeply-textured ivory plastic on the lower dash in particular looked cheap, as did the plain black trim in the center stack (gloss black or woodgrain trim comes on higher-priced models). The chromed plastic door pulls and lock buttons are a plus. The gauges are clear, the radio controls are fairly intuitive (sound of the 4-speaker system was adequate), and the 3-knob HVAC controls were simple in operation if not up to the competition in feel. They are also low on the center console--a bit of a reach and downward glance to get to. Storage is adequate if not exceptional, with the highlights being a large two-tier bin under the center armrest and a lidded compartment above the center air vents. But there were no pockets behind the back seats and no bins on the rear doors.

    I was able to set a comfortable driving position using the manual (lever-type) seat height and seatback adjusters. When I had the seat height just where I wanted it, my hair was brushing the headliner, so I lowered it a bit. (I wonder how much room is available with the optional moonroof.) I would have preferred to have the front of the seat cushion a little higher; I found I could adjust seat bottom angle more to my liking with the power seat that is standard on higher trim levels. I didn't need the telescopic feature on the steering wheel, but it might be welcome for other drivers. With the front seat set for my 5'10" frame, I checked out the rear and found plenty of room for legs and feet, but my hair touched the headliner and I wanted more thigh support. There's a rear center armrest with cupholders to keep rear seat travellers more comfy.

    It is in driving where the Fusion really shines. The 160 hp I4 engine has decent pickup with the standard 5-speed stick, and has good low-end torque also so you don't need to row the shifter a lot. When I did, I didn't mind because the grip is meaty, the throws are short, and the clutch is easy to modulate (although not as light as, say, the Accord's). There is some engine noise when accelerating, but it's not excessive--just enough to remind you that you are driving a car. Wind and tire noise were not significant up to 60 mph (it was snowing, so that's as fast as I pushed it). Handling was precise, with no lean on turns and solid steering feel. The whole car seemed very solid, with no rattles or squeaks. The ride is firm, but well controlled and quiet. You will feel bumps, but not curse them. Despite sloppy, icy roads, the car moved along with assurance, and the non-ABS brakes worked well (although I did brake cautiously, given the conditions and the fact this was someone else's car).

    So how does the new Fusion stack up against competitors like the Accord, Camry, and Sonata? In the driving department, I think it is a worthy competitor to the Accord and in fact I like the ride quality of the Fusion better. It has a firmer ride and crisper handling than the Camry LE or Sonata GL/GLS. So mid-sized sedan buyers who put sporty handling at the top of their list should appreciate the Fusion.

    However, the Fusion is disappointing in other areas, notably in the lack of standard safety equipment, headroom, back seat comfort, the quality of some interior bits, and exterior panel fit. It warranty is also one of the shortest of the mid-sized class, with only 3 years/36 months for bumper-to-bumper and powertrain.

    Price-wise, the Fusion does well against competitors like Accord and Camry, and not quite as well against the Sonata when comparably equipped. Example:

    Fusion S with ABS and Safety Package: $18,985
    Sonata GL with floor mats: $18,580

    (Sonata includes features like ESC, 6-speaker stereo, heated mirrors, and leather-wrapped wheel; Fusion has telescopic wheel and speed-sensitive wipers.)

    All in all, the Fusion offers a fun-to-drive, reasonably-priced package for mid-sized car buyers, especially those who would like to buy a car from an American car company. Interestingly, though, the Fusion is one of the few cars in this mid-sized class not built in the U.S.--the Fusion is built in Mexico.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    A Segway, that is.

    I got to try one of these recently, at a trade show here in DC. It was pretty interesting.

    They take a while to get used to. At firts you hop on and it feels totally awkward, like it's hard to keep your balance and stay still.

    You get used to it after only a minute or two, and then you can get around pretty well. It's actually kinda "fun to drive", I guess.

    I still don't see many of them around, but if you get a chance, try one out, it's definitely memorable.

    To bring the topic back to cars, I wonder if the technology could be used to assist a disabled person in driving. Basically you're using your feet to accelerate, brake, and turn left and right. Your hands only help you keep your balance.

    We're so used to two (or three) foot pedals and a steering wheel, but I wonder if a little out-of-the-box thinking could benefit folks with limited use of their arms.

    -juice
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    I wasn't about to post another review until someone else did. Doesn't anyone else on this "test drive team" test drive cars anymore??
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Sure, post it up!

    I actually wrote that post for another topic, but then decided to share it here as well.

    -juice
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    I know what you are saying. "Ugh! A minivan!?" After that, you are probably saying, "A Caravan?? Those are as old as the hills. They can't compete with the latest models: Sienna, Odyssey, Quest, even the new twins from Kia and Hyundai."

    Well, not so fast. Guess which minivan sells more than any of them? The Caravan. And of course, we all know Dodge invented the minivan. And my wife really misses her Grand Caravan, which we gave up off lease two years ago to down-size to a hatchback. So I set out to see what Dodge has to offer in the ever-escalating minivan wars.

    I drove a 2006 GC SXT in Butane Blue, no options, $27,830 sticker. Butane Blue is kind of a light icy blue, my favorite color for the DC vans except Inferno Red--but the blue doesn't require as much upkeep and the red is an additional charge.

    The SXT is very well equipped out of the box. Features like dual power side doors, 3-zone HVAC, 6-speaker CD/cassette with steering wheel controls, ABS with traction, 5-spoke alloys, 8-way power driver's seat, Homelink, trip computer, and power rear vent windows (as well as the usual power options) are included. The interior decor is nothing to write home about, but the plastics (which abound) are sturdy, the controls are straightforward, and the cloth is grippy. The armrests are (padded) plastic and there is no fancy faux wood as on some competitors, but it's a clean, purposeful layout.

    The best feature of the GC is of course the Stow-n-Go seating. In a few minutes, both the 2nd and 3rd row seats drop flat into the floor. When they are not stowed, there's large bins in the floor. I could imagine how wonderful it would be to have the two covered bins in the center for my kids to stow all of their "stuff". (Dodge sells accessory plastic bins that fit into these wells and make it easy to cart the stuff away when it's time to drop the seats.)

    The amazing thing about these "magic seats" is that they are much more comfortable than you might think. The middle seats are on the smallish side compared to some other vans, but they use high-density foam and the seat bottom has good thigh support. I found them quite comfortable. They adjust fore-aft but not side-to-side as in some vans--the downside of hideaway seats. But I really like the rear seat. Most 3rd seats in minivans leave me flat--literally. The seat cushions are usually flat and too close to the floor--which may be fine for munchikins but not for teenagers or adults. The 3rd seat on the GC has great thigh support, so it is comfortable even for adults. Two adults would be very comfy in back, as they can spread their feet around the relatively small middle seats. Three--well, that's best left for kids. The 3rd seat is relatively narrow. It does flip over for tailgating, though. The rear seat is split 60/40 so it is easy to fold, and if you only have 5 people (like I do) you can fold most of the seat and haul a ton of stuff.

    OK, it hauls, but how does it haul? Quite well thank you. The GC SXT has a relatively low powered V6 for minivans these days, just 205 hp. But it has 240 pounds of torque. I am of the opinion that in vehicles like minivans, torque is more useful than gobs of power. And the van acquitted itself very well on the streets, hills, and highways around the Dodge dealership. It pulled smoothly up hills and onto freeways, with no gear hunting that can occur with some of the 5-speed automatics on some competitive vans. I never felt a need for more power. And the van handled very well for a 4400-pound box--more like a much smaller sedan. It wasn't exactly nimble, but it took curves without much lean and smoothed over the bumps without being floaty. It was also pretty quiet inside. I thought there was a little bit too much wind noise, then we discovered halfway through the drive that the rear vent windows were open. It doesn't hurt too that IMO the GC SXT is the best looking minivan, despite the fact that its current style dates to 2001 with a minor freshening last year.

    Now the best part: the selling price of this nearly $28,000 van is closer to $20,000--even under $20,000 if you lease it! Lease rates in my town are around $99/month with $3000 down, or around $219/month with 0 down, for 27 months. An incredible deal for a lot of van. It may not be the newest, trendiest van on the block, but it will beat any other van (except the T&C of course) for cargo versatility, drives competently and securely, and won't put a huge dent in your wallet doing it.

    It will be interesting to see what Dodge comes up with for their all-new Caravan for 2008.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    We rented a 15 passenger van, a Ford E-350, for a week's stay in Orlando with 3 families. 6 adults and 8 kids really filled that thing up, in fact I'd argue it was really only comfortable for about 13 people. One of us always had to squeeze in.

    The thing was a behemoth that had all the straight-line stability of Courtney Love after a night on the town. That thing wandered so badly you had to move the steering wheel back and forth constantly to keep it straight. It didn't beep when you backed it up, but it should have!

    I guess it's that recirculating ball steering. To top it off, the suspension was a bit stiff and if you sat over the rear axle you got some nice axle hop-induced motion sickness.

    I guess it got the job done, but this is something that you have to drive, not something you want to drive.

    I *really* prefer small vehicles.

    -juice
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    AMEX sent us a test drive offer, $50 to try out a new Milan, $500 if we buy one. Why not?

    Outside the car looks elegant enough, though I like the Fusion even more. Mercury uses the "satin nickel" which looks like plastic painted in a gunmetal metallic color. The same stuff covers the center console, which brings us to...

    The interior, which is surprisingly roomy, more so than the Mazda6 it shares a platform with. It felt wide, with good arm rests on both sides and good adjustability in the seats.

    Only a moonroof was lacking, this model was very well equipped for about $21k on the sticker, minus a $1000 rebate plus that $500 bonus cash certificate brings it to $19.5k before negotiation. Not bad, figure $18k or so street price, very competitive.

    Interior materials seemed mismatched. The leather did not feel or look like the vinyl that surrounded it, which really cheapened the interior. Plastics are also mixed, some nicely padded and others hard and very cheap feeling.

    At least they provide grab handles for every door and lit vanity mirrors, plus a padded headliner and decent carpeting for the price class.

    So, what's not to like?

    The drive was, well, boring. Just not very compelling at all, I felt no desire whatsoever to own this car. OK, maybe I should have tested a V6, but the coupon was for the 4 banger only, and current gas prices mean that's the economical choice.

    The steering is overboosted, and the ride is very soft, with lots of body roll. You could feel the transmission kick down, though it responded reasonbly quickly. It was the engine that screamed loudly in protest whenever you floored it, producing adequate acceleration, no more. That and the wind noise made it feel less refined than it is.

    So I guess I would not stop my Aunt Edna from buying one of these if she wanted another Mercury, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend one, either.

    -juice
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    The small car field is bursting with new entries of late. Two of the new generation of little cars are the redesigned Hyundai Accent and the successor to the Toyota ECHO, the new-for-2007 Yaris. I tested the Accent GLS 4-door sedan back-to-back with the Yaris base 4-door sedan to see how these new entries from Korea and Japan stack up.

    The Accent was fully loaded, with 4-speed automatic (no stick Accents or Yarii were available to drive), mats, and the Premium Sport Package (A/C, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, remote locking with alarm, 15" alloys); list price was $15,410 including destination. The Yaris came equipped with 4-speed automatic, Power Package w/Steel Wheels (power windows/locks, 15" steel wheels, 60/40 split rear seat, rear window defroster, ABS, tachometer, AM/FM/CD stereo with 4 speakers), Cold Weather package, and keyless entry; sticker was $15,215. Note that the Accent has ABS, 6 airbags, 60/40 folding rear seat, rear window defroster, tachometer, and 6-speaker 172-watt CD stereo standard. The Yaris had only 2 airbags (side bags and curtains are a $650 option) but had power mirrors standard.

    I drove both cars over the same course, a combination of suburban streets, freeways, and some bumpy back roads with twisties that put the cars' suspensions to the test. Both cars were rock-solid and rattle-free, with a quality feel that belied their small size and price. But the ride quality was distinctly different. The Yaris had the firmer feel, and dealt with bumps with sharp but muted "thrums". The ride was not harsh, however. The Accent's softer suspension smoothed the bumps out, although they were still felt. It was more a "big car" ride than the Yaris.

    In turns, there was little body lean in either car although I didn't press the limits of either car with the salesperson in the passenger seat (well, OK, I did once for each car). The Yaris seemed a bit more planted but driving the Accent was pleasant also. Both cars tracked straight on the expressway. The Accent was a little quieter, except when revving the engine and then the Yaris' 1.5L powerplant was smoother than the Accent's 1.6L motor. But the Accent made up for that with lower revs at cruise (2750 @ 70 mph vs. 3000 for the Yaris) which helped make for a quieter cabin. Wind noise was also a bit less on the Accent; it was noticeable in both cars, perhaps because of their fairly large mirrors. Tire noise was more prevalent on the highway with the Yaris. The automatics in both cars shifted smoothly; acceleration was more than adequate although they must both be pushed to the floor if you need a quick start on the freeway.

    So driving-wise, both cars acquitted themselves well. It was inside the cars where I felt the big differences. The Yaris had a black interior that, except for the silver-color center stack and high-tech audio controls, looked and felt cheap and not designed with ergonomics in mind. Some examples: the HVAC knobs were silver-colored plastic and did not have the typical Toyota silky smoothness. The black-with-color-specks fabric was monotonous mouse fur. The cupholders were oddly placed--the one for the driver was in front of the left air vent, and there was one that popped out of the center console for one back seat rider plus a square hole in the rear center armrest which I think was a cupholder but I'm not sure. There's no proper dead pedal as in the Accent (although at least there is a flat spot on the floor to rest your left foot). And there's those center-mounted gauges that seemed too far away, compounded by a light-colored speedo that was hard for me to read at a glance in the daylight. There were some quality touches in the cabin, for instance, a smoooth turn signal lever, damped oh-my-gosh handles above the doors, and chromed door pulls (OK, they were chromed plastic but chrome is chrome). But these were overcome by the biggest problem with the Yaris: its driving position. The Yaris sedan has a lever-type seat height adjuster. I tried for five minutes to find a comfortable driving position, and failed. Either the wheel was too far a reach, or I didn't have enough thigh support. I have the same problem with the Corolla (and some other cars too).

    Note to Toyota: buy an Accent and reverse-engineer its driver's seat. The Accent has a dual-knob height adjuster that allowed me to dial in a perfect seating position. This one feature made driving the Accent much more pleasurable than driving the Yaris. But the Accent's interior advantages didn't stop there. The Accent had a much more upscale interior than the Yaris. The seat fabric was a durable grey tweed with accent stitching (literally, "Accent" was stitched in script into each front headrest). The two-tone dash, with four normal gauges where God intended them to be placed :D in front of the driver, was a study in hard plastic but had rich textures that were repeated on the door panels. The stereo looked like it could have come from a $25k car. There were 8 cup and bottle holders spread around the cabin, including 2 in the rear center armrest. The padded plastic 3-spoke steering wheel was fat and had a tacky grain that was fun to grip. The visor mirrors in front were lighted. And the turn-signal stalk was just as silky as the one in the Yaris.

    If you are looking for lots of rear-seat room, these are not the cars for you. Two kids or small adults will be OK in the back for short trips. I am 5'10" and I had barely enough knee and head room in both cars. My head brushed the headliner in the Yaris; I had about 1" clearance in the Accent. My legs felt a little happier (more thigh support) in the Accent but not much. To its credit, the Yaris has a flat floor in back, so if someone is relegated to the rear center they will have more leg room than in the Accent, which has a short hump.

    Trunk space is not bad in these cars considering their size and short rear decks. The trunks are boxy and not very deep, and the trunk hinges lurk to crush your property. But both trunks expand through 60/40 folding rear seats (optional on the Yaris).

    Safety-wise, the Accent has an advantage because of its standard ABS and side bags/curtains. Both are available on the Yaris, but none of the 3 Yarii at this dealer had the side bags/curtains. My tester had ABS. I didn't brake hard enough to activate the ABS on the test drives; the brakes were smooth and strong on both cars. Both cars have 3 adjustable head restraints in back. Neither car has been crash-tested by the IIHS yet. Stability control is not available.

    (continued)
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    Both cars as tested were priced within a couple hundred dollars of each other. The Accent was actually more expensive than the Yaris. But for my money, I would take the Accent over the Yaris for its superior driving comfort, smoother and quieter ride, standard safety features, and nicer interior. The longer warranty on the Accent is a plus also. The Yaris offers Toyota's historically strong resale value, a smoother-revving engine, and better fuel economy. That might be enough reason for some buyers to choose the Yaris. Also its styling is more daring than the Accent's. But consider that, comparably equipped, the Yaris lists for nearly $2000 more than the Accent (considering the $1000 rebate on the Accent). That difference helps balance the resale equation, and buys some gas along the way.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    I attended a "Fit party" at my local dealer tonight and test drove both manual and automatic Base Fits in between chowing down on their Mexican buffet. If you are not aware, Honda has just introduced the Fit to the U.S. and Canada after selling it in Asia Pacific and Europe for a few years. It is a small 5-door hatchback, slotted under the Civic and starting at $14,400 (with destination charge) with a stick and $15,200 with a 5-speed automatic. (There is also a Sport model with 15" alloys, ground effects, rear spoiler, cruise, remote locking, high-zoot stereo with MP3/WMA, and paddle shifters on the automatic version.)

    For a base model, the Fit is quite well equipped, with A/C, power windows/locks/mirrors, ABS with EBD, 4-speaker CD stereo, and six airbags. And the automatic is a 5-speed while its competitors make do with four. There are a few nods to cost control, such as no driver's seat height adjuster, dead pedal, center arm rests, or cruise or remote locking (even as options). Other notes that this is an economy car at the bottom of Honda's lineup are the old-fashioned manual HVAC controls, thin carpeting, cheap-looking wheel covers, and hard plastic everywhere inside the car. On the other hand, some details are befitting a more expensive car: the backlit gauges, which are lit at all times; the thick steering wheel with silver accents; and the paddle shifters on the Sport AT.

    I had sat in a few Fits at auto shows so I knew already that the driving position would be an issue for me. I spent some time trying to find a comfortable position on both my test drives, but the best I could come up with was "tolerable." I felt that either my right leg was up in the air or my arms were too outstretched. Also, there is not a good place to plant the left foot, with no dead pedal and the curved wheel well intruding.

    I drove the MT first (almost no wait--there were quite a few people at the open house). First, the bright spots: everything you may have heard about the crisp handling of the Fit is true. The electric power steering is a delight and it takes corners more like a sports car than an economy car, even with its 14" all-season tires. The clutch was light and smooth. The car is solid, although there was an annoying rattle in the driver's side dash (not present on the AT model). Now, the not-so-bright spots: the shifter was precise, but notchy. It was not as slick as other Hondas I have owned or driven. I did not enjoy using it. The ride was very firm. I would not go as far as punishing, but if you regularly drive over rough roads you should be sure to include roads like that in your test drive. Also keep in mind this was the Base model; the Sport has lower-profile tires. But the worst part of the test drive of the MT was that the engine revs quite high, e.g. 2400 at 40 mph cruise. For this open house, a pre-set course was laid out, with no highway driving. To simulate driving on a freeway, I put it into 2nd and got the revs up to about 4000 (at about 40 mph). It was really loud to my ears.

    With the combination of the less-than-comfy driving position, the firm ride, and the noise, plus the notchy shifter, I came away from the drive depressed. Then I decided to take the AT for a spin. The same sales rep accompanied me (they assigned a sales rep to each test driver to make sure we stayed on the course.) The first thing I noticed was that the pickup was pretty good for a small (1.5L, 109 hp) engine with an automatic. The shifts were quiet and smooth. Also, the engine sounded noticeably quieter to me than with the MT--and not just because it was revving lower. The second thing I noticed was the revs. At 40 mpg cruise, they were only 1500 RPM, and I could barely hear the engine. Then the sales rep gave in. He suggested I deviate from the planned course so I could take it on the freeway. So I popped on the expressway for a few miles, being careful not to abuse the favor. At 60 mph (speed limit), the revs were only 2250 and the car cruised quietly enough for a small econobox. The ride was fine on the smooth freeway. I found that with the quieter AT, I was able to enjoy the handling of the car more because I was not distracted by the engine noise or notchy shifter. I was also happy thinking about the kind of fuel economy I could get by keeping the car in the 35-60 mph range, at 1500-2250 RPM, as that is what 90% of my driving is.

    I did not check out the origami seats of the Fit because I have examined those during the auto shows. But if you have not seen them in action, they are sheer engineering genius. The rear seats can fold completely flat to make a huge, tall cargo area, or the rear seat cushions can flip up, or you-name-it. And the rear seat is surprisingly roomy for such a small car, with plenty of room for two good-sized adults (a middle passenger would feel a bit squeezed I think).

    I came out of the test drives with considerable respect for what is essentially a six-year-old design. Despite its shortcomings, the Fit is a versatile, economical, and fun-to-drive little car. My biggest surprise was that I preferred the AT version, when I thought I'd like the MT better because of Honda's tradition for great stick shifts.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    I drove the new Rabbit 3-door hatchback, with the only options a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic and fabric floor mats, MSRP $16,805. It was Reflex Silver with gray bumper and side trim. The only other color available at this time on the 3-door is black.

    The interior is businesslike but handsome, with high-grade plastics (many soft-touch), good-looking cloth seats, smooth switchgear, and a thick-rimmed 3-spoke steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. The dash is like that in the Jetta and has the red-hued information center dead-center in the instrument binnacle and a full set of gauges. The driver's seat adjusts manually for height (pump-type lever) and rake (knob) and was comfortable, although more lumbar support would be nice. There is a big and well-positioned dead pedal, and the accelerator position was comfortable. In the rear, there is adequate room for two averaged-sized adults, although they may find thigh support lacking. A third adult would be a squeeze, but there is a belt and headrest for them back there. Plenty of room for three kids, though.

    Under way, the Rabbit's 2.5L I5 is quiet and powerful, with strong acceleration even with the transmission in normal mode (there's a sport mode if you want quicker upshifts, at the expense of more RPM at cruise, or you can row the Tiptronic shifter yourself). Cruising at 70 mph in normal mode, the engine was turning at a bit over 2000 RPM and the car was solid and quiet, with only a little wind noise from the A-pillars. With such low revs, it is curious that the Rabbit is EPA-rated only 30 mpg on the highway (22 city).

    The Rabbit's handling is much like the Jetta's, meaning it is stable and flat around corners. The electric-assisted power steering provides no road feel, which imparts a feeling of solidity and doesn't detract from the handling too much. The Rabbit's ride is firm but not harsh. Unfortunately, every bump elicits a fairly loud "thrum" sound from the suspension. It makes bumps more pronounced than what you actually feel.

    The Rabbit comes very well equipped even in its base 3-door form. A full complement of safety gear is standard, including six airbags, ABS with traction control and EBS, five headrests (with whiplash protection in the front), and much more. The only optional safety feature is stability control, a $450 add-on that is hard to find in this class of cars. There is also a 10-speaker CD system, semi-automatic climate control, and other touches like lighted vanity mirrors. A lift-up cover shields the fairly roomy rear hatch compartment from view. The rear seat folds down 60/40, but not quite flat.

    The Rabbit offers a solid, attractive, and fun-to-drive package for a relatively low price. Its main competitor is the Mazda3s 5-door, which equipped with 5AT and 17" alloys lists for $18,880. A Rabbit 5-door with 6AT and 17" alloys lists for $20,045. So if you can make do with two less doors and VW's less-than-stellar reliability record doesn't bother you, the 3-door Rabbit at about $16.8k is a relative bargain compared to the Mazda yet offers a similar driving experience, although the Mazda has a more powerful engine with better fuel economy.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    Two corrections: EBD, not EBS; and the Rabbit has an 8-speaker CD/MP3 system standard, not 10.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    After driving that Milan, and being a little disappointed, I wanted to try another vanilla sedan, but this time I wanted to see if a potent V6 might change my mind about my overall impression of the car.

    The V6 engine is plenty powerful, with room to spare. I didn't even have to use all the throttle to get pushed back into my seat.

    The leather was only decent but the heaters came in handy. Took a little while to warm up, though.

    The interior is very roomy, but not quite up to the standards of the best in this class. I didn't like the yellowish green lighting on the dash. And the top of the center console isn't well designed, it just cuts into the upper dash.

    The middle seat in the back was uncomfortable, specifically the arm rest does not make a very good back rest. Those are nit-picks for a family of four, though, and those four each have plenty of room.

    Little things like the hinges for the trunk and the strut that holds up the hood are unexpected for this price class ($22k as tested no-haggle price). Dual exhaust tips and 5 spoke alloys dress up the exterior nicely as well.

    Perfectly fine...for a rental car.

    What's missing here is a little personality. Light steering, a soft ride (quieter than the Milan's), and comfort don't really add up to a lot of fun. This sedan pays the family car bills, but doesn't deliver when the enthusiast wants to make a spirited run.

    A peppy V6 alone is not enough, Hyundai needs a sports package with quicker steering and a bit more starch in the suspension to appeal to drivers like me.

    -juice
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Just wanted to let you know that I have a few reviews coming up for you:

    2005 Nissan Frontier
    2005 Pontiac GTO 6MT
    2006 Toyota X-Runner

    -Mike
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    We just spent 4 days in Arizona and had a Malibu LT V6 as a rental car. While my earlier review was generally positive, it's funny what spending more time with a car reveals.

    The seats are lumpy, awful really. The ergonomics are all inconsistent, I kept having to try 2-3 times to get it right. This is something you don't notice on a short test drive.

    The V6 is actually not bad, torquey for sure, but it sounded raspy at the high end.

    The steering was WAY too light, and it wandered all over the road. I-10 between Phoenix and Tucon has a speed limit of 75 but at 80mph this thing felt unstable. Maybe the alignment was off.

    Very cheap interior.

    I did like a few things - the low-end torque of the V6, the rear leg room, and the remote trunk release on the key fob actually popped the trunk. We got 27mpg, too.

    But overall the Malibu is way, way behind the Hyundai Sonata. Light years. Maybe 2 generations' worth of improvements for Chevy to catch up to Hyundai.

    That's bad.

    -juice
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    The people we stayed with while in Arizona had an Odyssey EX-L. I got to drive it a couple of time, and rode in it plenty, for several days. So I got a good feel for living with one.

    First off, the space is nice, the storage nooks and crannies, the power, the ergonomics, the luggage space. All A+.

    But...it was loud, both road and wind noise intrudes. The ride was rougher than I expected. It handled well but this is a van and it just felt unnatural pushing it, so basically that didn't matter to me.

    The other complaint was the seats. The leather is hard and it just didn't accomodate well, oddly. To be fair the front row wasn't too bad, it was the 2nd row seats that just didn't feel right. But even the driver's seat lacked side support and the lumbar adjustment just felt like a lump in my back.

    It had only 6000 miles so maybe it wasn't broken in yet, but the seats need improvement.

    The trip computer lacked some features even our cheap rental Malibu had, like MPG readout. Or maybe I couldn't figure out how to display that (please correct me if you know otherwise).

    They spent over $30k for this van and it just didn't feel that "rich", I guess is the word I'm looking for. We spent a week in a Subaru Tribeca and it just felt a lot more expensive.

    Another comparison is a Sienna that we got to ride in. I was similarly impressed with the space and storage, but the ride was much quieter and smoother, too. That friend paid $23k and it just seemed like a much better value for the money. He also got 8 real seats. The 8th seat in the Ody is a bad joke.

    I do find it odd that usually handling is a top criteria for me, yet here is mattered little. I guess it's the context. A van should be a good trip car, with long legs, so a quiet and smooth ride win out over extra feedback and tighter handling. It might have been the straight roads and the 75 mph speed limits the contributed to these opinions.

    I want to try a Sienna with the 3.5l engine, that may just be the ticket for our family car. I'll always have the Miata as my toy, so I won't miss the handling too much.

    -juice
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I know, I know, I said I'd never go back to FWD, but the kids are growing up and the Miata isn't going to cut it much longer. I need a true 4 seat convertible.

    The PT Cruiser seem to fit the bill. The back seat is surprisingly roomy, with enough leg room for adults. It easily beats the New Beetle and the Mini Cooper among the small and potentially sporty 4 seaters for space and practicality. The trunk is even useable.

    It's also the cheapest one. MSRP of the test car was over $26k, but street prices are closer to $20k, with some even lower if you're willing to take the non-turbo base engine and shift yourself. I've seen prices dip as low as $16k, though I imagine that's a very lightly equipped model.

    I drove a 180 hp turbo model with an automatic. Touring Edition, they call it, a mid-line model with a light pressure turbo that supposedly has less lag, coupled to an auto tranny.

    First impression is the same cheap interior from the PT Cruiser wagon. I like some retro touches such as the exterior paint carrying over to the inside, but a lot of the plastics look like they definitely came from the lowest bidder. And bid low they did.

    A lot of the plastics are hard, shiny, and hollow. You see mold parts and exposed screw heads in the door jambs that look unsightly and scream cheap.

    The seat is set too high for my comfort, seeming more like a bar stool than a bucket seat. It was not adjustable for height, either. The cloth seemed durable but not very plush, perhaps OK when exposure to UVA rays is a concern.

    The steering wheel is huge and overboosted. I get the retro theme but they didn't have to go this far.

    Off we go, and immediately the mid-range punch of the turbo is quite satisfying. Problem is, the engine just drones, the note simply grinds on your nerves. Punch it and you feel a slight lag, not too bad, plus the tranny actually shifts pretty smoothly. It's not fast, but not at all lacking, either, plus there is the GT model if you want more power (just get the manual).

    The ride is set on the soft side, OK for a 'vert I guess. There is plenty of lean, but this car isn't about pushing the limits, it's about a slow cruise. It was too cold to put the top down, but it is a power top, and this one was a nice cloth, fully lined, too. I still heard some wind noise creep through, but the engine drone was more prominent.

    The one thing that might be the deal killer here, even if you do like the interior, are the blind spots. I actually think this car has the worst visibility in the entire auto industry. If you change lanes, pray that noone is there, because you just can't see. The mirrors help some, but you'll have to take chances every time you change lanes. For a city commute like mine, this crosses the PT off my list.

    So my search for a Miata replacement continues. I hop back in my car and feel relief when I sit back in a true bucket seat. Then I drive off and remember how fun sporty handling can be. Why can't I have that and take the kids, too?

    -juice
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,784
    I drove a 2007 Elantra GLS from St. Louis to Springfield, IL and back this week, courtesy of Hertz. It was "quicksilver" with a gray interior, and as fully loaded as an Elantra GLS can come: 4-speed automatic with the Preferred Sunroof Package (A/C, sunroof, 6-speaker 172-watt CD stereo with aux input, illuminated vanity mirrors, fog lamps, cruise control, and a few other odds and ends). The car was nearly new with only 1100 miles on the odo.

    The one word I think best describes the 2007 Elantra is "smooth." The ride is very smooth and quiet for a compact car (although mid-sized in interior volume). Bumps came through as muted "thumm"s if they were heard at all. The engine was quiet up to 80 mph (2700 rpm), which is as fast as I took it. Very little road noise or wind noise intrudes, although driving in a stiff cross wind I did notice a little wind noise. The electric-assisted steering felt smooth also, yet with enough effort dialed in so as not to feel detached from the road. Almost every handle or cubby cover is damped--except the ash tray, it lost its dampers in the transition from the old model.

    The other word that describes the Elantra is "solid." The 49% increase in chassis rigidity compared to the 2006 Elantra is evident in what you don't hear--no hint of a squeak or rattle. The doors feel light, but close with a solid "thunk". The interior materials seem substantial, although some feel a little TOO substantial--the 2007 Elantra continues the auto industry's cost-cutting trend by using hard plastics in liberal amounts. The upper dash is padded, and there are cushy spots for outboard and inboard elbows, but that's about it. The hard plastics look OK and it's not like you are touching them all the time; you just know they're there.

    Otherwise, I thought the interior was well-executed. The curvaceous dash is much more modern than the previous-generation Elantras, with four large rectangular air vents, blue-and-white traditional gauges, stereo with a huge blue display (in fact ALL the interior lighting except the overhead lights is a striking blue), and a pop-top storage compartment above the stereo. The wheel is a thick plastic three-spoke tiltable job with "metallic" trim and, new for the Elantra, wheel-mounted cruise controls. (A leather-covered, telescopic wheel with audio controls is standard on the higher trims.) IMO the Elantra has the best-looking dash of any of the current Hyundai sedans--including the Azera.

    The driving position was quite good, although a step backwards from the previous Elantra. The old Elantra had two seat height adjustments and a lumbar adjustment that let you dial in a "just right" position. The 2007 Elantra has a single lever-type height adjuster and no lumbar adjustment. Seat comfort was fine for my two two-hour jaunts, but not quite as fine as in the old Elantras. At least Hyundai retained the large dead pedal and padded center armrest--even bigger for 2007. I checked out the back seat with the front set for my 5'10" frame and found LOTS of room back there. My feet fit comfortably under the front seat and my legs didn't come close to touching the seatback. It looks like a nice place for two adults to spend some time, with a center armrest and good thigh support, but I wouldn't want to squeeze three back there for any length of time. The seat fabric is a rather bland medium gray cloth that feels good to the touch but won't win any points for style. The trunk is a good size--just over 14 cubic feet, and it expands through the 60/40 folding back seat. Besides the center armrest, a welcome improvement over the old Elantra is three adjustable (shingle-type) headrests in back.

    I logged 220 miles in two days, about 90% highway, mostly between 67-70 mph. It was cold, with temperatures during most of the trip in the 'teens, and a stiff head wind on the first day. The car held the road well even with its 15" steel wheels (16" alloys are standard on higher trims) and required few steering adjustments. Highway cruising was quite pleasant--smooth and quiet. The radio offers decent sound but won't be mistaken for audiophile-quality. I was impressed by its range--I was picking up St. Louis FM stations from south Springfield, over 100 miles away. Its controls were easy to use. (This was an early-build unit without the now-standard XM radio.) The heater is powerful, just as on the old Elantras. I was toasty warm (no coat on) with the thermostat set just into the "red" zone and the fan on 1.

    I got a chance to try out the car's handling as I was returning to St. Louis and running a little later for my flight than I wanted. (This is when I topped 80 briefly. :blush: ) I was surprised how well the car responded to quick lane changes. It actually felt more responsive than my '04 Elantra GT with its "sport-tuned" suspension. I thought, "This thing is fun to drive!" It's not as precise as, say, a Mazda3, but offers a good blend of ride and handling. I'll have to check out the SE with its 16" wheels and see if there is any shift in the ride/handling equation.

    I decided to check the fuel economy so I filled up as carefully as I could at the same station going and coming back, and averaged 30 mpg for the trip. Given the newness of the engine, the cold weather and wind, and the bouts of city driving, it's about what I expected. EPA is 28/36, and I think with a few more miles on the car and warmer weather, it would have no trouble hitting the EPA highway mark on a trip like this--as long as I don't run it to 80 too often.

    Overall I was favorably impressed by the new Elantra, even in its pedestrian GLS trim. It moves you and yours down the road comfortably and smoothly, offers lots of standard safety features (ABS with 4-wheel discs, 6 airbags, active front head restraints etc.), has a modicum of fun dialed into the steering and powertrain (peppy enough even with 138 hp and a 4-speed slushbox), and has very good fuel economy for a car with a mid-sized cabin. It also has a couple of traits common to Hyundais: the long-term warranty, and the price that undercuts competition by hundreds of bucks or more.

    Get those dual height adjusters and lumbar support back in there, and it would be almost perfect. ;)
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Wife got an offer from Saturn to test drive an Aura, $25 gift card. So she sent me, as she knows I'll go.

    Went to get in and banged my head. Whoops. Those sleek door lines really eat in to head room. Interior is a bit plasticky, some seams are pretty bad. Overall it looks OK, but no better than the Mercury Milan I drove a while back.

    I decided to drive the Outlook instead, as it's on my list and a sedan isn't. Plus I don't want to hit my head every time I get in a vehicle.

    Outlook is impressive, but there are some potentially deal-killing flaws. More on those later...

    It's very sturdy, substantial. HUGE space inside, wow. Comfy front row, kudos to the design team. The control stalks are a bit fussy, but there's plenty of storage and the seats are nice and high.

    4 power outlets. Yee haw. One for the GPS, one for the cell phone, and nicely hidden. Another in the back for the kids to watch a DVD. A 4th in the cargo area. Amen, brother.

    It drives big, but well. Smooth ride, much better than the Pilot, quieter than the Odyssey even. Handling? Didn't push too hard, but it leaned a lot and didn't seem eager to play. Steering felt just right, though I felt some torque steer tugging as this was a FWD model (I asked for something under $30k to test).

    So, what did I not like? Wide pillars block the view to the sides, you can't see behind you at all due to the high windows, and the seats in the 2nd and 3rd rows are just uncomfortable. The lack of comfort is puzzling since the 1st row felt great. The cushions are just too low to the ground, no thigh support, and the middle seat is stiff and basically unliveable even for a short period.

    So you have 8 seats but only 4 of them are comfortable. Sheesh. I can seat 4 comfortably in my Forester, and this thing felt three times as big.

    I think I could live with the dynamics, but Saturn lost a sale in the visibility and seat comfort categories. Backup sensors are only offered on the higher end models, add that plus AWD and we're talking 38k or so. And Saturn won't deal (for now).

    -juice
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    The same dealer has a Pontiac (and GMC) showroom so I took a peek at the GMC Acadia and G6 convertible.

    The Acadia had the same flaws as the Outlook - poor visibility and lame seats. Leather didn't help. Price is higher and the design felt a bit more masculine. Oh well, I tried.

    So then I looked at the G6, the one with the nifty folding hard top. I went mostly for a test-fit, to see if I thought my kids would fit back there, as this would be a drop-top to replace the Miata, not the Forester.

    Any how, surprise, but space in the back seat ain't bad. I think the kids would fit there just fine, at least if it wasn't a long trip.

    Another great feature - no B-pillar means visibility was fantastic. Best I've ever seen (literally) in a convertible. You can change lanes with confidence because you see everything. Even to the rear, backup and see it all. Perhaps this was accentuated by the contrast to the PT Cruiser convertible, which was like driving blind-folded.

    The interior is pure G6, a little cheesy but not bad. I could do without the chrome. It has the 3500 pushrod engine, a little coarse but plenty peppy, so the 3.9l is unnecessary.

    Torque steer was an issue, so the 3.9l might only make that worse. I chirped the tires from a dead stop without meaning too, perhaps short gearing caused that. The tug on the wheel reminded me too much of our old 626, though. It didn't really want to go where you pointed it.

    The most concern, though, came from a loud rattle from the top, right above my head. The seams looked OK, and they sealed wind noise well, but there was some cowl shake over bumps. Not good when the vehicle is brand new.

    The salesman said he sells many of them and had never heard that rattle. But of course you'd expect him to say that, he's trying to make a sale.

    Cargo space is pretty bad, and horrible if you leave space for the top. Forget about even a carry-on bag, unless it's soft and not very tall.

    For some reason, though, I liked it more than I thought I would. I think I liked the idea of having a drop-top that functions well as a coupe. This didn't seem like a particularly great one, but it was a functional package - good power, looks, 4 reasonable seats, and you can see out of the thing.

    Ride was decent, handling seemed OK. Steering a little soft, again I didn't get to push it much. Brakes were good, I had to do a hard stop at a short yellow light.

    I think that if I do get a 4 seat convertible, I will look for one with a folding hard top. The G6 could use a bit of polishing, but this is not bad for a v1.0. One thing they should fix right away is that all the hinges in the trunk seem too exposed, vulnerable. Maybe that was causing the creaking noise?

    I may go try an Eos, now that the segment is heating up. Plus Chrysler will hop on the bandwagon this summer with a new Sebring.

    -juice
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I enjoyed the space in the Outlook enough that I'm looking at other similar crossovers, and the Mazda CX9 is about as close as it comes. With the new 3.5l Duratec Ford engine and an Aisin-sourced 6 speed automatic transmission, plus room for the whole family, I had to check one out.

    I started in the 3rd row and worked my way forward. In the CX9, the 3rd row has impressive leg room, even for adults. My head did rub on the headline, but I'm 6' tall (on a good day) so anyone up to 5'9" shouldn't have that problem. And the seats themselves are actually comfy. There is even a 110 volt outlet there, which is better than a 12 volt plug, I suppose.

    The 2nd row also slides well forward and out of the way, so access is pretty easy as well. The seat tracks and mechanism feel a lot sturdier than the Outlook's, which seemed poorly designed to me.

    The 2nd row itself is comfortable for the 2 outboard passengers. The middle one gets a hump that I wouldn't want to be in for more than 5 minutes. The seat tracks that aid 3rd row access hurt you here, because the floor is uneven and littered with tracks that go all the way up to the front row.

    Overall, 6 passengers will be very comfortable as long as the 2 in the very back aren't tall.

    Now to the driver's seat. Two-tone leather highlights a pretty generic looking center console, with red/blue lights on the gauges appearing a bit harsh for my tastes. Power seats with 3 position memory and a tilt/telescope steering wheel ensure you can find the right position.

    The catch, though, is the protrusion from the center console, a hard plastic styling element that occupies the space where my knee wants to be. In any position, my knee rested on that hard plastic. What were they thinking? It seems unnecessary, and at the very minimum Mazda could have padded that surface.

    Another miscue - the heated seats are on/off only. Those two settings translate to BAKE and USELESS. How 'bout a low/high, or several settings with temperature settings? I was getting burned so I had to turn them off.

    Visibility is a bit of an issue, it's big and changing lanes requires some faith. You occupy a lot of space so you'll rely on some friendly motorists to let you in most of the time (good luck with that).

    At least models with the GPS have a backup camera to aid in parking, something that should be mandatory for large vehicles like this. This feature wasn't as useful as the ones I've seen on luxury makes like Infiniti, which has lines telling you where you're heading.

    The GPS itself disappointed me. Even though the screen is well placed, close to the driver, and big enough, it was dim in the evening mode, even after I adjusted the contrast and brightness.

    GPS functionality also could be better. I was in the DC metropolitan area, but when I went to enter a city and typed in "WASH" I still had to hit enter before I saw Washington, DC.

    My Garmin shows a short list as soon as what you type in is unique enough, saving you one step every time. Even worse, my Garmin has a much brighter screen, and this is a last generation cheapie (StreetPilot c320).

    Sadly, the factory GPS is a downgrade from my $350 portable unit, and that's not good. Plus if you pass on the GPS you don't that backup camera that is so useful.

    The 20" rims have been talked about a lot, I felt the ride was only slightly stiff, and only over bumps and uneven pavement. Given this is a family vehicle, I'd suggest people try the 18" rims as well, as they likely ride a bit better.

    The handling was good, especially for a vehicle this size. The amount of lean is moderate and well controlled. The steering felt just right, and the engine was more than adequate, though I didn't push it.

    The 6 speed automatic really impressed me, shifting smoothly and almost imperceptably. A gear indicator in the dash tells you what gear you're in, and in the suburbs it never went beyond 4th gear, so it was doing its best to keep the engine churning and keep things fun. Zoom Zoom, I guess.

    Manual shift mode was disappointing, though. You hit the lever to shift and .... and ... and it shifts. There's a good 2 second delay there. I'm spoiled because I drove a Boxster and it would shift RIGHT NOW when you hit it. Mazda's was so slow to respond I can't imagine I'd even bother to use that feature. No big deal, the auto mode was smooth and smart, so it's just not necessary.

    I took a peek at the undercarriage, and saw a donut spare plus an exhaust system that seemed a bit vulnerable. That's OK, though, as this is a replacement for the MPV and few if any will ever venture off road.

    It does make a good first and last impression, with a keyless entry fob that powers the lift gate open, and keyless go. It was a bit confusing because I could not lock the door using the button on the door, it would unlock the driver's door each time. Something I'd get used to, I'm sure.

    So overall, an impressive interior package and a solid powertrain. Sadly, they missed on a few important details - the GPS screen, the heated seats, and a protruding center console.

    Pricing is competitive with the Outlook, nearly $40 grand for the model I drove. It's nice, but I have to wonder if enough people will really stretch their budget this far.

    Mazda is very close to the ideal family vehicle, and a little polish would go a long way to putting this good effort at the front of the pack.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,727
    Drove a new 2008 spec.B today. While certainly a very desirable ride, I came away with somewhat mixed feelings.

    Maybe it's because I'm so used to my '06 WRX Limited wagon, but I was not that impressed with the power. Granted it was a brand new vehicle, and I didn't want to abuse it, but it just seemed a bit sluggish to me. Also, I love the "tossability" of my WRX, and I didn't get that same feeling with the spec.B—even with it's upgrade suspension. Again I didn't really press the vehicle, but even so I expected more of a "fun" feeling while driving. Might it be a tad too refined?

    The 6-speed tranny is really geared tall. From my limited time with the car, I would say that 6th gear is for 60 mph and above. At 60 the tach was reading ~ 2,100 rpm in 6th gear. So for any quick bursts of speed, dropping 2 or 3 gears is the way to go, as there's virtually no power available at 60 mph in 6th gear.

    Also, this car needs a gear indicator read-out on the tach, like the SportShift 5EAT (and the Acura TSX 6-speed!). It's very easy to forget what gear you're in with a close-ratio 6-speed. Heck, my 5-speed WRX also needs one, as it's not unusual to find myself cruising in 4th and thinking that I'm in 5th gear! With a 6-speed, this will be even worse.

    The last negative is that it has an annoying up-shift light.

    On the positive side, it's much more refined and quieter than my WRX, which I expected. The front seat was also very comfortable, again more so than my WRX's front seat. The standard NAVI will take some getting used to, so I can't really comment on that, other than to say I wish it had live traffic read-outs.

    The rear seat was reasonable in terms of comfort and space, again much better than my WRX, but again to be expected. The trunk was also very roomy.

    I would like to spend more time in another one (without the salesman riding shotgun). I did play with the SI Drive, but not enough to get a real real sense about it

    My wish list for this car:

    • 3.0 H-6 turbo with ~ 300 hp.
    • Gear indicator in tach
    • Bluetooth capability
    • Real-time traffic for NAVI
    • MyGiG-like HD for storing music

    Bob
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