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The Forums Test Drive Team



  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,618
    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.

  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,618
    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.

  • 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.

  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,618
    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.

  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,618
    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: 18,618
    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: 18,618
    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: 18,618
    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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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+. 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.

  • 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?

  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,618
    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).

  • 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.

  • 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: 19,657
    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

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