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The Forums Test Drive Team

SylviaSylvia Member Posts: 1,636
edited March 2014 in Subaru
Welcome to the first ever Town Hall Test Drive Team!

We have selected certain Town Hall members to 'join' the team. These members have provided everyone in Town Hall with a great deal of information over the years. They can frequently be found at dealerships checking out the new arrivals, taking them for a spin and then posting their driving experience in Town Hall.

The Town Hall Test Drive Team is simply a way to consolidate this great information in one area.

From time to time we may also add in "one-off" test drive posts found in other discussions from non-test drive team members.



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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Went and drove one of these back in May. Very nice, I was impressed. Just a couple of nit-picks and one more serious complaint.

    Drove a 6s 5 speed auto with sport shift. The auto tranny was among the best I've sampled. Good, close ratios, very smooth shifts. The sport shift response could be quicker, my only complaint with the tranny.

    Engine was nice, thumbs up. Still made power high in the rpm range, though. That's OK, it was quick. Slower than the Altima but more refined, and definitely never felt underpowered at all. It rides much better, and it quieter on the road.

    This had leather, moonroof, 17" alloys, it was loaded up for $26 and change. That's good because loaded Camrys and Altimas hit $30k.

    Nit picks? The slow-shifting manual mode on the tranny. The rear seat is not as comfy as I remembered from the NY auto show last year. No toe room under the seats at all made it less comfy. The side mirrors were not break-aways, cost-cutting? Odd when you have lots of neat bonus features.

    Nice features like multi-link hinges to open the huge trunk, 15 cubes! The 626 we used to own had just 11 or so IIRC. Very nice styling inside and out. Sporty suspension, just right, not too jittery like the Altima, but not too soft like almost every other sedan I've driven.

    Red gauges and silver trim are a bit of a stretch, but link it to the RX8 and make the interior several steps above the Altima's. Tilt and power telescope wheel, wow. Rear armrest. Spring loaded back seat was choice. Dual tip exhaust. Side curtain bags offered. Perforated leather. 220hp. Lots to like.

    But...I did not fall in love. From a dead stop, we were turning onto an on-ramp, uphill. Needed to accelerate uphill on a turn, and torque steer reared its ugly head. It nearly tugged the steering wheel nearly out of my hands, it was hard to aim the car properly. I was so distracted that I hit redline before shifting to 2nd, at least the tranny bounced off red line and didn't shift by itself, which gives the driver more control.

    Note this was a broken in program car with 3000+ miles, so no harm driving it hard.

    Bottom line? AWD would make this a real contender. Stand-out features like the 5 speed sport shift, the spring loaded back seats, the cool trunk hinges, and the availability of a manual with a V6 are very nice.

    Among FWD sedans, I think I'd put it down as my favorite (that I've driven). Thumbs up.

    Make it a wagon with AWD and I have to admit, I'd give it serious consideration.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I own a '98 Forester L, so right away I'll admit my personal bias: I love Subies. Japanese quality, but with plenty of character, the best of both worlds. They make AWD and a boxer growl affordable.

    My expectations for the 2004 Forester XT turbo were very high. Would Subaru let me down?

    No way. This is an impressive package, especially for the price. The one I drove was discounted to under $24 grand, and should outperform anything under $40 grand.

    I like the Forester because it's boxy and roomy inside, but compact outside. It's light and agile, and therefore fun, but has enough room for my 2 kids and a lap dog. The style is function over form, but the 2003 face lift certainly made it look nicer. I particularly like the rear 3/4 view, and how the D-pillar echoes the rear window's lines.

    What does the turbo bring? Well, I drove a 5 speed manual, and it brings serious thrust. Impressive, even at 2000rpm it would pull, and I mean hard. It took me all of 2 seconds to fall in love.

    But is this really a turbo? It felt like a small V8, at the very minimum like the VQ series V6 in Nissans. Probably quicker. I took an entrance ramp to a highway in 3rd gear, starting at about 30mph, and hit the gas. Before I knew it I was doing 80 and had to let off. I'll estimate 0-60 in about 6 seconds, but passing acceleration is what really impressed me. Stab the throttle and pass anyone at your will.

    What about ride and handling? Well, when pushed it understeers, but only slightly. Ride is very good, it's luxurious compared to a WRX or even an Altima. Handling is not as tight as those sporty sedans, but should still be best in class.

    The brake pedal felt a little soft, but the twin piston front calipers bite hard and stop in no time. Subaru uses EBD, ABS, and rotors big enough that they were forced to move to 16" rims standard for 2003.

    The interior is much improved. The outside arm rests are now padded, and the black fabric won't stain with time. Overhead you can store 2 sunglasses. Nice to have the outside temperature gauge and 2 trip odometers. Lots of storage cubbies, great side support from the seats. Auto climate control worked well for me.

    The back seat could still use more knee room. At least there is good toe room under the seats. Headroom is abundant everywhere. The front seats have enough leg room that my 6' frame could not slide it all the way back. But the big windows and excellent visibility never let you feel claustrophobic.

    Cargo room is improved from my '98, which was already good. What Subaru took away in rear leg room, they deliver in the cargo area. It's tall, wide, and fairly deep for a compact. Sturdy tie downs and latch anchors are nice features. Plus a roof rack comes standard, with cross bars.

    Content is its strongest point, well, besides acceleration. AWD and ABS are standard on every Subie, but this XT gets much more: heated seats and mirrors, front/rear wiper de-icers, head/chest side air bags, unique 16" alloys, EBD with 4 disc brakes, rear LSD, climate control, keyless, and an in-dash CD changer.

    Options include the auto tranny, plus the premium package, with an enormous moonroof I just loved, and also leather. The catch? You have to get an automatic to get the leather and moonroof. Why?

    I'm just about ready to buy one, but I really want a 5 speed manual with the moonroof, leather or cloth, either way.

    I did sample a 2nd XT, this one an automatic. I really felt that the manual spoiled me, it was so fun, quicker in every scenario, so I'd urge anyone to get the manual. It eliminates lag completely. The auto had a little hesitation and I felt some lag. Note that the tranny is adaptive and might perform better once it learns your (aggressive) driving style.

    So, unless Subaru offers a Sport Shift feature, and maybe a 5th cog in that auto tranny, I'll wait for my 5 speed semi-convertible...um, with the moonroof I mean. ;-)

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I really wanted to sample a Vue Redline, the Saturn with the Honda 3.5l V6 engine (wasn't Saturn supposed to fight Honda? That's another story...)

    No luck, next year they say. Spring, maybe. That's a long wait. So I try the current 181hp V6 instead.

    I find the Vue cute, though it's styling may polarize some people. They had a banana yellow one on the lot that almost looked like a baby H2.

    We drive off, and right away I notice the engine is a bit coarse and noisy. Punch it and power is decent, but not what I'd call fun. OK, this wasn't fair, I'd just driven the Forester XT, which blows this V6 away. Let's just say you should wait for the Redline if you're an enthusiast.

    Handling was car-like, well, like a tall mid-size sedan. It didn't seem to like to be pushed, again this is something the Redline might address. Ride was good except for a bit of tire noise, and thumping over pot holes. Perhaps the folks that do the PDI did not air down the tires.

    Braking is solid. Good feel and feedback from the pedal.

    The interior shocked me a bit. It is impressively roomy, feeling more like a mid-size than a compact, but what's with the beige upper half and the gray lower half? Did they run out of gray fabric? It looks absurd, the two halves don't match at all. The salesman said that some colors come with all-beige interiors, make sure to choose one of those!

    The seats were too soft and spongy. Good thing the front seat has built-in arm rests, else I might fall out of them. Use much more side bolstering in the Redline model, please. The rear seats were also spongy and the bench is too low.

    Your cargo should fit nicely, thanks. They had an accessory cargo cover which slid from the left side to the right, first I've seen like that. It wasn't level, though, when closed. Oh well, it was roomy and looked like it could easily fit a small family's luggage.

    The interior is mostly plasticky, or durable, depending on how you look at it. I have a 4 year old and a newborn, so that's a positive aspect to me. If you want luxury shop elsewhere.

    I didn't try the 4 cylinder, and the CVT sounds interesting to say the least. Styling is unique so you won't mistake it for anything else. The plastic side panels and the lower cladding ought to make this a low-maintenance exterior, if you obsess about door dings. The one I drove was $26 grand, though they were offering $1000 cash back and 0% financing (both). I thought Saturn didn't play the rebate game. Oh well.

    Some bonuses - side curtain air bags and OnStar are offered, if you're into those.

    Verdict? A basic, utilitarian sport/cute that ought to keep a former SL owner happy. But I'll wait to try the Redline, hoping for a smoother and more powerful drivetrain and better seats.

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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    I'm very impressed for the most part with this vehicle. I know a lot of people are turned off (or on) by the styling. I like it because it's different, but not just different to be different, but instead different to be better.

    I do have one very serious complaint about the Element: The payload rating is flat out lousy, at 675 pounds. Put four 175 pound passengers in it, and you've already exceeded the payload rating by 25 pounds. You can bet that owners will be tempted to load this thing up, and will most likely be unaware that they've exceed the load limit.

    Other than that, it's pure Honda, which can be good or bad depending on your perspective. I think it's good, very good.

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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    Last summer(?) I had an opportunity to test drive a bunch of BMWs, at a BMW event. One of the features that impressed me was the heated steering wheel on the X-5. I'm sure other BMWs have this feature too.

    I'd like to see this detail trickle down to more mainstream brands in the future.

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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Subaru Baja

    For my first test drives, I figured I'd start with something a little different. Mind you, I wasn't about to stray into the land of exotic sport cars, uber-luxury, or monster trucks. I just wanted a mass-market car with a twist.

    I'll start off by saying that I went into this with a positive bias toward the Baja. I have a thing for unusual designs. The fact that the Baja has roots in the Subaru lineup is also something I can appreciate. The obvious connection with the Brat reminds me that the Subaru brand hasn't always stood for wagons. I also have a brother who needs to get rid of his rust bucket pick-up and buy something both safer and more fuel efficient. This could be the ideal vehicle for him. So I approached the Baja with an amused smirk and high hopes.

    I was not let down. Or was I? Truth be told, I'm still not sure. This is a difficult vehicle to evaluate. I ended up testing it twice to make sure I had my own priorities straight. When I first tested the Baja, I was in the frame of mind that this was a family-friendly version of a crew cab pick-up truck. I'll start with that visit.

    My first trip to the dealer started with good news. Subaru is apparently offering a cash-back incentive on the Baja, which effectively makes the leather upgrade a freebie. I did the question and answer thing with the salesman, kicked the tires, and began a mental checklist. That was as far as I got. I did not drive the car on this first test.

    The interior of the car is small. Not at all cramped, but tight enough to keep me from flailing my arms at my fellow (insane) Boston drivers. On the plus side, all secondary controls are easily within reach. Even though some radio controls were a bit small, their close proximity made them easy to find. The shifter in this manual transmission model had nice short throws, though it didn’t feel smooth at the end of each stroke. The cowl is fairly low, like the way Honda used to make them. All gauges were easy to read.

    The front seats were a mixed bag. They were comfortable with a decent range of adjustments. The cloth seemed durable. The bolsters did not pinch my shoulders, nor were they too small to be effective. Headroom was not an issue. However, I found the knee-room under the wheel was inadequate for my 6'1" frame. Not a problem, I can use the tilt feature to... oh, wait. It's already adjusted as high as it will go. Legroom to the pedals was decent. It was just that the wheel was placed directly in the path of my knees. The go, stop, and clutch pedals were well placed, but the fact that I had to splay my legs out to the sides ruined any chance of sporty driving. By itself, this was not bad, but it was an accurate forecast of bigger problems to come.

    Quality of the interior was good. Materials were up to typical Subaru standards, being both durable and pleasing to both the eye and fingers. The styling of the dash is simple and straight-forward. I, personally, have a beef with excessive use of faux brushed metal. It should be an accent, not the most common surface in the cabin. However, I understand that others might appreciate the look and it's not like the Baja was dressed in steel the way several Nissans are.

    Most of the dash was well screwed together. The only exception was the storage bin under the radio. Both the top and bottom edges were bowed inward. I find this pretty common with open compartments. In this case, the bends were quite large, leaving gaps above and below the edges. The steering wheel has a nice meaty feel with intuitive cruise control buttons attached to one edge.

    Before testing the rear seat, the salesman demonstrated how the second row tumbled and allowed for a pass-through to the bed in back. It was simple to arrange and the pass-through is a decent size. It cannot match the gaping hole created by doing a similar trick with the Avalanche, but I think it's big enough for this application. Skis, surf boards, lawn tools, and many other long items will easily fit. My only concern is with long planks or wide sheets of lumber. The rear bench folds up in one piece. Therefore, you cannot pass anything between the front seats. That's a niggle, not a deal-breaker.

    Subaru cites the bed capacity as 1,000 lbs. That's probably plenty for a vehicle this size and more than most small SUVs can handle. The problem with the bed is, once again, the length. A bed extender is available as an option and will alleviate most problems. I do wonder that would do to the weight distribution were something heavy hauled that far back in the bed. The rating for towing was a familiar 2,000 lbs, though I believe the MT versions can handle another 400-500 lbs.

    On the whole, the back end of the Baja is very functional. There are definite advantages to the pick-up bed on the Baja. However, you have to think hard to find them. The back end of an Outback or Legacy wagon probably offers similar utility in a different shape.

    The Baja offers two rear seating positions separated by a covered storage compartment. Back here I was expecting tight quarters. I was not expecting to split the seams of my Levis. I could not fit in the back with the front seat all the way back. My legs were split so far apart, I literally ripped a few threads and my outboard knee prevented me from closing the door. That was when my salesperson pretty much figured I was a waste of time and began his wrap-up speech. Some might consider that rude, but I think we has feeling merciful. I left without driving the car.

    My first impression was far from favorable, but I'm not so ego-centric to believe that just because I don't fit, no one will. The thing is... I'm not THAT big. I have plenty of friends and family who are bigger. There's also the fact that I do fit into several other Subarus. According to the specs, the Baja and Outback have similar legroom measures. I'm at a loss for why I fit in one, but not the other.

    On the drive home, I reconsidered my initial approach to the Baja. Perhaps I was mistaken in thinking of this as a family-friendly vehicle. When I pulled into my driveway, I had myself believing that I had misread the intent of the Baja was focusing too much on family values. I toured the Baja's brochure and found pictures of people climbing cliffs, spraying mud with bike tires, and enjoying the outdoors. Maybe Subaru really meant it. Maybe this was more than just the same marketing ploy used by every SUV-wannabe in the dealer lots. I was now convinced that it was a sport truck, geared toward singles with the need to haul sporting equipment.
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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Armed with a new attitude and a Linkin' Park CD, I went to another Subaru dealer. This time I was determined to avoid embarrassing displays of how poorly I would perform in a yoga class. I did had my wife with me. To maintain my "single guy" outlook, I mentally demoted her to a status of girlfriend. (That alone was worth the drive.)

    The vehicle we looked at this time was an automatic in yellow with silver cladding. Mrs. Varmint gagged at the site of it and I had to kick her in the shin lest we end up getting the nice-of-you-to-stop-by speech before even opening the doors. My reaction was considerably more positive. While the yellow and silver color combo would not be my first choice, the solid silver vehicle looks pretty good. It has the same basic facade as the Outback wagon, but has some exaggerated features. The cladding on the rear quarter is over the top, but that alone is not enough to make it ugly. What registers the Baja as a citizen of Whatonearth is the basic shape. The car is not proportioned well. The low snout, long cabin (front the outside), and relatively short bed give it an unbalanced appearance. It's not ugly. It's awkward, like a teenager who hasn't grown into his feet.

    The sporting attitude takes its first hit.

    There is hope, though. Subaru offers a fairly extensive line of add-ons. These might be enough to give the Baja that multi tool on wheels image similar to any Xterra with its trademark roof rack. Anyone who has seen an Xterra without one knows just how much that rig's style depends on accessories.

    A similar make-over may help with the Baja.
    I took another look at the bed while my girlfriend/wife fussed over the interior controls. On my first trip, I was thinking this is where bags of potting soil, large potted plants, small pieces of furniture, and other Home Depot supplies might reside. Now I was thinking, dirty bikes, camping gear, wet scuba equipment, fire wood, and maybe a cooler with those enormous large mouth bass that somehow got off the hook...

    The sporting attitude is off the ropes and lands a combination.

    My girlfriend/wife is too focused on the styling and, for her, the test drive is over. I plunge onward and with the salesman in the front passenger seat (hmmm?), we hit the road. All is good. The Baja rides remarkably well. Handling is hampered by the 3,500 lbs curb weight along with three passengers, but the Baja still feels planted. It was raining badly, and, while I never really needed it, the AWD system could be felt keeping the back end in line. All in all, it felt very much like the Outback Wagons I've driven. I probably can't say anything that hasn't already been said before. There’s nothing to dislike, but also little to rave about. It’s a solid performer.

    I've read many comments regarding the 2.5L boxer under the hood. While 3,500 lbs is quite to askof Subaru's most prolific power plant, it gets the job done. The vehicle is not underpowered. It may not strong enough to be considered sporty, but I seem to recall rumors of a turbo offering in the near future. I'm certain that will provide enough oomph to quell any unbelievers. Personally, I might stick with the basic naturally aspirated engine. I was not able to accurately assess NVH as the rain was making too much noise.

    Another positive comes unexpectedly. Without the need to move my left leg back and forth from the clutch, only one knee is hampered by the steering wheel. On long trips where fidgets and frequent shifting may be required, this would not be ideal. However, I was able to find a comfortable position for the test drive.


    The Baja does many of those things one would expect from a Subaru. It handles, rides, and in most ways performs better than any truck alternative. The gas mileage is decent and Subaru's AWD is certainly a worthy feature. However, Subaru's wagon models provide just about everything listed above without compromising the passenger compartment. For the most part, you trade the wash and go truck bed for a covered cargo space. A $10 tarp is all you need to make the wagon just as easy to clean. The wagons also get better fuel economy and better acceleration. As a family man, I would take the wagon. As a single guy with gear to carry and an image to protect, I might want to avoid a wagon. Wagons still aren't sexy. However, I'm not sure I would trade the frying pan for the fire by jumping into the Baja.
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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Took a day off this spring to take my toddler to school, and had about 2 hours to kill, so I drove a Pilot at Ourisman Honda in Bethesda, MD. I had some notes from the test drive to keep it fresh in my mind.

    Overall I felt...

    * comfy front seats
    * lots of storage
    * great cargo room and flat surface
    * torquey engine + smooth tranny shifts
    * very nice ride
    * commanding view

    * assembly quality surprisingly poor
    * felt big, not at all sporty
    * 3rd row had no knee room
    * 2nd row seats are too low
    * tranny a little hesitant to shift down
    * massive markup on accessories

    The showroom model had a loose cover in the cargo area, the one over the jack. I thought it may be just that one, but on the one we drove had fallen off, and rattled when we put it back. Very poor design.

    The windshield wiper on the passenger side of one of them went beyond the window onto the A-pillar. The other was fine, so it must have been mis-assembled.

    The latches inside were hard and closed with loud clanks, anything but smooth. They new '03 Accord next to it had ultra-smooth latches, so it was uncharacteristic of Honda.

    It drove very nicely and gives people what they really want, so I'm sure it'll sell well. Not my type of ride, nor my wife's. I kind of prefer the Odyssey. In fact it's like driving an Odyssey while sitting on two phone books.

    I forget the exact prices, but cross bars were something like $700, and these goofy chrome bumper accents were $900. $120 for pin stripes, and something like $120 for lousy wheel locks! Those things cost 20 bucks! Prices were in the $35k range for the EX-Leather accessorized.

    No moonroof, either. Only the MDX gets it. You can get a DVD or Navi, but not both. 2 month wait, he said, 4 month wait for Ody. I think the Ody is better at being a van than the Pilot is at being an SUV, though.


    PS Note: this was when they were brand-new, I'm sure supply is better now. Hopefully Honda also improved that jack cover and the vehicle doesn't feel like version 1.0 as much. But still, with the Sienna offering AWD, you could combine the best of these two models into one. Sounds like a future test drive? Yeah, I think so.
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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I've owned a '93 Miata for the past 3 years. For a long time I've considered trading up for a newer one, maybe even a lightly used '99. So I went to sample a new one recently.

    I was surprised that I didn't like it more. It was a base model, 5 speed, cloth. Smoother ride despite 15" rims (mine are 14"), more quiet, refined, but you know what? That doesn't matter to me in a roadster.

    I like the styling less than mine. The trunk seems to have a blister on top, and the cat's eye headlights don't do anything for me. I drive mostly in day light so the barn doors (pop ups) don't bother me, and the styling is cleaner.

    Improvements? A bit more torque, but it felt heavier and that negated most of the extra foot-pounds. Spare and battery are better placed in trunk. Top goes down easier, and glass back window is nice.

    Dislikes? Glass window is smaller. Feels heavy. No more leg room. Seats felt lumpy.

    I could not push the handling much with city traffic, but it felt as good or better.

    But I got back in my '93, and honestly? Didn't miss the new model at all, in fact I seem to "fit" better in mine. So I'll keep it. :-)

    Mazdaspeed will offer a turbo model soon, sort of like what they offer for the Protoge. I wonder what it'll weight, though. Mazda is rumored to use the RX platform for a new Miata after that, and again my concern is they are distancing themselves from Bob Hall's vision of a pure, simple roadster.

    So, instead I go back to my '93, put on another coat of wax, bleed the hydraulic fluids, and call it good.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    OK, is juice a test drive machine? Do I have a life? Yes, actually, with a wife and 2.3 kids, thanks (the 0.3 kid is a small dog, Hadji).

    Test drives are a sort of hobby of mine. My wife searches for offers to get freebies, too, but I go for the thrills.

    We went car shopping for the wife, and I talked her into a wagon. She'd wanted a sports sedan, but that didn't offer us the practical space that we needed for our family. So, after sampling a sedan, would she feel buyer's remorse?


    We drove a 325i sedan. It stickered for $32k, with vinyl seats. Ouch. It had metallic paint and a moonroof, and a couple of other little things. Aren't these supposed to go for $27k?

    She drove. I'd sampled a 330i at the BMW Ultimate Driving Event, so this wasn't gonna tell me anything I didn't know.

    As a passenger, then, I noticed materials are nice, but still some hard plastics mixed in. The interior feels a bit cold, the wood in this one was dark. Too many buttons the same size. Vinyl sun visors? They look like the ones in the 2003 Forester, and even then the 2004s got an upgrade to fabric. The A-pillars are covered in fabric, and the carpets are plush wool.

    This one had the extra-cost armrest extension, and that blocked one of the two small cup holders, duh. Foot room was actually great, I wonder if they improved on this recently. But there is less knee and elbow room than in her Legacy, which we drove back-to-back. The back seat was an afterthought, clearly smaller than hers. Much less useable width, too.

    The climate control just didn't cut it. We set it to 65 and put the fan on full blast, and it sounded like the soundtrack from the movie Twister. Seriously loud fans. Kind of odd. We could not use more than the 4th setting of maybe 10 or so. It also did not cool sufficiently, though it was 99 degrees and humid. Still, her Legacy left icicles on my nose immediately after the test drive, with quieter fans. Does it not get hot in Bavaria?

    So, on to the drive. The wife struggles with the steering. Too heavy (for her, I love it). I ask if the feel is good, she's wrestling with it and can't be bothered to tell.

    The auto was smooth, shifts nicely. But the engine? I dunno, it's adequate but not fast. This is an auto with 184hp, so I may have remembered that 330 I test drove closely, and this seemed slow in comparison.

    So she got back in her Legacy, with no regrets. Sure, it ain't a Bimmer, but it was hard for us to see where that extra $14 grand went. And it wasn't even a wagon, nor did it have the sport package, nor did it have AWD...

    Bottom line? I'd get a stripped 330i over this particular model, easy. Pick the manual tranny, especially if you go with the 2.5l engine. Spring for that sport package, it's why you buy a Bimmer in the first place! :-)

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Oops, I meant Grand Vitara XL7.

    Can this 34 year old Dad get his cool back with this 3-row SUV?

    A friend and I really liked the shorter Grand Vitara we drove at Edmunds Live. The only major short coming was the way it did the back-axle-boogy over the bumps during the ride-and-handling test. So expectations were high for this XL7.

    Well, this was not nearly as fun. Man does it feel big. Long and tall, actually. It should beep when you put it in reverse. The long wheelbase meants wide turning circles, tough parking. I hopped a curb pulling out of the tight driveway.

    And it LEANS, man, it's the opposite of sporty. Body roll is borderline ridiculous. Take a fast turn and you feel afraid you'll roll over. Maybe this is good - it'll keep you from going too fast.

    The V6 is peppy, but loud and not very refined. 17/20 mpg for an auto 4WD V6, not too bad. The tranny was way too eager to shift early. It started in 2nd often, and only used 1st for the first couple of mph. Gotta re-think those gear ratios. There is a low range if you need to crawl, so no need for such a short granny first gear.

    Inside, poor workmanship. Look at the top edges of the door frames - visible body welds! Not since my '91 Escort had I seen those. The carpets were more like molded cardboard with lint sprayed on them. Plastics on the door moldings had sharp edges. Seat fabric was nice, though, a velour, that was also used on the doors. The rear doors open wide and are huge, so access is good.

    The seat bottom cushion was way too short. Even the wife complained. The arm rests are nice, but not long enough. It's an automatic, so make it bigger, Suzuki.

    Headroom left acres above my 6 foot frame. Leg room was plentiful front and rear. The 3rd row is for kids, but even they won't like the leg room. Move the 2nd row up, and you can really only seat kids in the 2nd and 3rd rows. Plus cargo space is virtually nil with them in place. Still, in a pinch, for a car pool to the day care, it would be handy.

    The cabin's biggest problem was a lack of width. Very narrow. I could reach over and touch my wife's door, which is a few inches closer than in my Forester (compared back to back). The driver's arm rest didn't go far back enough, and generally it wasn't all that comfy.

    Loved the commanding view though. Above the other cars. But that's probably what contributes even more to the tippy feeling when cornering.

    They had them for $20 grand with very basic stuff, $23 grand or so well equipped, so prices are good. But you could see where they cut corners, you definitely get what you pay for.

    Not my type of vehicle. Rebates and a fantastic, fully transferable warranty make this competitive for those seeking a body-on-frame traditional ute that could occasionally carry a young volleyball team, though.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    On to the particularly touchy subject of liking a truck I didn't think I would - we test drove an Expedition XLT 4x4 with leather.

    Yeah, it's a behemoth, but it doesn't feel that way from behind the wheel. It actually rides as nicely as a Honda Pilot, and feels no bigger until you try to park. "Handling" is a relative term on these, there's no point even discussing that.

    My wife loved it. Much more than any of the vans we tried, including drives of an MPV and Sedona and ride-alongs in my cousin's Odyssey. She says she feels like a geek in the vans, but cool in the big, high-up SUV.


    Ride - impressive, I expected much worse.
    Space - amazing, 3rd row better than vans, more leg room than the 2nd row of some cars
    Comfort - lazy-boy chairs, huge armrests wide enough to rest a laptop on, wide body.
    Interior layout - Ford has this all over GM, not at all trucky
    Commanding View - like sitting on the roof of your car
    Torque - the 5.4l had plenty to spare
    Styling - handsome, IMO, better than Explorer, maybe best looking full-sizer
    Rims - 17" standard
    Power pedals - wife liked these


    Center Seating positions - cramped, really a 2+2+2 for best comfort
    3rd seat folding - the non-power ones have no strap to grab, major omission
    Size - you don't park, you "dock" this Titanic
    Price - $42 grand, *GASP*, and it's not an Eddie Bauer
    Plastics - some felt cheap, others were better
    Cloth fabric - lint magnet, get the leather
    Roof rack - too high, way too high, to actually use
    Moonroof - wide, but not nearly long enough, could be twice the size, 3 times even

    They had neat vent rings a-la-TT, a nice touch, and no bogus painted metal surfaces, a relief.

    We did not try the Eddie Bauer, but the power 3rd seat would be a big plus due to the rather dumb omission of a pull strap on other models. It was quite a reach to raise them up again. That model also has the turn signals in the side mirrors, which are cool.

    Though I have to admit - it was my wife's favorite 7 seater by a wide, wide margin. Without question that would have been her choice over any of those vans.

    In my case, I would pick the MPV. Just as useful, but half the price and much smaller package.

    Now these Expeditions have incentives, so transactions prices are much lower. The catch? Resale is scary. I see 2 year old Expeditions in the paper for $19 and change, that's some serious depreciation.

    It might make a good used car buy, especially once the nicer new models are 2 years old.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Well, not quite, but Mitsubishi sure it cashing in on name recognition with their new entry in the sport/cute market.

    Right off the bat, the dealer peeved me when I called to ask if there was an AWD model in stock, "sure, come on in", and then only had FWD models to drive. Grrr.

    Any how, this vehicle is no threat, none whatsoever, to the current flock of sport/cutes. The Forester is superior in just about every way.

    We drove a very loaded up LS model, with heated leather and a (small) moonroof. It could not get out of its own way. I mean sssssslllooooooooow!

    My Forester was quicker pulling a 5'x8' trailer. Loaded. And the Outlander is about as loud as a chain saw. Lots of road noise only drowned out by the loud engine racket, it screams near redline with little/no results. All this with 20/25 mpg? You gotta be kidding!

    Lots of shiny plastics, in fact all the materials felt cheap. The seats are an imitation suede that attracts lint like crazy and does not look durable.

    I hated the twin archs over the speedo and tach, goofy looking. And the window is canted so you end up with a long dash, like the New Beetle. Top it off, front head room is tight.

    Now some likes. The back seat has good leg room, though cargo space gets sacrificed. The rear door is nice and wide, and easy to get in. Fit and Finish is good, if only the materials were better. Beefy wheels and tires, 16" rims are standard.

    More misses: drum brakes. No cross bars on the roof rack. Automatic only. Thin/cheap carpets and headliner (normal for the class, though).

    Ride was pretty good, it's strong point. Handling not bad. Felt a little softer than I like.

    I guess they could put an EVO motor in there and things might get interesting, but there are so many misses that it would have to come along with dozens of upgrades as well.

    I'll pass. The Lancer Ralliart station wagon looks more conventional, and with 160hp standard, should have adequate power.

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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Mazda Miata

    Since Juice tossed in his two cents, I figured I'd ante up with a test drive of my own. This test is from last summer, when the weather wasn't quite so wet.

    First, I know what you're thinking. This guy couldn't fit into a Subaru truck, how is he going to fit in a Miata? Well, the short answer is, I didn't.

    Let's get this size issue out of the way.

    Anyone remember that episode of Magnum PI, where Thomas (about 6'4") loses his Ferrari privileges and buys an MG roadster? That was how I felt. I drove the car looking over the windscreen eating bugs. In truth, the flimsy little sun shades were eye level and a distraction. I did have more legroom than expected, but was still shuffle steering with my hands between my knees. Good thing the Miata has a small wheel.

    I do not hold this against the Miata. The fact is, a guy my size has no business driving a car like this. Roadsters are meant to be small and lightweight. I was quite impressed that I could even get into the car and still operate the controls. So, I consider it adequately roomy for a vehicle of its type.

    Mrs. Varmint and I took the car out. (She was allowed to remain my wife for this drive.) Our Miata was the burgundy color that was used for the special edition model that year. If I recall correctly, the upgrade package included an LSD and I know it had the optional 6 speed. Unlike Juice, I do prefer the new styling to the old. Both are good looking, but the profile of the new model seems more elegant to my eye. The color was nice and went well with the beige and black interior. Miatas are so common they fail to draw much attention, however, I still felt that (when I slouched way down) I would look good in this car.

    Maneuvering in the parking lot, I marvelled at how tight the turning radius is. A few turns to lock with a little gas leaves you right where you started. If Austin Powers had traded his golf cart for a Miata, he might've saved some time in that corridor.

    Anyway, the Miata's 1.8 pulled us of the line and into fast moving traffic without fanfare. With my bulk holding it down, it doesn't feel quick, but it does an admirable job. It does feel buzzy, though. Because it's a sports car and I wanted to reduce that buzzy noise, I stomped with my yeehah foot and quickly rowed through the six gears. The car responded nicely, but we were not able to outrun the bees under the hood. Even in sixth gear, the engine feels high-strung.

    The gearbox is nice. The Miata has earned its reputation for slick shifting fun. The shifter is well placed and each gear engages with a firm snick, not even a trace of clunk. The clutch is weighted nicely and I don't recall having any trouble finding the contact point.

    Our test drive took us to the large parking lot in front of my company's offices. There I was able to toss the Miata around until my wife threatened divorce. This is where the Miata shines. It is a most excellent tool for ridding yourself of an unwanted spouse. It is also why I will never be allowed to own one.

    Truth be told, I want an S2000. Why? Because I actually fit in them. However, the Miata would probably suit me better (if I fit). In that parking lot, I was able coax the Miata into controlled spins, slides, and even a memorable 360 (which prompted the divorce threats). All this at speeds not much higher than 40 mph. In the S2K, these types of antics require significantly higher speeds, bigger parking lots, and a less powerful survival instinct.

    I would love to tell you about the HVAC controls, interior build quality, and leather seats, but I didn't pay much attention to that. Frankly, who cares? If you want plush, you're in the wrong car.

    There is one area where I will turn upon my enthusiast slant and be a pragmatist. Roadsters need at least some utility. Preferably a decent trunk. If you can't bring things with you in the car, then the car often gets sidelined and sits in the garage. Meanwhile you suffer through a perfectly good drive to the golf course, your in-law's house, or the market in a boring family sedan.

    The Miata does well-enough in this regard. 5.1 cu.ft isn't bad for cars of this breed. Compared to the MR Spyder's 1.9, the Miata is a wagon. But the shape of the space is a bit too shallow. I'd have to live with the car before saying it is a deficit, but I suspect this could be an issue.


    Am I a freak for wanting a car that I can't possibly fit into? The Miata provides maximum thrills in a minimalist package. At $26K, the SE trim is a tiny bit expensive. I'd expect more engine and at least some creature comforts for my dollar. Other trim levels are more reasonably priced and will provide the same on-road joy. Love it for what it is.
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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    ...but I'll chime in with a few suggestions from a seasoned Miata owner.

    The first thing a Miata owner will do after the purchase is remove the absolutely useless sun shades. The frame above the windshield becomes the sun shade, and yes, sometimes you have to look over it!

    Second, if you're tall, you might want to take a closer look at the seat track. I managed to raise mine with some spacers and a longer bolt to hold it all down. The front of my seat is 3/8" higher, which gives a little thigh support, given your knees are pretty much splayed out.

    Some owners go even further and remove some stuffing from the seat! I didn't have the heart to do that. Besides, the guys in the Miata thread will advise you to avoid "casa de juice" come Thanksgiving.

    Do all that, and now you're...still uncomfortable! This is part of the experience. You can smirk at other owners and call them "softies" if it makes you feel better. ;-)

    My last note is that you can get a trailer hitch and a hitch-mounted golf bag rack. Really. It fits two bags. The catch is payload is about 360 lbs, so in my case I'd have to have an emaciated super model next to me not to exceed that limit.

    So, the moral is...date a super model!

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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    A month or so ago I had the pleasure of driving a new Acura TSX 6-speed.

    As one might expect from Acura, the car is very well thought out, and comes fully equipped. The only major option is the Navigation System, which, IIRC, is about $2K. Features that come standard include: heated seats, moonroof, in-dash 6-CD unit, and auto climate control. Since it was a month or so ago, my memory is a bit fuzzy on these two items: dual-zone climate control and heated outside mirrors, but I'm pretty certain they too were part of the package. Interestingly, the 6-speed manual and 5-speed man-u-matic have the same MSRP.

    This was the second time I've ever driven a 6-speed, and my feelings are mixed. While the unit is a delite to use, because of the 6 gears, you are always shifting. Even out on the expressway I found myself dropping a gear just pass someone. It's not a tranny for the lazy, or if you happen to be tired, that's for sure.

    The 2.4L engine has good power throughout the rev range, much better down-low power than say the 2.0 Honda S2000 engine (That's the other 6-speed that I've driven). And like all Honda engines, this sucker loves to rev. :)

    The car is a delite to drive. It's not as quick as a Subaru WRX, but still very satisfying to drive. I think the key word here is "satisfying" because when you exit the vehicle, at the end of a drive, there's likely to be a big grin on your face. In a sense it reminds me of my long-ago-departed Honda CB550 4-cylinder motorcycle; while very quick, it wasn't the quickest bike in its class, but oh so rewarding to ride.

    I'm really looking forward to see how this stacks up against the all-new Subaru Legacy turbo, which is due here next spring. The new Legacy will have a slightly longer wheelbase of 105.1" which exactly the same as that found on the TSX. The Legacy will of course have AWD, which the TSX lacks. In fact, if there's just one thing that I wished the TSX had, it's a Subie-like full-time AWD.

    Bottom line: A very rewarding ride, be it on a country road or the interstate. It's priced right too, at ~ $27K as I recall. Just make sure you've got a right arm and left leg that will enjoy a workout.

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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Civic Hybrid

    Due to the fear of an impulse purchase, I am not allowed near a car lot without Mrs. Varmint along to play chaperone. So here we have yet another tag team test drive. (Actually, this is a car that the missus is very interested in.) While the Civic may no longer be the absolute benchmark for the class, it still serves as a good indicator what compact economy sedans are for. I tested an auto EX the day before the hybrid.

    The hybrid vehicle we tested was a 5 speed manual in that silvery blue color. The deck lid spoiler and unique grill are both part of the standard package and, IMHO, make the hybrid look better than the standard versions. I find the deck lid spoiler much more tasteful than the large one that is an option on the other models. The alloy rims are also a good deal nicer than the hubcaps on the regular models. As if to say, “hello, I’m different”, the radio antenna is perched in the middle of the roof. The overall style of the vehicle nice, but not remarkable. Mrs. Varmint was not impressed. She felt that the deep crease running the length of the vehicle was too much. It looks like it was built in two pieces with one stacked on top of the other. Otherwise, her reaction was lukewarm.

    Color options were also an issue for her. Hybrid models are available in only three exterior colors all with the same interior. The interior must be beige with a charcoal dash top. To match that you can have a white, bluish silver, or metallic beige exterior. The bluish silver simple does not work with a beige interior. Nor does the faux brushed aluminum plate that occupies a large portion of the center stack. Recite the mantra all ye manufacturers, "metallic accents are okay, but not metallic dashboards."

    Other than that, the interior is fairly nice. The two-tone beige/charcoal dash looks good. The driver's instrumentation glows with in a moderate blue hue that is both pleasing and high-tech. A nice touch: the three dials for the climate control are arranged in a vertical line next to the steering wheel. Instead of having the dial spin from a 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock position, it ranges from 11:00 to 5:00. There's something about the path one's arm will take on the way back and forth from the controls that makes this a very intuitive set up. There were no obvious defects in the interior.

    Storage spaces were not abundant. The Civic EX has an armrest console between the front seats. At least, the automatic I drove had one. The hybrid did not. I assumed that this was due to the manual transmission, however pictures of the CVT equipped model also lack this compartment. There is a PB&J-sized space next to the hand brake and a thin compartment that is placed near the driver's elbow. It has a chintzy sliding cover on it and would appear to be more useful for occupants of the rear seats. There is also a CD-sized covered compartment in the dash and door pockets. All of these are reasonable places to stash stuff, but few are easily accessible for a driver juggling things while on the road (c'mon we all do it). There are two perfectly useful cupholders nicely placed at the base of the center stack. You might not fit that uber-slurp trough in them, but they seemed to be designed well enough for the average beverage. On several attempts, I did have to press the cupholder lid down twice before it would close completely.

    Up front, my wife and I were both able to get comfortable without any of the fuss required in the Miata and Baja. In back, my hair (or what’s left of it) brushed against the roof liner. A comfortable slouch alleviated that problem. The fabric on the seats had a nice look and feel to it. Legroom was adequate, though not spacious. On the whole, there’s not much I can say about the cabin that isn’t covered in the Edmunds comparison test .

    Cargo capacity is compromised by the placement of the hybrid’s battery. You lose almost 3 cubic feet back there. However, the ten remaining cubes are probably the most useful portion of the trunk. The fact that the battery compromises the fold down rear seat is the real issue.

    Okay, enough of that stuff. There’s a nasty rumor going around that hybrids can’t get out of their own way. So why is Varmint waiting to the end of this gawd-awful long review to talk about the way it drives? I’m going to tell you, but I don’t think the enthusiasts out there will like the answer. I haven’t mentioned performance because it doesn’t matter. By that, I mean that performance is so much like a regular car, it leaves little to discuss. In direct comparison, the EX was quicker. No doubt about it. But the hybrid is so completely capable it simply isn’t an issue. With three adults in the car (about 550 lbs), the car had plenty of giddy up and go. There were only two remarkable differences. When you rev the hybrid up past 4,000 rpms, acceleration starts to fail. In the EX, it starts to come alive. The other difference is the fact that the hybrid was far more refined (and the EX is no slouch). It is wonderfully smooth.

    Taking what I learned from one of the car mags about the IMA system, I tried to drive as smoothly as possible. Each time the system goes from charge (sending power to the battery) to assist (sending power to the wheels), there is a loss of energy, not unlike a broker’s fee. It is not easy in normal traffic to keep from bouncing back and forth repeatedly. Still, we left the parking lot with a half-charged battery and returned with a half-charged battery after about 20 minutes on the road.

    We were told by the Sales Manager they would work from invoice, or even below that. Given the auto climate control, standard ABS with EBD, airbags all around, alloy rims, and a decent list of other features $18,324 isn’t a bad deal for a techno-wonder.


    We almost bought it. No kidding, we drove in with a perfectly good Acura TL and came very close to making a deal. Now, my wife loves her TL. She likes the comfortable seats, the exterior styling suits her, and it has all the features she wants. The Civic hybrid has most every feature that matters to her. All it lacks is a moonroof, but even that can be added. She is willing to admit that driving the TL makes her feel good, though she won’t let me describe the feeling as snob appeal. However, the Civic hybrid also has a unique appeal. It took us a while to figure out exactly what that is, but we settled on the notion that the hybrid offers its owner a sense of moral superiority. Honda should sell them with a superhero's cape.
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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    Just got back from North Carolina, where I had to move my daughter out of her college apartment. To do so, we thought it best to rent a truck, rather than use my open trailer. As it turned out, this was a good move as I drove 450+ miles through the remnants of tropical storm Bill.

    After visiting all the major truck rental sites on the Internet, we decided to go with Budget, as they had the best price. I wanted to go with Penske, because every Penske truck I've seen appeared to be brand new, and in very good shape. That can't be said of U-Haul or Budget. So the bottom line won out...or so we thought.

    So I reserved this 10' Box van from Budget, to be picked up in Wilmington, NC on July 1, at 9:00 AM. We drive down to Wilmington, which is a 7-hour drive, spend the night in the motel, and in the morning head over to Budget rent a truck. Guess what? We get there, and they don't have any trucks for us!! I said we have a reservation, and I showed the guy my confirmation number for the reservation. The guy shrugs his shoulders, and says, sorry, I don't have a truck for you...

    Well, at this point my wife was about to leap over the counter to strangle this guy. Here we are, 450 miles from home, we have to get a truck now, because the apartment lease is up... What do we do?

    I quickly asked is there a Penske truck rental nearby? He said yes, just up the road, and: "Would you like me to call and see if they have a truck?" I said yes, and it turns out they didn't have a 10' truck, but they had a 15' truck. Even though this was a much larger truck than we needed, I said yes.

    So we motor up to the Penske place, expecting to be gouged with a price. To our surprise, and to our favor the price they quoted was about half what the previous online Penske quote was. We were delighted, to say the least! It turns out, because I rented it on the first day of the month, rather than towards the end of the month, I was able to get such a good deal. The pricing on these rentals is dependent on supply and demand. Keep in mind apartment leases (which is what these vehicles mostly used for) usually end at the end of the month, therefore there is a huge demand for these vehicles towards the end of the month, not at the beginning of the month. We rented it on July 1.

    The Truck
    A late model GMC G3500 15,' dual-rear wheel, box van, with a 10,000 pound GVW. The "G" model signifies it has the cab from the full-size van, not pickup. As per my instincts, the truck was presented in excellent condition. It was an automatic, had A/C and radio, cloth reclining seats, and that's it. It also had a ramp to help load stuff, a real necessity!

    The Drive
    Well for someone who is used to driving an Explorer and 2 Subarus, it takes some getting used to, for sure. The GMC had ABS, but the brakes were lousy. Stopping distances were incredibly long, and the brake pedal pressure needed was substantial. I really was wondering if they were power brakes, because it sure didn't feel like power brakes. Passing was done with extreme caution, because you didn't have much power in reserve, and you had live (or die) by the outside mirrors.

    Also, this truck had a fuel cutoff, that came into play whenever you tried to exceed 70 mph. At first I thought the truck had some bad gas, because it kept bucking, but I finally realized it only happened at 71 mph. The first tank I got around 11 mpg, which isn't bad considering the vehicle. I'm returning the truck tomorrow, so I will do one more fuel mileage check.

    One side note: Coming up I-95, through Virginia, I had to stop and get the truck weighed (twice), just like all the big-rig truckers. :)

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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    Well, I turned the truck in yesterday, and did a final gas mileage check: 11.7 mpg; not bad considering the vehicle. And, yes, the vehicle does have a speed governor; I asked at the Penske drop off location. The guy I spoke to thought it was 65 mph, but my truck's governor cut in at 71 mph.

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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Buick Rendezvous

    I had wanted to give the Aztek a farewell test drive, but decided against it. The Aztek has been thrashed so badly by the American public, I figured most folks have already crossed it off their shopping list. Instead, I tested its cousin the AWD Rendezvous in CX-Plus trim. Mrs. Varmint allowed me to test this one without her. That should tell you something about her opinion of Buick’s entry into the domain of cross-over vehicles. Mine is more favorable, as is often the case.

    The vehicle I tested came with a the optional third row of seats, power/leather seats, redundant radio controls, and all the goodies that come with the “Plus package”. The major items on that list would be OnStar, 16” alloy wheels, manual dual-zone climate controls, a trip computer, and an audible back-up sensor. According to Edmunds, this vehicle would MSRP at $33,375 with the destination charge. GM is offering generous rebates for the 2003 model, which should take the sting out of that. The vehicle did not include a sunroof, but that may be added for another $885. I nick-named this test model Fergy.

    The Rendezvous comes in a fairly wide range of colors. Most all color combinations look good. The remainder of the vehicle is a mixed bag. From the front, the Rendezvous looks like a classy American vehicle. The way the grill and chrome mustache work together to create an oval focal point works well. The circular headlamp projectors and Buick badge keep the round theme going and give the front a consistent look. The only oddity up front is the set of turn signals above the head lights. By themselves, they aren’t bad (at least they’re unique), but they introduce an angular shape to a façade where no other angles exist. Moving to the side, things take a turn for the worst. Buick added an accent line at the top of the rear fender. I presume the idea was to break up the enormous piece of visual real estate that poses as a rear end for this rig. It didn't work. Instead of breaking up the space, it calls attention to the fact that Fergy is a big-boned girl. By giving some visual weight to the top of the vehicle, the large C-pillar does help in balancing out the heft of the profile. But I later found this pillar to be a significant visual obstruction from the inside. The line extending from the C-pillar and past the taillights makes the profile look like a big Mazda 323 hatchback. From the back, the Rendezvous looks like a mini-van… not an ugly mini-van, but a mini-van nonetheless. Unfortunately, that image is often what people are trying to avoid when they purchase an SUV or even an SUV wannabe.

    In the driver’s seat, I found several adjustments to assist with getting comfortable. It was not hard to do. The seats lack the good bolsters need for sporty driving, but I don’t expect the target audience would ever need them. These comfy chairs are placed well above the floor, making for a pleasant upright seating position. There is a huge (deep) storage space under the front armrest. Fergy was outfitted with the standard bench in the second row. Buick offers a set of captains chairs for an additional $435. The second row has decent legroom and I was able to “sit behind myself” with no difficulty. The cushions are comfortable in the outboard positions and, built into the center seat back, there were two large armrests, complete with storage and cup-holders. These armrests make the center seating position less comfortable, a reality that applies to many other vehicles with similar designs. While discussing cargo capacity, I noted that I might prefer the captains chairs for their ease of removal. My salesman chimed in to let me know that the benefits were minimal, if any. Apparently, the hardware used to make the separate chairs makes them just as heavy as the two bench halves (35 lbs). As expected, the third row is small. Not as small as some other vehicles, but still a place designed for kids. I give it a solid B, given the intended function. I’ve read concerns about the distance between the rear glass and the heads of third row passengers. The rear headrests actually extend into the path of the rear gate. Had I closed the hatch with the headrests fully extended, they would have been crunched. Concerns duly noted.

    The interior is stylish using a mix of colors and materials on the seats and doors. I found no significant defects or misaligned panels. I liked the two-tone steering wheel and the grip of the leather it wears. The silver gauge clusters were tasteful, however, they were not the easiest to read during the day. The rest of the dash was lacking. Many of the dash materials are second rate. The entire center stack is composed of a hard plastic that appears to be covered with that glitter young ladies will wear when headed for a night of club-hopping. It is also one of the most uninspired dashboards I’ve ever seen. Large holes in the plastic allow radio and HVAC controls to poke through. There was no apparent attempt to give them an integrated appearance and the results look sloppy. To add to the 80’s pick-up truck styling, the dual climate control feature is operated with cheap sliders. The truth is, most of the interior looks very nice. It’s just that the dash really stinks.

    Fergy and I turned left from the parking lot with our salesman riding shotgun. We stuck to town roads, which actually allowed the Rendezvous the show off a bit. We drove a road which has been patched, repaired, fixed, and then patched again. If you live in New England, you know what I’m talking about. The Rendezvous practically glided over all of it. It smoothed over everything. This set off a “floatmobile” warning in the back of my head, but throughout the test drive, Fergy remained steady. Body roll was controlled rather well for such a tall vehicle and handling was as good as one could expect. Near the end of the drive, I tossed us into a curve over torn up pavement and lose sand. The tires squealed, but the rig felt stable. All in all, the suspension in wonderful. Steering feel is adequate and I found it maneuvers in tight spots without much drama. The front and rear disk brakes are competent and easy to modulate. The engine is a weak spot. It has quite a bit of weight to haul around and doesn’t provide the sporty acceleration one would expect when paying this much scratch. Sometime in 2004, Buick will introduce a more sexy 3.6L engine, which should be a better match for Fergy’s…ahem.. bulk.

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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Off highway driving is not recommended. The Rendezvous has a modest 7” of ground clearance, but the long wheelbase and overhang up front are too much for any trail with rocks or sharp inclines. If you do head off the beaten path, remove the plastic skirts up front before a rock does it for you.

    Cargo space is one area where I cannot quibble. The portly styling of the Rendezvous hides a vast space for strollers, home goods, small furnishings, and soccer gear. The third row folds into the floor and the second row may be removed to unveil the other attributes shared with a mini-van. There are plenty of tie downs and, if you elect to banish the third row from your vehicle, it may be equipped with storage compartments under the floor. With a grand total of 109 cu.ft. of interior storage, there is little you cannot fit inside. Towing is restricted to 3,500 lbs, but that is par for the course when it comes to crossovers.


    If you want an AWD minivan with a long list of features, the Rendezvous might be the right vehicle for you. It offers a luxurious ride, comfortable interior, capable all-weather AWD system, and decent handling. Though you will have deal with removing and storing the second row seats, cargo space is the best in this class. Still, I think the new Chrysler Pacifica offers a better blend style, performance, and premium content. And if you really need the space of a minivan, the Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey are much easier to work with. For all its virtues, the Rendezvous is simply too compromised in styling and sport appeal to make a big impression in the mass market. However, if you appreciate the same attributes as Sir Mix-A-lot, Fergy would make a fine date.
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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    OK, you say, it's fun to drive Miatas and turbo AWD rockets, but what about something that pays the bills? What can haul the kids around to soccer practive? That's how most people use their vehicles, right? Stop dreaming of roadsters and wake up!

    Can I talk my wife, who prefers manual transmissions, into a minivan?

    We drove the new MPV, the one with the newer 3.0l Duratec V6 engine. The 2.5l had been rumored to be a little underpowered, but the new engine drew us in for a try. It still did not generate any grins, the way I was hoping.

    It's a perfectly good van, though. She just enjoys driving, and a van is not a driver's car, even this zoom-zoom van.

    Pros: ingenious interior, traction control, 200hp, 5 gear ratios, styling, refined engine, 3rd biggest moonroof I've seen.

    Let's elaborate, shall we? The side-by-slide middle row is the best in the bid-ness, period. It's the only seat where you could have an infant sleeping, and still adjust it to the side, or front-to-back, and not wake them up. And the windows open. Amen.

    The engine is definitely not underpowered, but the tranny did hesitate a couple of times. Some of the ground effects are a bit much for a minivan, but at least Mazda is trying. Nice, huge moonroof. Open that and the windows, and this is the airiest minivan out there, only the new Quest could even hope to compete.

    Cons: wind noise, indecisive tranny, too-short arm rests, no heated seats, rear drum brakes for $29k?

    Minor quibbles, really.

    Still, no sale, we've basically ruled out minivans altogether. The Ody is even bigger and she already felt this was a little past her comfort zone. That goes for the new Sienna and Quest too, though I'm sure they'd be great on long trips.

    MPV had much better visibility than the Kia Sedona, and a more refined engine by far, but it also costs $6 grand more. Real-world prices make this a buy, though. If you need a van.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Thanks juice, but how about one we can afford? I don't have $29 grand lying around.

    Went to look at a Kia Sedona. Kia continues to make great strides, and the price is unbeatable. Is it nice, though?

    It's actually nicer than you expect. The 3rd seat doesn't fold down, it's the old style removeable type, and they were heavy.

    I absolutely could not get comfy in the front seats, with lumpy lumbar support. That ruled the EX model out for me right there, but the wife actually kind of liked it. She did find it a bit big and hard to park.

    Price is rock bottom. $23.7k for a loaded model with leather and moonroof, though it does not offer heated seats or stability control, or AWD. That's still a substantial price advantage even before figuring in the rebates and dealing.

    The engine was torquey, if a bit loud. Definitely not lacking in any way, and it didn't need revs to produce step off. Ride was good but with lots of lean, it's comfortable but not sporty.

    With a leather interior and plood, it actually makes a decent impression of an upscale interior, at least.

    I think what's lacking here is innovation. It doesn't lead the class in any way I can think of besides price. It feels like an excellent minivan - from a decade ago.

    That's OK, it's priced like a used van, yet it's new. Imagine someone put a 1993 van in a time machine and sent it 10 years forward, but kept the old price.

    But you don't need to travel through time to see the value Kia offers, especially with that warranty.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Back in 1996, I was excited about the new RAV4. I wanted an SUV that wasn't so trucky. I liked it, but it was a tad small. Then I tried a '97 CR-V when those came out, but wasn't impressed with the torque that 2.0l offered. As anyone who looked at my profile would know, I ended up waiting and buying a 1998 Forester, which combined good cargo space with fun handling and won me over.

    Time for a rematch? :-)

    Honda revised the CR-V, so it was time for another look. Sit inside and the first thing you notice is the impressive use of space. The front passenger seat could use more leg room, but the back seat is positively limo-like. Two 7 footers would be happy in that back seat, more so than the front seat, actually. No dead pedal for the driver, though at least it seems to have more room than the front passenger seat (I'm 6' and could not get comfy there when my wife drove).

    The cargo area is tall but the floor space is limited. You'd probably have to stack things up, unless you slide the rear seats forward a tad (a neat feature). Some interior materials felt cheap, particularly the vinyl inserts in the seats. But the layout is nice and it feels airy inside.

    We drove it and the wife liked it. Engine is very peppy. The 2.4l produces good torque, which peaks at a low 3600 rpm. It felt very different than the 2.0l from the early models. NVH control could be better, as the engine gets a bit loud.

    Suspension feels a bit numb, with little feedback, even tippy on sharp turns, but it still manages to be fun. It felt like FWD - tires would chirp in 2nd gear during hard acceleration, and torque steer was present for sure. You could feel RT4WD engage. Let's just say I prefer setups that send power to the rear axle all the time.

    Other pros? Strong resale, NCAP test results, IIHS offset "Best Pick". Extended warranties are cheap because Hondas are reliable.

    Cons? Short warranty. Some features are missing from the options list, such as bigger rims and tires (which the cheaper Element has), heated seats, and traction/stability control (OK, that's rare in this class). IIHS bumper basher tests showed backing into something could be very costly. IIHS side-impact tests without side air bags weren't impressive either. Get the EX or at least an LX with those air bags.

    The standard warranty is very short and you don't get roadside assistance. Most direct competitors offer a 5/60 powertrain warranty; Honda should too.

    In the end it's a very likable package, with only a few flaws. I'm frustrated because Honda comes so close. If Honda could move the spare inside, under the floor, and maybe offer a longer warranty, it would make our short list next time around.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    It's Toyota Time. (Remember those ads?)

    I'll admit up front, our expectations were high for this Camry of SUVs. Too high, perhaps.

    I like the boxy styling with the fender flares. It looks purposeful, classy. I especially liked the dark blue one with the tinted windows.

    Inside, we both hated the back seat. It was way too low. You sat with your knees in your chest. Theatre seating is in, guys. At least our kids are in booster seats.

    The wife could not find the parking brake release. Oh, it's on the floor, you have to press it in again to release it. Fine, but it got in the way of the deal pedal. Poor design.

    My wife is pulling out of the lot and she already ruled it out. It felt big and heavy, with visiblity only so-so.

    V6 was smooth "like buttah", though, and quiet, luxurious compared to the noisy CR-V we'd just driven. I liked it; she didn't. Should be a good trip car, but not fun in the city, not really sporty but spacious and quiet.

    But if I have to give up driving fun, I'd rather have a minivan.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    So we then tried a Camry SE 5 speed. I hate that Toyota does not make ABS standard - we could not find one 5 speed on the lot with ABS. Still, we drove it.

    The Mrs. liked it much better than the Highlander. The 4 banger is peppy with the 5 speed, quiet and smooth. Rides better than CR-V, and it's quieter.

    Wife said shifter was notchy, that was the only thing she didn't like about it. Torque steer wasn't bad, may not be enough torque for that. More comfy overall than HL, better back seat, big trunk. Hated the fake aluminum on the SE, so I'd take an LE instead. The SE package is mostly cosmetic.

    As fine a car as it is, neither of us were excited about it. I think she actually liked the CR-V more. Or maybe she was tired by then, and the Toyota salesman (cheap suit and way too much cologne) was absolutely annoying her.

    Other points: good gas mileage, low price (if you can find a MT5 4 cylinder with ABS), good warranty.

    We didn't end up buying one, but our neighbor Sonny did. He's retired and got an auto, I'm sure those customers are perfectly satisfied. I just wish the SE had a better shifter and sportier tuning.


    (note: we drove all 3 vehicles on the same day, hence the comparisons)
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    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    First of all, let me say that I am a little embarassed at my age to drive a neon blue EVO with a big wing on the back, especially with my balding head. I'm sure everybody thought I borrowed my son's car. But after a couple of blocks, self-consciousness left me because I was having so much fun. To hell with everyone and their stares. BAH!

    Let's get some things right on the table about this car:

    A. This car is mighty fast by any standard. My Alfa LS, no slouch for a 4-door sedan, felt like a UPS truck when I got back in it. (However, it sounds nicer than an EVO!)

    B. Short of an open wheel racer, the steering response is absolutely RIGHT THERE for you. Don't think I ever drove a street car that goes exactly where you point it. There is ZERO play, vagueness or slop. RIGHT THERE! Wheels welded to steering wheel.

    C. This car will wear you down over the course of a day I bet. I can see why they try to sell them to 25 year old hard bodies. If you ran over a dime you could probably tell if it were heads or tails. It transmits every little irregularity in the road, and it feels as would a very short wheelbase car.

    The EVO has obviously packed all the effort into speed, suspension and braking, and whatever lunch money was left over went into the interior and the comforts.

    HIGWAY -- just hit the gas and go. It'll pull in 3rd gear at 3,000 no problem. If someone is harrassing you from behind, you can leave them behind like in the Star Trek movies when they punch the warp button. Fear no man in this car on the highway. You could paper your bedroom with the tickets you could get in a day.

    THE TWISTIES -- incredible, really. On some bigger more powerful cars you often have to let the car set for a second before flinging it into a turn but the EVO, you just point and shoot. It's an easy car to drive, shifter is good and you can heel and toe easily. It can make just about anyone look good, as long as you don't get crazy about it.

    ENGINE NOTE -- typical Japanese can 'o gnats unfortunately. This car only had 150 miles on it, so I short shifted before redline. Maybe it sounds better right up at the edge?

    BRAKES ---WHOA means WHOA! My contact lenses hurt after a couple slams. God have mercy on the Buick behind you in a panic stop. They won't have a chance.

    SEATS--not bad, but kinda snug for a guy big in the waist. I wouldn't go cross country in it. I'm not even sure I'd have it as my only car.

    CITY DRIVING -- very docile, no problems. By day, it's nice little Mr Lancer the high school math teacher, but AT NIGHT......bwahahahahaha!

    SUMMARY -- the quintessential pocket rocket, probably with more power than the average person's skill to handle it. Everything happens fast in an EVO. For a very special kind of enthusiast only, but very rewarding and very impressive in the handling department. In this price class I think it sets the standard in that department. Whatever you can't outrun 0-60 you can probably beat in the turns.

    Formidable little car.
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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    I deleted my post from yesterday, and re-posted with some revisions and additional thoughts.
    I drove a new VW Touareg today. It was an entry-level model, priced around $35K. Don't let the "entry-level" tag fool you, as base Touaregs are very nicely equipped, as you might expect for shelling out thirty five big ones.

    The Good

    • The car comes with the following items standard: moonroof, leather seats, manually adjustable seats (which I prefer), 6-speed tip-tronic tranny, Permanent 4WD with a dual-range transfer case, fully independent suspension.

    • I took it over some twisty roads, and for an SUV, it handles beautifully. It feels not unlike a big (tall!) German sedan. The ride is very comfortable too. The one I drove had the standard non-air/non-adjustable suspension, and it was very comfortable, again, just like a big Mercedes sedan.

    • With a 112" wheelbase, the Touareg is quite comfortable for 5 passengers. VW abandoned any thoughts of offering a 3rd-row seat, which is fine as far as I'm concerned.

    • The 3.2L V6 is very smooth and powerful, although I wish it were a bit larger. The Pilot & MDX have a 3.5 V6, and the new MB ML350(?) has a 3.7 V6.

    • I like the Tip-Tronic feature. It was fun to use, and can be very useful too. It wasn't especially fast to shift, however, but in this type of vehicle I don't see that as a problem, really.

    • The 4WD is a permanent full-time unit, and it can also be driven in low range on solid pavement without any driveline binding problems. You can lock the center dif, if need be, and there's an optional rear locking dif, which this car did not have. The transfer case control knob, can be pushed flush with the center console, so that you don't accidentally hit it by mistake, a nifty feature.

    • Low range is truly a "LOW RANGE!" I put it in Low, moved the gearshift over to "Tip-Tronic" 1st gear, and revved it to 4000 rpm, which turned out to be 7 mph! This sucker has serious gearing!

    • I didn't get a chance to go off road with it, but I have no doubts that it would do just fine.

    • The Touareg can tow up to 7700 pounds. I'm not sure if the V6 can tow that much, Nor do I know how much it can tow without trailer brakes. I checked the owners manual on this, and the info has yet to be released by VW.

    • V10 diesel will come Stateside next year :)

    • There's an optional "V8x" model which is really geared for those who go off road. That model does have a rear-mounted full-size spare; height adjustable suspension, with around 12" of ground clearance and 22" of water fording capability.

    • It comes standard with an air compressor (see next bullet).

    The Bad

    • It comes with an inflatable spare. As far as I'm concerned, any SUV that doesn't come with a full-size spare, is committing a crime against humanity. Dumb. Dumb! DUMB!!

    • In addition to not having a full-size spare, if you get a flat, there is no way ever, that you can put the now flat tire into the spare tire well. Dumb. Dumb! DUMB!!

    • Why isn't the the off-road-oriented "x" package also available with the V6 model (V6x)? Dumb. Dumb! DUMB!!

    • Instrumentation is just so-so. Plenty of gauges, but the readability of some of them leaves much to be desired. The green cruise light is hard to see during the day. It is wired so that it goes on when the cruise master switch is activated, and not when the cruise is actually engaged, which is wrong, IMO. The center "info panel" with the outside temp, transmission position, etc., is typical German-lousy. The type is small and all red (which I hate!). Why VW (and BMW) think all red instruments is better than those that are color-broken as to function, is beyond me... I've been a graphic designer for over 30 years, so I know how navigate one's eye via color-coding -- and I know a monochromatic color scheme, accompanied by small type is flat out wrong. Dumb. Dumb! DUMB!!

    • Some of the controls are hard to figure out. The salesman and I never really could figure out the front/rear wiper switch, for example. The Germans still have something to learn from the Japanese, in terms of making the controls more "intuitive."

    • Reliability? I'm guessing on this, but recent VWs haven't been great in this area. The vehicle I tested already had eaten a CD, and is in repair for that...

    • Price is steep, but you do get a lot of vehicle. V8 models (with optional goodies) are easily in the mid – upper $40K range.

    The Painful

    • After the test drive I was checking under the rear bumper to see where the tow hitch would be attached, and noticed a large bright shiny piece of metal just before the rear bumper. I thought it was a skid plate, so to went over to tap and feel it. BIG MISTAKE! It was the exhaust muffler and/or catalytic convertor! Can you say: " F I R S T D E G R E E B U R N?" Yikes, did that hurt!!! Word to the wise: Be careful when poking around under the rear of the Touareg...


    I may do a follow-up on driving a V8 version. If so, I'll post with any relevant comments. Bottom line: I like the vehicle a lot, although I'd be very wary of any v1.0 VW.

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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    I mentioned that I wanted to also test a V8 version with some more bells-‘n-whistles, such as the height-adjustable air suspension. So, with that in mind, I headed to another “new” VW dealer, that had mentioned that they had 12 Touaregs available, both V6s and V8s. I get to the dealer, only to discover that they had a V6 in stock (more on that later). Since it was virtually the same as the one I drove, I opted not to test drive it. There were also four other people ahead of me who were also waiting for test drives. Obviously, this vehicle has created some buyer interest…

    Conflicting Specs
    Even though I didn’t drive the vehicle, I was able to pick up a new Touareg brochure. The first dealer was already out of brochures! Upon reading through the latest brochure I noticed some conflicting info, from that of the brochure I picked up a few months back at the auto show. And… the “new” news is NOT good.

    I had mentioned in my above post that there was to be a V8x model, with a rear mounted full-size spare. This model was to also have standard skid plates, and a few other goodies that off-roaders might welcome. Guess What? There is no mention of this V8x model anywhere in the latest brochure, nor is there any mention of an optional full-size spare or skid plate, etc. Well, folks, the Touareg just took a sudden dive on my “Must-Have” chart…

    Some of you must be wondering why I'm obsessing on this spare tire issue? Blame it on VW. They're the ones promoting the Touareg as this wonderful off-roadster. No serious off-roader that I've ever met would ever venture far from the pavement without a full-size spare. Wouldn't be prudent...

    Cross-shopping other SUVs
    I began thinking, if I were in the market to replace my ’98 Explorer with another SUV; the Touareg could be on my list. Others would include: MDX, Pilot, Montero, (another) Explorer, Expedition, and Tahoe. I’ve driven every one except the Tahoe. For those with a fatter wallet than mine, you might include: Land Cruiser, GX/LX470, M-Class, X5, and Range Rover. Of those, I’ve driven the M-Class and X-5.

    As you can see, the above models include crossovers, as well as traditional mid-size and full-size SUVs. Why all the choices? Simple. I think the Touareg has features that each of those segments is known for.

    However, when push-comes-to-shove, I probably would narrow my choice down to the Touareg and 4Runner, with the Explorer and Pilot being not too far behind. As far as the 4Runner is concerned, you can get a V8/5-speed automatic with permanent full-time 4WD for what you would pay for a V6 Touareg. Yeah the Touareg would run circles around the 4Runner on a twisty road, but the 4Runner is still pretty good, and it has a bulletproof reliability rating. It’s also one heck of an off road vehicle in its own right. It also comes with a full-size spare tire.

    VW as a Premium Brand
    Okay, we all know VW wants to compete with Mercedes (but not Audi!). Their new stand-alone showrooms are stunning. I love the pale yellow theme, and they are very cheery and upbeat. That’s all well and good. This new VW dealer I just went to had all those attributes. However… I was lured to drive 25 miles to this dealer with the expectation of seeing 12 Touaregs on there lot. When I see a newspaper ad stating 12 are “available,” I assume for that to mean that they are on site, and not due in the next couple of weeks. This dealer and VW’s “Premium Image” just took a big negative hit with me.

    A Flawed Gem
    I had linked the above Touareg write up with the Subaru Crew “Café” forum, since I spend most of my time here at Edmunds over in the Subaru area. I thought they might be interested, since the “Café” is a grab bag of topics. One of the Crew regulars (Graham) from Australia reported that the Touareg and its sister vehicle, the Porsche Cayenne were recently tested down under, and one of the first problems that occurred was they got a flat tire. Graham posted to the effect, “can you imagine having a flat tire out in the Outback, 500 miles from nowhere, and all you have is a temp tire?” I couldn’t have said it better…

    Well, I said beware of v1.0. Hopefully, next year, when the awesome diesel arrives, this spare tire issue will also have been addressed. Until then, I see the Touareg as a flawed gem. It’s a shame, as I really believe VW has introduced some wonderful new ideas with this vehicle.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Flash back to 2 years ago, when I attended the Mercedes Benz PowerTrip event. I loved the 3.2l V6, it's a gem, smooth and torquey all the way to redline.

    Contrast that to the 2.3l Kompressor engine, which was coarse enough to remind one of a chain saw. The C230 was affordable, but I just wasn't interested.

    Back to the Future, and the C Spot Drive Party, M-B's latest event for would-be buyers, including my wife. She was sold on the free hand massage with the exfoliating wrap, I wanted to sample the supposedly smoother Kompressor engine.

    Mercedes has replaced the coarse 2.3l engine with a 1.8l supercharged mill. To keep buyers confused, they still call it the C230. The hatchback is called the Sports Coupe. The actual coupe is called the CLK. Got that? No? Me neither.

    Any how. The 1.8l Kompressor is as smooth as the 2.3l Kompressor is coarse. Wow. I'm sure these engines are not related in any way. The guys who designed the 320 models did this one, and well.

    Put the pedal to the metal and this thing steps out nicely, better than the 1.8T VW uses. More importantly, it's smooth and musical. Both my wife and I liked it right away, before the first corner.

    The Sports Coupe had 17" rims with sporting tires, and it handled nicely. Body roll is controlled, complemented by a nice ride. My wife particularly liked this setup on the twisties. I thought the twin panel moonroof, with a panoramic view, was "mah-velous". Get it.

    The sedan was equipped with more sedate 16" rims and tires, and leaned a bit more. But it's also lighter (surprisingly) and quicker off the line. Front to rear balance was also better in slalom and avoidance manuevers.

    Imagine a C230 sedan with the 17" wheel package? Me too, that's the setup.

    The brake pedal felt a little artificial. Sorry, a lot artificial. With newer Benzes, I fell like I get FULL stopping power or none at all. One of those acronyms goes too far and removes feedback from the equation. I did feel the ABS pulse, even with only moderate pedal pressure.

    The manual controls on the automatic are nice. It lets you select first from a stop (hold the handle to the left for 2 seconds), or just leave it in drive. We both liked it and will definitely consider this option in our next vehicle (we both currenty drive manual transmissions, but kids and creaky knees may change that).

    The tranny hesitated a little on a couple of occasions while in Drive, but manual controls would cure that, and shifts were smooth. Overall the tranny gets the thumbs up.

    The event's goal is to get young, aspiring shoppers to sample one in a low-pressure atmosphere. Well, it may have worked. My wife didn't think she would ever get a Benz, but with C230 sedans offered for about $2 grand less than the C240, with more power and more torque, it will definitely be on our short list if we buy a sedan in the future.

    Forget French's, pass the Grey Poupon!

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I had to sample the 2.6l V6 engine again, to compare it back-to-back with the new Kompressor engine. I also wanted to try the 4Matic AWD system.

    Engine first. I like the 1.8l Kompressor engine much better. More torque, more power, less money, better fuel economy. Way pay $2 grand to give up those benefits? So you can tell your buddy you got a V6?

    Get the Kompressor, your ego will get over it the first time you hit the gas.

    But what about 4Matic?

    Mercedes had a wet/soapy tarp laid out. The tester in front of us had a RWD C240 with traction control. Still, it struggled to get moving, you could hear the stuttered skidding and see the slow progress. Eventually it made it, but with lots of drama.

    Our 4Matic pulled up to the same spot, we hit the gas, and - it just went! Wheel spin was minimal, in part due to 4Matic, in part due to the V6's lack of power.

    Yes, once we got moving beyond the ice rink, the 2.6l V6 engine seemed wheezy compared to the Kompressor.

    Handling was solid. They had a wet skid pad and it felt like it was dry. I love AWD.

    But...my Kingdom for the 3.2l V6. Get a C320 4Matic if you must have AWD, that V6 can overcome the extra mass and drag on the drivetrain. 4Matic is not offered with the Kompressor (yet?).

    The catch? A C320 4Matic wagon is about $40 grand. Grey Poupon is over-rated, any way.

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    rshollandrsholland Member Posts: 19,788
    Well, according to this poster, there will indeed be a off-road-ready V8x Touareg, arriving a bit later in the model year. Still, no explanation as to why this info is not in the current brochure.

    The poster also mentions the curb weight, payload and GVW. The GVW, BTW, is right up there with a typical Detroit 3/4 ton pickup, circa 1985 or so. Not mentioned here, but still worth noting: It has a roof rack rating of 220 pounds, which is pretty darn good these days.

    buyavw "VW Touareg SUV" Jul 15, 2003 9:39pm

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    OK, so you have 2 kids and a dog, and your daily driver is practical, but you want to add a little spice to your life. A $30k toy is hard to justify to your boss (read: wife), but how about a lightly used Miata for less than 1/3rd that amount?

    I wanted a Miata from the minute I first saw it. It just oozes "fun". I'd always been looking casually, but I saw a '93 with just 26k miles in the paper. That same day, it was mine.

    That was back in October 2000. So this "test" covers almost 3 years and about 16,000 miles of use.

    First the bad:

    * It's tight
    * Legroom is lacking
    * The trunk is a small parcel shelf, forget about even fitting one bag of golf clubs.
    * Blind spots are pretty bad with the top up.
    * The engine has little torque, and it peaks at a sky high 5500 rpm.
    * It can get loud, too.
    * A stiff bump can be felt in your kidneys and makes the CD skip.
    * The leather seats aren't perforated nor are they heated (hot in summer, cold in winter)
    * Sliding around in winter is downright scary.

    But that's not being fair, this isn't an appliance. If that's how you look at it, go buy a sedan and read Consumer Reports from now on.

    Still with us? Good. So you're willing to sacrifice a little comfort for all out fun. Me too.

    Fun it is. It's not particularly fast, but through the turns you barely have to slow down at all. Steering is sharp and quick, the short wheelbase does that for you. It's very tossable, great transient handling.

    The top goes down, and you can see every corner of the car. You'll hit those apexes with the accuracy of Shumacher.

    You gotta love rear wheel drive, too. In a turn with full throttle, you can get the tail loose, as long as the rpms are above 4000.

    The shifter is the best in the industry. Some have shorter throws, like the S2000, but that felt too metallic for me. This shifter is the smoothest, most pleasurable in the business. You find yourself shifting just for the fun of it.

    If you're used to bigger vehicles, you suddenly have a bunch more parking spots available. It fits any where and is easy to park even in tight spots.

    What does it cost to run? Well, gas mileage is about 27mpg in mixed driving on regular fuel, not bad considering I drive with the top down at least 80% of the time.

    Reliability? Fantastic. In 3 years I've spent $11 in repairs. The clutch slave cylinder was leaking slowly so I rebuilt it. Even then I could have topped it off with some more DOT3 brake fluid and milked it for another year. It is easy to work on, and has a strong enthusiast following, so it's easy to find good advice.

    I get inquiries from friends asking if I'm selling it all the time. I could get about $6 grand back for it easily, without even placing an ad. That means it's only depreciated about $600 per year, an amazing value.

    But I couldn't part with "Blanca", as she's named, for her Crystal White paint. What else could generate this level of smiles per dollar?

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    paisanpaisan Member Posts: 21,181
    Just wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten about this. Will have a MB C Class writeup with pics sometime next week for yah :)

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    In this warm weather I usually commute in my Miata. I pick up a car pool buddy, a single male in his 20s who is very image conscious. He considers the Miata a babe magnet.

    Today I picked him up in a Ford Windstar service loaner. It's more like babe repellent. It's like Deet for mosquitoes.

    But he's not the target audience, how does my family like this minivan?

    Our 4 year old loved it. "Can I sit back HERE?", referring to the 3rd row seat. She had tons of room plus freedom of choosing where to sit. A rear console accept head phones so she could even listen to her own music. No DVD on this one, but if I actually bought one I think I'd get one to appease the little ones.

    Sliding doors came in handy. My car port isn't very wide, but you could get the doors all the way open. Too bad these particular ones were not powered, my wife found them heavy and cumbersome.

    The rear windows don't come down, something I really liked about the MPV. Also, no magic folding seats, these have to removed and stored.

    The engine is torquey but labors to accelerate hard. It's much happier at half pace, cruising. Same with the handling, it prefer a slow pace, and feels very tippy around sharp turns. It's quiet and cushy, but sharp bumps rattled the structure a bit, not very reassuring given it only has 7k miles on it.

    The seats lack side support for the thighs. The power lumbar support felt very lumpy. Power adjustments let you set the seats low to the floor or sky high for a great view, whichever you prefer. The captain's chairs are OK overall but I'd like longer and taller arm rests.

    Amenities are a strong point. There are adjustable cup holders that would hold a Super Big Gulp. Room for 2 sunglasses above. Coin holder. Even a very nifty convex mirror that gave a clear view of the kids in the back. In fact this clever idea is the one thing about the vehicle my wife and I liked best!

    Too many buttons on the dash, and a complicated left stalk, make ergonomics iffy. The plastics were shiny and hard, no liner in the glove box, and mold parts are visible throughout. You can tell they make these in bulk for fleets, it does not seem carefully crafted.

    Overall, I much prefer the sportiness of the MPV, or the value and warranty of the Sedona. Ford has big incentives, and loyal Taurus owners will feel right at home (I think the steering wheel is identical). Those that qualify for S-plan pricing can work a deal on these (or the MPV that I much prefer).

    But it doesn't lead the class in any significant way, except for that nifty mirror.

    The Freestar is right around the corner and will have that magic folding 3rd row, plus a bigger engine (though still a pushrod design). But it still won't be a babe magnet. :-)

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Spending a little more time with a vehicle lets you pick up on less noticeable features, so I decided to write a quick follow-up to mention some of those.

    First, the quirks. The rear seat belts do not have locking retractors. This made it impossible to secure our child in her booster seat. She can work in too much slack too easily.

    The power window switches are from the twilight zone. I'm used to controls like an airplane, towards you is up, away from you, down. This is the opposite.

    I still have not figured out how to set the clock, in fact we just gave up. I'm sure it's one of the 40 buttons on the stereo, but it's not labeled.

    We popped in a CD and it played the tracks at random, even though I didn't choose that.

    Finally, the doors lock automatically when you put the tranny into drive, but then they don't unlock when you park. So I walk around the van to drop my kid off at a friend's house, and forgot the key, so I could not open her door. Had to walk around the van, unlock, walk around again to let her out.

    Now, some perks I've found.

    The keyless entry is great. Range is excellent, and using it is very straight forward. Press unlock once to open the driver's door, twice to unlock all doors, including the hatch.

    Also, the stereo has very good sound for a base system. The bass has some depth to it, maybe it's the huge interior.

    Lastly, it's hilarious to see people's shocked reactions when a minivan drives by and they hear the stereo pounding out Lil' Kim rapping:

    The Bentleys, the Hummers, the Benz
    Escalade, 23 inch rims...

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    The wife got an offer to drive a full-size Buick, so we asked to drive a Rendezvous instead (I really have no interest in full-size cars). For the most part I wasn't impressed.

    The V6 is coarse, slow, and not particularly fuel efficient. I'd like to go back and try the new engine once those start trickling into dealers.

    The VersaTrak pretty much acts and feels like FWD most the time, including the entire test drive on dry pavement. I prefer systems that send at least some power to the rear axle all the time.

    The 3rd seat works, but leaves no cargo room at all, so it's either passengers or cargo, but not both.

    The driver's seat was uncomfy, and the faux trim was the least convincing I've ever seen. Handling was rather deliberate, though at least the ride was smooth.

    One cool feature was the park distance control. Little lights would come on progressively, as you got closer to whatever object was in the way while you back up. Clever.

    Bottom line is it feels like a van, so I felt like I'd just be better off with a Montana, which holds some cargo behind the 3rd row.

    Another "me-too" SUV. Buick buyers may like it, though.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    It's just an Explorer dressed up to look like a baby Navigator, right?

    Well, no, not really. The V8 engine is this puppy is unique, with 300 horses on tap. It also has a full-time AWD system that puts that power down effectively.

    The interior is very nice. The leather seats seem a little hard at first but are comfy on trips. The seats are both heated and cooled, with 5 settings for each! Driver and passenger get power controls, so Lincoln went all out to pamper passengers.

    Two 2nd row captains chairs appeased two energetic 4 year olds, who could also enjoy the view from a high vantage point. They even had their own center console, so drinks and straws were handy.

    A satin nickel finish that looks expensive covers much of the dash, even a lid that slides down over the stereo, a neat touch. Redundant control on the steering wheel for everything, and a nice wood/leather steering wheel add to the luxury feel, along with a little more wood on the dash. Real or fake, I don't even know, it just looks nice and that's what counts.

    Put the tranny into reverse, and the side mirrors lower so you can see the rear tires' proximity to the curb. Nice, but when it powered back up, the passenger side one didn't quite go back to its original spot. The dealer could fix that. The mirrors stretch wide but they aren't particularly well shaped.

    Multi-zone climate control, pockets and storage for all your goodies, overhead console, all thoughful touches. But where is the coin holder? You only notice because they thought of everything else.

    Torque is plentiful, though it isn't particularly quick it does feel like it has reserves of power. Towing capacity is excellent, so you could haul your small yacht.

    Size-wise, it's not hulking huge like the Navigator. It feels far more manageable. It even had a warning chime when you got close to items when backing up, which would speed up as you got closer. With this feature, it was easier to park than even the Windstar.

    Ride is very good and so is NVH control, this is much better insulated than any Explorer.

    So no, it does not feel like an Explorer in a tuxedo. No more than an Audi TT feels like a VW Golf, anyway.

    Price is a little frightening at close to $50 grand for this model, but then consider the dealing you could do, and this might be the right truck for you.

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    blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Member Posts: 6,249
    2003 Mercedes-Benz ML350

    Base price: $37,670
    As tested: $44,890

    As the 90s wore on European automakers slowly realized SUVs were a profitable untapped luxury market. Mercedes Benz first real attempt, the ML320, arrived in 1998. As the only Benz built in the USA it signaled two first for Mercedes: an SUV and American made. Unfortunately the ML320’s country of manufacture showed in pretty much every aspect of the vehicle. Interior refinement set an all time low for the German company. Reliability proved to be elusive and the ML series became an albatross. A company renowned for exceptional vehicles, Benz suddenly had to deal with bad press. Justifiably bad press.

    Over the years Mercedes’ engineers worked to improve the vehicle. New interior pieces appeared. The exterior received enhancements. For 2003, they dropped a 3.7 liter V6 into the engine bay, replacing the only strong point of the original car: the 3.2 liter V6. Packing slightly more horsepower and torque, the new engine offers more guts to make the ML a bit more competitive among MB’s rivals who now sell vehicles with far more gumption.

    Have they really improved the ML much in the past 6 years? In some ways, most definitely but otherwise…


    The Exterior’s always appeared minivan-ish. Given the ML’s sales numbers, apparently this may not be a bad thing. From no angle does the ML lean toward the traditional macho look of SUVs. You see no hint of rough performance or off-roading prowess in its line. Yet, it doesn’t really lean toward the more curvy, sensuous lines of newer SUVs like the Murano either. Rather the ML's closest competitors in looks would be the Buick Rendezvous and Pontiac Aztec – in other words pseudo-minivans. The blunt front end, high almost perpendicular rear, bland slab sides all lead to an overwhelming feeling of soccer-mom ennui.

    Beyond the generic minivan styling, MB’s improved on a few areas. Maybe it’s hokey but I love the ML’s turn-signals housed in mirrors look. What a simple design decision yet it adds a subdued amount of bling-bling to a pretty staid truck (is it even a truck, really?). For some reason the flash of those turn signals makes my subconscious modder excited. Next thing you know I’ll think all cars need a 24 inch tall spoiler made from pie tins and a discarded Erector set. Regardless, the ML’s mirrors a touch of class and some automotive familial design association.

    Mercedes’ decision to provide MLs with body color bumpers helps and hinders the vehicle’s appearance. Obviously having Honda DX level black bumpers on a forty thousand dollar kid transporter won’t do. Yet MB sold the ML with those snazzy bumpers for a time. Maybe it was part of the appeal to the car’s supposed rugged side. Hey it has all wheel drive, so it must be capable of something involving gravel or at least speed bumps! Still the body color bumpers move the vehicle upscale into the realm of cars it’s supposed to compete against. But with so much sheet metal (the ML stands an imposing 70 plus tall inches), one can be overwhelmed by a poorly chosen color. The monochromatic scheme in a few colors, say white, makes the ML appear to be an Amana with 17 inch rims.

    Speaking of rims, Mercedes finally decided to join the wheel swelling race of the 21st century. Nissan’s packing seventeens on a Sentra, so at least Benz can supply cars with comparable rims to economy brands. As a side not MB still sells C and E class cars with wheels lower than 17 inches – so they still haven’t quite caught on. At first glance though it’s really impossible to discern the ML350 could have wheels of any size. All you see is rubber. Lots of rubber. And really, really bland 5 spoke rims. I had to crouch down and get a good look at the tire’s description to believe those tires were 17s. Reducing the humungous sidewall (255/60R17) might help the car’s wobbly handling – more on that later.

    At the end of the ML’s blunt nose is a set up halogen headlamps. Halogens on a 44,000 dollar luxury vehicle? A sad and typical cost cutting move by a German automaker. They’d charge us for each seat if they could.

    The vehicle’s various hatches and such open with varying degrees of difficulty. All four doors offer the ubiquitous easy-to-use pull handles. Doors feel feather light and can be flung open with easy. No detents really exist, so if the car happens to be parked on an incline, doors will swing freely. At one point I found myself parked with the ML at about a 5 degree angle; the light driver’s door flew open to its maximum berth – lucky thing another car wasn’t parked beside me. All doors closed smoothly and with little effort. They did not however impart any sense that the doors provided protection of any kind. MB’s safety scores seem to hint otherwise though.

    The trunk release challenged my limited range of motion in my wrists. The handle was large, though it required that I contort my body to get my fingers around the latch – this was one feature that hinted maybe MB didn’t research user ergonomics very closely. Additionally, the release required an inordinate amount of strength to pull it. Why exactly would Mercedes not update this feature? Sure most people use a fob but every once in awhile your keys are in the car and you must manually release the trunk. In those instances, a simple push-button (such as the type found on BMWs), allows for infinitely easier trunk releases. Closing the rear hatch took Herculean effort. A company with so much advanced technology should have something a bit more sophisticated than over-boosted cylinders as a means for keep the heavy rear hatch open. And why the blazes doesn’t the rear window pop open for simple, quick access to goods? The liftgate in a short time became my nemesis.

    The hood release, triggered by an ease to reach pull handle on the driver’s side, unlocks the hood halfway and sends a chintzy, flimsy, rough-edged handle out from under the sloping front-end. The handle must be fully extracted, which seems easy at first. But then you realize the handle doesn’t offer a decent grip and it demands the user give a powerful tug to fully unlock the hood. Once this is accomplished (five attempts later), the hood must then be physically hoisted into the air. Oh, well the ML must have a prop rod? Nope, the struts just need you to lift the inordinately heavy hood eighty percent of the way before they begin to assist. How is it that VWs can offer a shiny yellow, easy to grab, light pull handle that sends the hood smoothly upward, yet the engineering gurus at MB can even make the handle look or feel solid? Closing the hood one best not touch the plastic front grill as a makeshift handle because the plastic felt as if it would snap from repeated use.

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    blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Member Posts: 6,249

    The original ML’s are renowned for their bargain-basement, US-automaker-level interior refinement. MB heard the moans and groans (hopefully Infiniti will pay heed with their G35), slapping a whole bevy of soft, more upscale materials into the truck. No more plasticky-paper-thin glove box. The dash suddenly feels pliant, almost welcoming now. Nice to know Benz’s 40 large SUV can match $14,000 Volkswagen’s for interior materials. Too bad they followed VW’s lead with cupholders too. In-dash, pop out cupholders slide open with a sweet smoothness, but press on them with about 12 ounces of pressure and the plastic flexes precariously, as though the assembly will buckle at any second. In fact, I did manage to break the cupholder hidden in the center console. I didn’t even put a drink in it (I abhor bringing liquids into a car for any reason), the pop-out cupholder device simply snapped when I attempted to close the contraption. Maybe it’s Benz’s way of telling their owners to just drive?

    The ML’s HVAC controls are a mixed bag, giving passengers easy to control parts that are marred by Byzantine symbols. Want the fan speed higher? Simply spin a handy dial that’s as smooth as heated Crisco. Be warned the smooth operation comes with a price – you must concentrate on the dim red illumination that appears below the fan speed numerals. This weird red light system comes into play for all three dials. Even though it’s an automatic system, you may find yourself adjusting the fan speed often as I couldn’t find a setting that consistently kept the cabin at the bone-chilling temperatures I prefer. Maybe the ML’s puny vents are to blame for this? For a truck with so much open cabin area it seems like a poor decision to limit the car’s vents to little 3 by 3 boxes. For a luxury SUV the HVAC controls felt incomplete and inadequate.

    Dominating much of the center console is a poorly lit LCD screen surrounded by a cheap wood grain. In moderate sunlight or when wearing polarized sunglasses, the screen’s contents become invisible. The tiny buttons surrounding the LCD demand an excessive amount of attention and make using the control center a nightmare. People may mock BMW’s iDrive system, but I find that system with the mouse/dial to be far more user-friendly, easier to master and infinitely more efficient than the garbage LCD and button/joystick controls found in everything from Hondas to Mercedes.

    Something as simple as radio tuning became a chore with the LCD. Even after finding anything decent you’re stuck listening through the stock system or worse yet, a highly overpriced $1200 Bose stereo. As one of my audiophile friends often complains, “No highs, no lows, must be a Bose.” The Bose Company must have some major dirt on automakers to get so many brands to install their miserably incompetent speakers in cars. Additionally, why the heck does MB even bother installing a cassette deck in this car? Are cassettes even made anymore? One last general annoyance with the center stack, the car lacks a console CD player. If you want a CD, hop into the back where Mercedes hid the changer. BMW, Benz and Audi seem disinclined to believe that CDs are pretty common and most people aren’t interested in making a trip to the trunk to swap out a few discs.

    After stepping up into the ML and sliding onto the vehicle’s soft seats you’re greated with a wide open front view and decent rearward vision. While not squishy or poorly padded, the seats in the ML are a reminder that this vehicle exists essentially as a five place minivan with no sporting aspirations. You sit on the ML’s seats, not in them. The seats offer no bolstering, no hint of grip or no real support. Seat controls (8 way power jobs) are rudimentary, at best, giving users limited control of seating – forward/aft, up/down, rake of seat angle, etc. The ML’s front seats can best be described as low-end knockoffs of Lay-z-Boys.

    The ML350’s steering wheel and cluster offer another hint that MB’s still pushing a mighty old design. The featureless, cold, slightly wood adorned steering wheel appears to be the standard issue MB-style they’ve been slapping into cars for a decade. You can tilt the ML steering wheel but no telescoping option is present. How automakers can claim they’re luxury brands when drivers can’t even customize the steering wheel settings eludes me. We’re not talking about radar cruise control here!

    The instrument cluster supplies target drivers with the information they’d care about. Flanking a large speedo are the fuel and engine rpm gauges. The gauges are legible and clean enough. Still, the dials seem rather dated when compared to snazzy designs found in lowly Hondas and Mazdas costing half as much.

    All control stalks, like most of the car’s buttons and handles move with a feeling of solidity. You’ll never worry about snapping a turn signal stock on the ML given its thickness. The same goes for the various buttons with which you’ll come into contact. However, the window buttons surrounding the gear selector still feel as though they’ll drop into the car’s innards with even minimal pressure.

    In the back you’ll find seating for two more people – three if one is sadistic. Foot, knee and leg space should be adequate for any Lilliputians tossed into the back of the truck. Luckily, our small footed, ideally short-legged friends will have their own HVAC control dial and a grand total of two pint-sized vents. That’ll come in handy on those 90 degree days. Mounted on the back of the center glove box, alongside the HVAC dial, are buttons for the rear windows. This design requires that a passenger lean forward and to the middle of the truck if they simply desire cool air. Wretched ergonomics…

    Supposedly, the backseats fold with ease. Or so Benz would like one to believe. Sure, you can flatten the 60/40 seats individually. And they will create flat floor from back of the liftgate – over 80 cubic feet. However, to accomplish this feat, first remove the headrests, and then pull not one but two handles to get the seat to flip forward and lower. An arduous task, I could not with my limited hand functionality accomplish the seat trick without much aggravation and a fair amount of epithets aimed at my German cousins. In the Nissan Murano, a user pulls one lever and the seat flies forward and flattens. The simple, genius design makes me wonder if some engineers at Mercedes get paid extra for adding steps and complexity to what should logically be a kindergartener-level task. By the way, raising the backseats requires two hands and multiple machinations too. A perfunctory task in most cars, moving the backseats of the ML made me feel like Jack Tripper. I half expected to get a hand caught in one of the funky handles, legs flailing about in pain in frustration.

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    blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Member Posts: 6,249
    Moving further back to the trunk a few more details popped out. As previously mentioned, the liftgate’s an archaic design that’s not the least bit user-friendly. With the gate open and thus above the user, one can gain access to first aid and hazard compartments. Above the user? Yep, if you want to get into the first aid kit, look skyward and hope nothing falls on you! The trunk also contains a wall mounted CD changer (how convenient). Mercedes did remember to include tie-down hooks and the spare tire (with matching rim) resides under the trunk. You simply crank the spare tire down when it’s needed. Now that’s a nice feature. Apparently, tire-changing is important in Germany, while seat controls are beyond their ken.


    A twist of the key fires up Mercedes’ new 3.7 liter V6. Making 232 horsepower at 5,750 rpm, the engine’s got the legs to compete with the new kids challenging for the low-end luxury market. Torque of 254 lb-ft at 3000 rpm should, on paper, provide some grunt for get up and go. Too bad the torque arrives so late because under 3k rpm, the ML barely moves. Strangely, the older ML320 felt quicker off the line and more spirited than the ML350. Maybe it’s because the engineers built such a smooth powertrain that the truck moves with little fanfare. Depress the gas pedal and the ML cruises up to a comfortable speed. It can’t be rushed, even when one uses the asinine gear selecting option on the five-speed automatic. Mash that gas pedal and you won’t hear a chirp from the tires (the truck’s multiple idiot-proofing computers make that impossible anyway), feel any thrust or a roar from the engine.

    Matched to the lack of excitement are equally unexciting EPA numbers of 15 city and 18 highway. Very few people, save for grannies, ever come close to matching the EPA’s optimistic numbers. Figure more like 14 or 15 mpg combined. The ML500 provides even worse numbers!


    At low speeds the ML’s a nicely maneuverable little run about. It feels taller and smaller than its dimensions suggest. The high seating position and big front windows allow for a commanding view of all activity. In parking lots one can whip the ML in and out of spaces quite easily. On the road at low speeds the truck feels stable and sure. The suspension soaks up the road and nothing gets to the driver or passengers. You’re riding on an air smooth magic carpet. No noises from the outside world permeate the vehicle at city speeds either.

    Once you leave the city and hit the highway things change drastically. All for the worse. When accelerating onto the freeway the engine doesn’t seem up to the task of motivating the 4,800 pound behemoth. You simply can’t build up enough steam to blend smoothly with car’s traveling at 75-90 miles per hour. And once you do reach a comfortable cruising speed of 75 watch out for crosswinds, lane changes or any need for emergency maneuvers, as the ML wants no part of any of it. Any slight breeze seemed to redirect the truck and the over-boosted steering with no road feedback only made the experience more disconcerting.

    Lumbering along on the freeway, simple driving tactics I take for granted in a sedan became hair-raising in the ML. SUVs are tall and have a poor center of gravity as the rollover stats confirm. Yet for a company that built a reputation on safety, it seems odd that they’d sell a vehicle so prone to leaning dramatically in even run-of-the-mill lane changes. Off-ramps and on-ramps became something of a rollercoaster as the posted limit really seemed aimed directly at the limits of the ML. A few times I actually worried the massive ML would teeter over while cornering at high speeds.

    What’s to blame for the ML’s handling? Sure the high center of gravity helps, though MB claims the ML is built to avoid rollovers. Perhaps the 60 series tires contributed? That much rubber meant that the heavy truck had a lot of weight to push to outer wheels when changing lanes. The suspension, obviously tuned for comfort, must also play a roll.

    Other bugaboos popped up during freeway jaunts. Road noise of an irritatingly high level made the cabin pretty inhospitable. For a 40-some thousand dollar vehicle from a luxury maker, one would expect very little intrusive sounds. Newer SUVs from all manufacturers supply less road noise. The roar over the road was so severe that I became convinced a window must be open or a door ajar. Alas, that was not so, the truck just made inordinate amounts of noise above 60.

    Additionally, at high speeds the brakes simply felt inadequate. Benz plops ABS, brake assist and EBD into the truck but on several occasions I found myself depressing the brake pedal almost to the floor when exiting the freeway. Flinstoning (dragging my feet on the ground) the truck seemed like it might be a more effective braking system. The ML simply refused to stop; almost every stop was accompanied by severe front end dive. Slowing down almost 5,000 pounds can’t be easy, but this was ridiculous. And scary.

    I’ve never ridden a rhino running on a waterbed but I imagine it feels suspiciously just like an ML350 on the freeway.


    When it’s all considered, the ML350’s just not worth the manufacturer’s asking price. With a sticker breaking into the mid-40s, the test vehicle felt totally outclassed by vehicles costing 15 thousand dollars less. At over six model years in age, this SUV shows its age at every step. Apparently, Mercedes-Benz aims to replace the ML in 2005 – about 5 years too late. From the poor ergonomics to the lackluster power and handling to the dated minivan styling, the ML is an embarrassment to the three-pronged star. Consider far superior offerings from Acura, Infiniti, BMW, Volkswagen, Nissan and Lexus.
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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Volvo held this event last year, I thought I'd share my comments about the vehicles I sampled there.

    It was a very fun event, indeed. The most convincing aspect was that AWD is totally worth every penny of the $1750 upgrade price.

    The S60 T5 was a little disappointing. Turbo lag is rather severe. Maybe because it's too heavy, and once the turbo kicked in around a curve and caused some scary torque steer. Another time the steering ran out of boost mid-corner, again because the engine had not spooled up yet. Understeer was persistent.

    Note that the S60R is arriving now and should address the torque steer issue, plus it's AWD. Yummy. I hope Volvo hosts a follow-up event. :-)

    The S80 T6 was actually nicer, this from a guy who almost always prefers lighter, smaller cars. The S80 T6 has some turbo lag, but not as much. Twin turbos mean it spools up quicker, and the 6 has more displacement to begin with. Also, oddly, it had less understeer, though still some.

    All cars, every one I sampled, would hesitate to put the tranny back into 1st gear after a complete stop (excellent brakes BTW). I mean 1-2-3, shift, then go. Annoying.

    They had a BMW 330 and a Mercedes C320 for the price/features comparison with the Volvo S60 T5, which was fine. But what peeved me was for a 0-60-0 test, they use a BMW 325 instead, which is cheating. The Volvo T5 costs more and is their top model, and should have been compared to a 330 or even arguably an M3. Blatant cheating, especially when they compared prices with the 330.

    They took us for a "hell ride" with an instructor, and those guys managed to get the T5 to drift, but I wonder if they played with tire pressures or sway bars 'cause the stock ones felt very different. Plus they had manuals, all the ones we drove were automatic.

    AWD? Even though it was a reactive system, starting at 95/5 front bias, it did react fairly quickly and felt different during my hot lap. Noticeably less understeer. Better off the line with power sent to the rear axle instead of wasted with brakes heating up (traction control).

    So, better launch, better handling, no noticeable torque steer. A solid test that once again proves that I hate the way FWD feels and that AWD is better in almost every way, easily worth the $1750 they charge.

    Now I can't wait to sample an S60R.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I loved the styling on the new E-class the minute I first laid eyes on it. Spy shots came from the set of Men In Black II. Would Will Smith really want to own a Benz?

    They took the already handsome design and enhanced it in every way. Good design does not have to grow on you, it's love at first sight.

    What's it like to drive? Cons first:

    * still feels kind of big, heavy (better than last generation)
    * auto tranny is slow to shift, usually starts in 2nd
    * brake feel not linear (it's by-wire)
    * ABS did not seem to cycle as quick as most
    * steering boost ran out on transitions
    * doesn't feel that fast (E320)

    I was told the steering was actually switching from high-assist to low-assist, but it didn't feel natural. Felt more like power assist running out of boost to me.

    The Pros:

    * styling (how're YOU doin'?)
    * comfortable seats
    * oozes luxury (fabric lined A-pillars, even)
    * love that dual moonroof, like the C Coupe
    * shiftronic helps the tranny a lot
    * gorgeous wood and leather

    If I had to nit-pick, I noticed a few odd things, like gooseneck hinges on the sedan's trunk, some unfinished edges in the carpets, and too many buttons on the dash.

    Took us a while to figure out the buttons on the seat are for the seat ventilation (!). Ergonomics could be simpler, but the features sure are nice.

    So I left impressed. Prices mean I'm not buying my E500 4Matic until I win the lottery.

    Will Smith will take his AMG model in black, of course.

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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Pacifica AWD

    I'm almost certain someone has used that title in an article before, but, since I haven't been able to find the original, I figure I'm pretty safe. =) Besides, who doesn't enjoy reminiscing about the Village People?

    The Pacifica is another one of them new fangled crossover vehicles, a category that I find quite compelling. Like the others in this segment, the Pacifica offers all-weather capability, flexible seating, some cargo capacity, and a dash of style. The idea is to offer a bit of luxury, sport, and utility in one package... a jack of all trades. In my last report, I mentioned that the Pacifica was a better entry into crossover-land than the Buick Rendezvous. To be certain there are areas where the Pacifica shines brighter than the RDV. But it did not turn out to be the jack I was expecting.

    Mrs. Varmint had little interest in driving the Pacifica. She deemed it ugly and opted out of the test drive. Her primary objection is the over-sized grill, which, in her mind, makes it look like a blowfish. As we have seen with earlier reviews, I am a bit more open to brazen styling. In fact, styling was one of the main reasons why I made that remark in the RDV review. I think the Pacifica looks good. Chrysler managed to merge the wagon and minivan into one cohesive design. Both wagons and minivans are considered frumpy by mainstream America. Yet, the Pacifica manages to make the best of its shape. The success of this design is in stance of the vehicle. The broad body and low ride give it an athletic look that is missing from most vans. The over-sized hood, large rims, and long line of windows help convince onlookers that this vehicle has some sport hidden under the sheetmetal. Fans of sporty rims can chose from alloy only or alloy rims coated with chrome. The exterior is also highlighted with several chrome accents. Overall, the Pacifica reminds me of an over-sized PT Cruiser without all the details screaming "Hello, I'm retro!" in your face.

    Inside the Pacifica, the focus on styling continued. The vehicle I drove included black leather seating to match the black dashboard, black carpet, and black gauge clusters. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the effect was oppressive, but I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Osama was holed-up somewhere in the shadows. In stark contrast to the black backgrounds, the trim pieces in this Pacifica were bright chrome. They were not that matte-finished, faux brushed aluminum I keep complaining about. No, this stuff was reflective chrome. It's actually quite tasteful as it covered only areas around the vents, door accents, and other small surfaces. My only complaint is the fact that the gear shifter doesn't match. It's surrounded by... matte-finished, faux brushed aluminum! This was probably done for the sake of durability, but it makes me shake my head. Put the shiny, reflective trim up top and the glare-resistant stuff low in the cockpit. Anyway, as long as you're not afraid of the dark, you'll probably find the interior quite stylish.

    The seats were comfy for cruising, but lacked the bolsters I desire for sporty driving. Power adjustments included lumbar support in addition to the usual up/down/forward/backward/rake adjustments. They are located on the door panel above the window switches. This means you need to close the door before making adjustments to the seats. Once acclimated to their position, the controls were very intuitive and easy to reach. The driver's seat automatically slides back to help you exit as soon as you remove the keys from the ignition. There are several nice storage spaces up front, and the sunglasses holder was large enough to accommodate my new wrap-around shades. (Yes, I'm getting trendy about 10 years after the trend has passed.) The second and third row seats both accommodate two persons for a total of six. Unlike the RDV, there is no option for a three passenger bench in the second row. The second row seats were comfortable with generous legroom and headroom was okay. I have one problem with the second row. While headroom directly above the seat was perfectly adequate, the roof curves down to meet the top edge of the window less than an inch from my already abused noggin. Wearing a hat, I could not turn to look out the window without hitting the rim of the hat on the edge of the cockpit. Up front, this is less of a problem, but still a minor distraction. It made me wonder about impact safety. The third row had enough foot and legroom for a decent-sized adult (Yay!). However, the curve of the roof cuts into headroom directly above the third row seats. I suspect the hardware required for the power liftgate is responsible for this bulge in the ceiling. This requires the same decent-sized adult to leave their head at home or tuck it between their knees. Perhaps Chrysler is targeting midgets with big feet?

    Let us pause a moment for a rant. This is just one of those silly details, so feel free to skip it. The first thing I noticed upon opening the back door was three white dots painted onto the seat levers. Against the black plastic, these dots stand out quite clearly. Okay, they look obnoxious. They label the levers one, two, and three. I presume these numbers are explained in the owner's manual, but there was no pictograph on the lever to further explain its function. I had visions of me passing out copies of the manual like programs as passengers entered my new Pacifica. Better yet, I might have purchased the optional DVD entertainment system and created a video much like the ones used on airplanes. "To exit the vehicle, pull the handle marked...." The dots stuck out like a sore thumb and the markings probably weren't necessary to begin with.

    The steering wheel felt good and chunky. Space between the four spokes of the wheel was a bit tight, but not so bad that I had significant difficulty. The redundant controls would have looked nice if they were lined up correctly. The dash seemed well put together and was topped with a nice soft-touch material. Some panel gaps were closer to panel chasms, but they all lined up evenly. Unfortunately, the lower three quarters of the dash was framed with el-cheapo hard plastic. Tap it with a finger and you can hear the echo. Most controls were logically placed and easy to operate. Even the base model Pacifica comes well equipped. Overall, the interior is much like the exterior - form takes precedence over function.
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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    In the back, there was a reasonable amount of cargo space. Chrysler claims a 79.5 cu.ft. capacity with all seats folded forward. In terms of volume, that's only a few cubes short of the MDX, but the Acura seems to be much better proportioned. The RDV just plain blows it away. The Pacifica's load floor also had several large gaps where the seatbacks get snobbish and refuse to meet. This may allow spilled cargo to disappear through the cracks or even the paws of small pets to slip through. My test mule came equipped with the power rear liftgate, which seemed like a nice feature. The liftgate cleared my head though, because it lifted upward, has no storage. With the gate up, I discovered an unexpected detail. It's Chrome-mas time! Yes, once again, Chris Chromal has graced the Pacifica with gifts of shiny metal. Two chrome plates rest on the sill of the cargo door. You know the spot. the lower edge of the door opening that always gets scuffed by packages sliding over it on their way in or out of the vehicle. Form over function, once more.

    I do not like to abuse brand new cars, even the demo models. You never know who might end up buying it. I also dislike driving kamikaze-style with a sales person in the car. But for this test drive, I was given unrestricted access to the Pacifica. "Here are the keys. Find me when you get back." After such an opportunity, I would normally have a great deal to tell everyone about how well the vehicle can handle, brake, and accelerate. But when I got out onto the road, I simply forgot to push the thing. I was half-way through the test drive before I realized that I hadn't mashed the go pedal, I failed to push it to understeer, and the brakes were barely warmed up. The Pacifica simply did not inspire any of that.

    During the second half of the drive, I tried to provoke it. I pulled a few emergency lane changes and found the steering responsive. The suspension/chassis combination was a mixed bag. Bump suppression was good, without removing all sense of what was going on below me. The front end went where I pointed it. A while later, Fed Ex delivered the back end. The engine is rated for about 250 horsepower, but despite whatever was going on under the hood it wasn't doing much at the wheels. Acceleration was simply under-whelming. I could forgive this if the vehicle earned good gas mileage or if it handled well. But 17-22 mpg is not impressive given what Toyota, Acura, and Buick have accomplished with their crossovers. The handling is only so-so. When allowed to do its own shifting, the transmission was nice and smooth. I was perfectly happy to let it take care of cog changes as the AutoStick feature seemed a bit silly with only four gears. Chrysler calls this a "Sports Tourer". The Pacifica was acceptable, but I'd hate to drive their non-sport tourer.

    I did not have a chance to test the all-wheel drive system. The low ride and long wheelbase suggest poor breakover angles. I expect the Pacifica will flounder and scrape it's bottom on dirt trails. Off-road performance should be on the same level as the RDV (see the comparison test done by the Edmunds staff last year). Foul weather performance is a bigger concern and the Pacifica should be fine for that task. Just be sure to purchase the spare tire upgrade for an extra $160 if you expect harsh winters or will do any towing.


    "Macho Man" was performed by a bunch of guys selling a butch image, but with a not-so-butch reality poorly hidden from the public. Chrysler's Pacifica is a bit like that. The handsome exterior and stylish interior is not backed up by the drivetrain or the suspension. The exterior may convince onlookers that this is a sporty vehicle, but it won't fool the driver. At $30,000, this would be a good deal. But for $33,000 and up, there are better choices on the market. The MDX gives you more bang for the buck. The RX330 has a higher price tag, but it gives you more of everything. The RDV may be the ugly duckling of the group, but it is far more functional and priced to sell. An RDV with GM's new 3.6L V6 might be enough to make me reverse that earlier verdict.

    What concerns me is the fact that Chrysler spent 30 months developing the Pacifica and pegged it as the vehicle that would boost a stumbling corporate image. The market will decide if the Pacifica meets that goal, but my suggestion would be that Chrysler spend another two and a half years figuring out how to leapfrog the competition, not just chrome them to death.
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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Mazda Tribute

    Back in 1998 and 1999, I went shopping for a new vehicle. At the time, I was driving an old Mazda MX6 and Mrs. Varmint had a 1991 Mazda 323 hatchback. Both had been good cars and a return to the Mazda dealer seemed like a logical move. There were only two minor problems. I was interested in a mini SUV and Mazda did not offer one. I ended up with a Honda CR-V, a vehicle I have come to adore (sniffle, sniffle, blush, blush...).

    Quite a bit has changed since 1999. The RAV4 and CR-V landed on the cute ute segment like an anvil on Wile E. Coyote. The CR-V, in particular, carved a wide path through consumer wallets. The most frequent complaint from enthusiast publications was, "It could use the Accord's V6." The designs that followed took that criticism to heart. The Xterra joined the fray with all six cylinders a-blazin', as did Suzuki (Hey, haven't we been selling these all along?) with their Grand Vitara. Both earned their 15 minutes of fame. The Xterra was a MotorTrend Truck of the Year. The Grand Vitara was once the Edmunds Most Wanted Small SUV. However, neither aged well and sales of the CR-V still outpaced them. It wasn't until Ford and Mazda came along with the Escape/Tribute twins that a six cylinder was packaged in a product that rivaled the CR-V. I've driven each of the new vehicles as they've come onto the scene (Forester, Liberty, VUE, Santa Fe...), but I figured it was time to go back to the twins. Of course, mini SUVs are no longer called cute utes and most rags refer to them as small SUVs. In fact, some now qualify as mid-size vehicles.

    For this drive, I selected the Mazda Tribute. It just looks better than the Ford. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the Tribute is the best-looking small SUV of the litter. The greenhouse is proportioned well with the nose and wheel arches. The styling is typical conservative Japanese, but the pointed grill and clean front bumper look a great deal better than the faux bumper bullets integrated into the Escape's plastic front end. There is enough character to make it appealing, but it is still a design that will age well. To further distance itself from its Ford cousin, the Tribute offers painted bumpers on select trim levels. They paint them one color (sort of a glossy gunmetal), which matches only one of the hues used to paint the body. If you're the type who prefers monochromatic vehicles, I hope you like gray.

    The interior is also an area where Mazda has taken steps to stand apart. Typically, Tributes have a slightly more upscale appearance to them. My test mule wore cow hides and a (say it with me, now) "faux brushed aluminum dash".

    I've gotten a few e-mails regarding my obvious aversion to using metallic-looking plastic. So, here's my rant. As an accent, this is fine. As a major portion of the landscape, this is bad. In the 50's, huge tail fins were neat-o. In the 70's, the flaming chicken seemed quite psychedelic. In the 80's, we had those so, like, totally rad tail lights that spanned the entire rear of the car. In recent years, tail lights with bitchin' clear lenses have actually made it onto factory-built, mainstream products. How many of these fads have lasted? While a campy 60's robot may forever lust after such a dash, I see it and think, "Danger, Will Robinson". This is the first thing that will make a five year-old car look dated... unless it also wears clear tail lights.

    Back to the Tribute. Cupholders were well-placed on the center console between the front seats. They will not adjust for your 99 cent uber-slurp, nor do they include a flexible rubber tab to help hold smaller cups. Mazda does include a removable ashtray insert for your cancer sticks. Next to the cupholders resides a proper e-brake. Storage cubbies were a bit lacking. There are quite a few, but none are convenient for the driver. There is the usual armrest/console, each front door includes a pocket for maps or an umbrella, and there is also a good-sized "cave" at the very base of the center stack. This last space would normally make a fine place for loose items, but it's too far away from the driver (closer to my ankles than my knee). This leaves the driver with only a small nook under the radio. It might fit two tape cassettes or a small flip-style cell phone, but nothing larger. My 5 inch, non-flipping phone would not fit. Also, my sunglasses would not fit properly in the holder built into the roof liner. In the back seat, there are no pockets in the doors. Instead, those relegated to the back must make due with the nets on the backs of the front seats.

    Fit and finish on this sample was much better than the Escape I tested a while back. The radio controls were a bit chintzy, but some cost-cutting is expected in this class. The switchgear on the steering column felt solid and the wheel itself was fine. The lower half of the wheel was covered with a dimpled rubber that provides a decent grip. This golf-ball texture was repeated on the surround for the gauge clusters, where it looks awful. The dash itself is laid out well and most primary and secondary controls are easy to get accustomed to. The interior door panels and handles were the only significant disappointment. The panels were "plasticy" and the handles felt loose when closing doors.

    In back, the Tribute offers a very functional cargo space. It may not be the largest in the class, but it should be adequate for the average buyer. The suspension towers do not intrude into the cargo space as much as they do in some other vehicles. The rear seats fold as flat as can be expected, but require several steps to accomplish the task. Other vehicles have much easier designs. Access to the cargo area is accomplished with a liftgate. This design can be troublesome when hauling long items (skis) on the roof and prevents the manufacturer from adding storage space to the door, but most feel it is easier to use when parked on crowded city streets. You can’t have everything. Under the floor of the cargo space, Mazda hides a donut spare. As with the Pacifica, this donut should be replaced with a full-size spare when you plan to drive off-road, in foul weather, or with something in tow. Unlike the Pacifica, a real spare is not an option. Nor does it appear that one will fit in the same place where the space-saver donut is located.
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    varmintvarmint Member Posts: 6,326
    Safety is a mixed bag. The Tribute and cousin Escape have done well enough in NHTSA front and side crash tests. However, it earned a marginal score in the IIHS frontal impact. Base models scored poorly in the IIHS side impact, but it did quite well when equipped with side airbags. Visibility out the front, back, and sides is perfectly adequate. There is no spare tire blocking the rear view. On the road, braking and handling are above average for the class. The Tribute lacks the tossable feel experienced when piloting the RAV4 or Forester, but body roll is controlled well and the suspension will keep the wheels planted. I performed two emergency lane changes with little drama and accelerated through a turn covered in lumpy pavement. Understeer is the dominant trait (as expected), but the Tribute will hang in for a while before its 3,400 lbs pushes the nose outside.

    The ride in a Tribute is neither smooth nor choppy. It felt a good deal like my '99 CR-V, which is a good thing. It also sounded a good deal like my '99 CR-V, which is not a good thing. Road noise and wind noise are the dominant culprits. The engine is quiet at low speeds, but fairly rough as the revs climb. At idle, I could feel a coarse vibration with my feet. Throttle tip in is progressive, unlike the mushy pedal response found in the Saturn VUE. The transmission is unremarkable (a 4 speed automatic is standard with all V6 models). The Tribute will hustle off the line effortlessly. There is no need to force it. I was able to provoke torque steer, but it's not an obvious problem.

    While we're on the subject of powerplants, the V6 under the hood of the Tribute is the item that gave the Escape and Tribute their advantage when they appeared on the scene a few years ago. Back then, it dominated the segment. Today, it is still one of the strong selling points for this vehicle. While merging onto the highway, I got pinned in the acceleration lane by a fuel tanker. The dealer stickers blocked my view, so this was not a normal problem with visibility. Anyway, I was moving at about 50-60 mph when I saw the truck next to me. With the much-ballyhooed 201 hp V6 powering the wheels, I opted to accelerate out from under the shadow of the semi. My yahoo foot dropped, the transmission downshifted, and the vehicle pulled forward. Note that I wrote "pulled forward". With this much power, I was expecting to "surge", "bolt", or at least "scoot". For the remainder of the test drive, I kept a close eye on the engine. It scoots better than most, but it no longer dominates the competition by as wide a margin as the numbers suggest. The others, however, still dominate when it comes to clean emissions and fuel economy.

    TMV for this Tribute ES is currently $24,390 with no options added. I was told that Mazda is offering somewhere around $2,000 as a rebate, or zero percent financing. With the rebate, and adjustments for optional content (sunroof and 6 disk changer plus assorted bits), the TMV would have been 23,392. That’s a fair price for what you get. Without these incentives, Mazda is asking too much.


    The mini SUV segment has changed since the days of the Sidekick and original copies of the RAV4 and CR-V. "Bigger is better" applies to the interior, exterior, and gas bill. The Tribute’s EPA mileage ratings come closer to those of Honda's Pilot and Toyota's Highlander than the small SUVs from either company. But this Mazda still provides a reasonable middle ground for the buyer who wants an SUV, but doesn't want to deal with the handling, bulk, and expense of a mid-sized vehicle. Although the design is starting to show some signs of aging, the Tribute still has a good balance of power, handling, comfort, and capability. I wouldn’t call it the best in the segment, but it should be on most buyer’s short list.
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    paisanpaisan Member Posts: 21,181
    Ok folks this is my first review on here, so don't be too harsh...

    Well it was a crisp warm morning for the C-spot driving event put on by Mercedes at NY's Shea Stadium Parking Lot. As usual Zephyr and myself were running on Paisan-time (usually about 30-50 min. late) so we are dashing across Brooklyn and Queens at Mach 1 in my Trooper, 4-wheel drift it into the parking lot and get in just in time for our driving session!

    I had never driven a MB before but figured they'll be your typical luxo-car like a caddy or lincoln or something. Well I was pleasantly suprised! Everything was put together VERY well even on the low-end sedans. As for power I felt the 4-cylinder C240 and C230 Kompressors were quite lacking, perhaps it's the mating of the tranny to them that doesn't help them.

    Next enter the C320 and C320 4-matic. WOW. I very much liked the tip-tronic setup in them and the handleing was very neutral. I felt like I was in my SVX driving the auto-x course. Even now, 2 weeks after taking the C320 around the wet and dry courses, I'm still loving the time I spent in the car. The 4-matic was well planted, even while I had the ESP off, which is how I'd probably run it most times.

    Looking back at the #s on the size, power, weight of the C320 4-matic, I realized why I enjoyed it so much. The #s are nearly the same as my SVX. Weight, Power, Power curves, heck even the price is close. So in a few years I may be looking for one of these coming off-lease. Very well sorted car that can handle well!

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I tested a RAV4 way back in 1996, and liked it but waited for something a little more substantive that its 2.0l engine offered.

    Fast forward to 2003, the 2.0l now offers 148hp and new digs, but is that enough?

    The interior is a mixed bag, some nice textures and materials with some cheap, painted ones. The silver stuff didn't look very durable, and some plastics were shiny. While I love the Audi TT, it has started a trend of cheesy painted silver that I hate in almost every new car I see nowadays.

    I took a brief drive in a FWD automatic model. The seats were comfy and way, way up high. That was exacerbated by that fact that I drove a Miata to the dealer, then the RAV4, then an MR2 (review to follow). The view is commanding, this is why people like SUVs.

    The front seats got a thumbs up, but not the rear. This is really a 4 seater. I could see big gaps between the two rear seats, and they adjust independently. Even lined up, I would not want to sit in that middle. With 760 lbs payload, you're not going to fit 5 passengers plus cargo anyway.

    But...not me, the same height made it feel tipsy, as it leans way too much in turns. It actually handles pretty well, but feels kinda scary if you push the pace past 7/10ths.

    Accleration? Still lacking, at least with the autmatic mine was saddled to. The engine is also too buzzy, sounding like a bee hive I'd just knocked down. With a 5 speed it would be tolerable.

    And keep in mind this was FWD, with a little steering wheel tug in turns to prove it. AWD would handle better, but accelerate slower, too slow IMHO.

    But that 2.4l planned for MY2004 could not come a moment sooner. Prices start low but go easy on the options seat or you're bumping into more substantive alternatives like the CR-V and Forester, or even Toyota's own Highlander.

    2004 also brings a Navigation option and turn signals in the side mirrors, both firsts in this size and price class. Kudos for that.

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    ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Mid-engine. Light weight. Short wheelbase. Low center of gravity. Sporty suspension with 16" alloys. Multi-valve engine, if only a 4 banger. It's all right there on the spec sheet, it promises a lot of fun and high expectations.

    I sit inside and get comfortable easily. Seats are supportive for hard driving. Top is easy to take down manually, without leaving my seat. The leading edge even makes for a nice boot, much tidier than my Miata.

    OK, storage? Not really. It's a bad joke. It makes even my Miata look good. Let's look beyond that, though.

    I like the white gauges and the center mounted tach. What's this? SMG? Nice, it has Reverse, Neutral, and +/-. No clutch? Wow. Neat concept. Buttons on the steering wheel, thank you, Yoda! I put it in "1" and let off the brake, hit the gas, and the cluth engages smooth as butter. Solid.

    Until you shift from 1-2. It lets off the throttle aggressively, you get a lot of engine braking, almost like the engine stalls. You lose momentum, it feels totally unnatural when downshifting.

    Upshifting is better, it even blips the throttle in a way that would make Mr. Shiftright proud. But I couldn't get over the upshifts. Stick with the stick.

    The tranny has 6 gears and holds every one until you shift. The engine here is more quiet than the RAV4's, which is odd because it's smaller, at 1.8l, and less powerful. And it comes from behind you, neat. It doens't need to work as hard pulling less weight, so acceleration is pretty good, about the same at a new Miata (the MR2 SMG model, at least).

    25/33 mpg is remarkable for this level of performance. With good resale, this ought to be pretty cheap to own.

    So, what's the catch? Well, besides SMG, I hated the sitting-in-a-bathtub feel you get from the high cowl, low seat, and high doors. I could not rest my elbows on the doors. Heck, I couldn't even see out very well, and I'm 6" tall!

    You feel protected, get less wind, but c'mon, this is a roadster, not a Solara. It feels much less connected, communicates much less than a Miata does.

    Also, when you corner the struts don't control the lean as well as the Miata's more sophisticated suspension does. Subtle difference, but I noticed.

    So, I can overlook the lack of storage, the cheesy painted silver trim, even the SMG since it's an option, but not the bathtub feel of the driving position. The Miata's superior vantage point lets me more accurately hit each apex, and that's what these cars are all about.

    $26 grand is remarkably affordable for an innovative 6 speed mid-engine roadster, for those who disagree.

This discussion has been closed.