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The Forums Test Drive Team

SylviaSylvia 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.



  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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, with the moonroof I mean. ;-)

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • rshollandrsholland 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.

  • rshollandrsholland 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.

  • varmintvarmint 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.
  • varmintvarmint 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.
  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.
  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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! :-)

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • varmintvarmint 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.
  • ateixeiraateixeira 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 a super model!

  • rshollandrsholland 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.

  • varmintvarmint 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.
  • rshollandrsholland 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. :)

  • rshollandrsholland 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.

  • varmintvarmint 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.

  • varmintvarmint 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.
  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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)
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    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.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • rshollandrsholland 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.

  • rshollandrsholland 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.

  • ateixeiraateixeira 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!

This discussion has been closed.