Thursday, May 30, 2013

2013 Lexus ES 300h: Luxury You'll Like, Fuel Economy You'll Love

Getting a great luxury sedan that's comfortable and nicely designed is one thing, but when you add superb fuel economy to the mix, ain't that the bees knees?!

That's exactly what you get with the 2013 Lexus ES 300h, a hybrid sedan that will make you forget about visiting the gas pump for long stretches at a time.

The ES 300h is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and an electric motor that team up to make 200 horsepower. The engine is linked to a two-speed continuously variable transmission.

Fuel economy is listed at a colossal 40 mpg city, 39 highway, and in our weeklong test drive, we did even better, averaging about 42 mpg in combined city/highway traffic.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

First Look: 2014 Kia Cadenza

DEL MAR, Calif. -- Kia, riding the momentum of its wildly successful Optima sedan, is rolling out another sedan that aims to compete in the premium market and take the brand slightly more upscale.

The Cadenza, introduced this spring as a 2014 model, starts at around $35,100 and offers what Kia calls European-inspired styling and a hearty six-cylinder engine.

Kia unveiled the sedan before automotive journalists in this seaside town near San Diego.

The Cadenza has a style that differentiates itself fairly clearly from the Optima, but it still might be a challenge for Kia to draw the level of consumer interest that has made the Optima such a success for two reasons.

First, the Optima was an established name, having been on the market for a number of years before its 2011 redesign. And while it hadn’t developed legions of fans in its previous incarnations, at least it was a name known to car shoppers.

Cadenza will have to introduce itself, but Kia officials say they plan a heavy marketing blitz to do just that.

Secondly, the Cadenza is making a foray into a pricing bandwidth at which Kia has not previously ventured. The Korean automaker noted during media briefings that the Optima’s success has been built in part by owners of near-luxury brand vehicles trading those in to acquire Optimas. If interest among those consumers is sustained, that could bode well for Cadenza.

Riding through the inland areas of Southern California, the Cadenza proved itself to be a pretty good driving vehicle, with a decisive transmission, more than adequate power and assured braking. The driving route included some twisty roads that the Cadenza handled fairly well, although the body rigidity did not quite measure up to what would be found on a sport-tuned performance car.

But that’s OK, as most drivers in this segment aren’t necessarily looking for the highest levels of performance driving. Instead, what they want is a stylish and practical sedan at a reasonable price.

For the most part, Cadenza seems to deliver.

Fuel economy numbers were a bit disappointing, coming in at 19 mpg city, 28 highway. We’ve come to expect a bit more in that area from Kia.

As for style, both the exterior and interior designs are attractive, but not groundbreaking. The lines and shaping of the car are somewhat similar to what’s seen on recent sedan offerings from Buick, BMW and Toyota.

On the inside, the instrument panel and seating are very Kia-like, which is to say neat, nicely arranged and a bit understated.

Both front and rear seats offered good head and leg room, and the seats themselves were quite comfortable. The driving position was well situated, with good visibility and easy access to all controls.

There are three trim levels on the Cadenza, the base Premium, Technology and Luxury. The base offers a large selection of standard equipment and amenities, which could also help make Cadenza a hit with buyers.

The Cadenza is entering a market segment that has a number of formidable competitors, including the redesigned Toyota Avalon, the Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Maxima and Ford Taurus.

But Cadenza aims to compete on its value proposition, offering a well-equipped, nicely styled sedan in the premium category.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ford Partners with Other Companies on Energy-Saving Program

Officials from Ford were in town recently to discuss an energy initiative that the automaker has launched with other companies designed to demonstrate how U.S. consumers can greatly reduce their energy consumption and costs.

The MyEnergi Lifestyle program includes Ford, Eaton Corp., SunPower, Whirlpool, Infineon and Nest Labs and offers ways to incorporate energy-saving home appliances and plug-in vehicles.
Think of it almost as an electricity makeover that lets you use less and spend less.

The presentation at Georgia Tech featured Mike Tinskey, Ford's global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure, Bert Bras, a Georgia Tech engineering professor and Charles Tahara, an Eaton project manager.
They discussed how MyEnergi Lifestyle can combine renewable energy generation with “time-flexible” loads to create more efficient energy consumption from plug-in vehicles and home appliances.

Ford and its business associates worked with researchers from Georgia Tech to create a computer model that calculates the electricity usage of a typical single family in their home for one year and the associated savings with moving to an energy-efficient lifestyle, according to a news release. The cumulative results predict a 60 percent reduction in energy costs and more than 9,000 kg of CO2 (55 percent reduction) saved from a single home, the release said. If every home in the U.S. were to implement these energy-saving technologies, it would be the equivalent of taking all the homes in California, New York and Texas off the power grid (32 million homes), according to Ford.

“More than ever, cars are sharing the same energy source as the home,” Tinskey said. “The time is right for the home appliance and transportation sectors to converge if we are going to tackle a myriad of sustainability challenges in a rapidly changing world.”

The average American home uses more than 11,000 kWh of electricity a year, said Warwick Stirling, global director for energy and sustainability at Whirlpool. “But with recent technology advancements in our appliances, a family can use energy smarter and more efficiently,” he said.

“As innovation in home electrical technology advances, so does the need for safe, reliable and efficient power distribution,” said Joanne Edwards, a vice president at Eaton. “At the same time, giving homeowners the tools to tap into the details of distributed power for their homes allows them to modify their behavior and further reduce energy consumption.”

Tinskey talked about the MyEnergi Lifestyle retrofit contest with Katie Couric on her syndicated talk show “Katie.” Homeowners can enter the contest for a chance to win a package that includes a Ford C-MAX Energi  plug-in hybrid vehicle, new Whirlpool brand appliances, a SunPower solar power system and other home products designed to bring energy-efficient living to a family. The contest runs through June 9, with the grand prize winner to be announced this summer.

More information about C-MAX Energi can be found here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Top 5 Vehicles for Graduates

Is someone you know graduating this spring? Why not reward their academic achievement with the gift of mobility? Or, if you can't afford to give them a car, give them some good advice about which rides they should consider. This list might help.

Subaru Forester

This small SUV offers practicality, reliability, decent fuel economy and a nice style. And its safety ratings are excellent, so you can have peace of mind.

Chevrolet Cruze

A couple of years ago, Chevy decided to pay attention to small cars again, and thankfully it created one as nice as the Cruze. Good gas mileage and a reasonable price tag are two of the key qualities of this pleasant sedan.

Buick Encore

This small crossover SUV offers a little taste of luxury, but at a reasonable price, starting in the mid-$20s. It has the elegant styling that Buick has become known for in the past few years, but is unpretentious.


The Mazda2 gives a pretty dynamic driving experience for a small, economy car. But you would expect nothing less from Mazda, the leader of the Zoom-Zoom movement.

Toyota Yaris

The Yaris got a restyling a couple of years ago that made all the difference in the world, taking it from a homely little econobox to a sporty, cool, subcompact. It gets great gas mileage (30 mpg city, 35 highway) and tops out at under $20k.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Affordable fun: The 2013 Scion FR-S

Sports cars don't have to cost a ton of money. A recent example of one that doesn't is the 2013 Scion FR-S.
This car takes the youthful approach that Scion has become known for, and adds a bit of race-car styling and performance driving ability to present a cool little package of fun.

Toyota, owner of the Scion brand, worked with Subaru to develop the FR-S, which the latter company also produces under its own badge as the BRZ.
The FR-S is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 200 horsepower and 151 pounds-feet of torque.
The transmission comes as a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
The test drive model had the manual, and shifting was smooth and orderly.
Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg city, 30 highway with the manual and 25 and 34 with the automatic.

Driving dynamics on the FR-S could well be described as peppy and energetic. Behind the wheel, you won't mistake it for a BMW or Audi. But remember, when you make your car payment each month, you also won't mistake it for a BMW or Audi.

Acceleration is smooth, braking is swift and sure and handling is solid.

Toyota made sure to keep the FR-S's weight down to assist its nimbleness.
And the FR-S has a very low center of gravity, which allows you to feel the road, but at the same time you won't be too beat up after a moderately lengthy commute.

However, this is quite a low-slung vehicle, so taller drivers and passengers, or those who have lost a bit of flexibility (we fit into both categories), might not always find comfort in ingress and egress.

The FR-S has four seats, but only two of them are really inhabitable by most humans. Maybe the tiniest of folks could fit in the rear two.

The FR-S starts at around $24,500 and goes to about $27,000.

That's a somewhat reasonable price for a sporty, stylish car. But frankly, we thought that around that price point, you might get a few more "goodies" thrown into the mix.

Overall, however, the FR-S is a good, rear-wheel drive sports car that stands out from the pack, and if that's what you're after, with a reasonable price tag, you get it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Top 5 Vehicles for Mom

Mother's Day is almost here, and if you're like most people, you'll be buying Mom a new vehicle.

OK, so very few people are actually able to do that.

But if you're one of those lucky (and thoughtful) few, or if you just want to help Mom shop next time she's in the market for a new ride, this list has a handful of helpful suggestions.

Toyota Prius v

Mom will certainly love how little she has to spend at the pump when driving this hybrid, plus she'll have enough room to tote around the kids and the groceries.

Honda Odyssey

Yes, it's a minivan, but so what? It still has great styling, and you can't beat the practicality and functionality.

Acura TSX

This compact luxury car is available as a sedan or a wagon, and lets Mom ride in style.


It looks like a little minivan, but it's so much cooler than that, because it has great driving dynamics and is super affordable.

Chevrolet Traverse

  The Traverse is a crossover SUV that is not too large and not too small, with a third row of seats that actually can hold regular-sized people.

Friday, May 3, 2013

2013 BMW 7 Series is Like Two Cars in One

Getting a BMW 7 Series sedan is almost like getting two cars in one.

Or maybe it’s like that cereal commercial from a few years back in which one side was sweet and coated with frosting and the other side was healthy whole wheat.

In any case, whether you get the 740, 750 or 760, you’re getting a full-size luxury sedan with a silky smooth ride, but also a hyper-performance tuned large sports car that can knock your socks off on the road.

Any way you get this car – with four or five seats, with the six-cylinder engine or the V-12, at regular or extended length – you get a substantial package of performance, comfort and luxury.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 Nissan Sentra: No Boredom, Just a Great Buy

The Nissan Sentra has always been a pretty good compact car that was economical, mostly reliable and maybe a little boring.

For 2013, Nissan has given the Sentra a makeover that keeps it economical, thanks to strong fuel efficiency and a reasonable price, and definitely loses the boring, thanks to a stylish redesign.