Audi Recasts A3 as Sedan, Convertible | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 04 February 2016 14:26


The 2016 Audi A3 family features the A3 Sedan, A3 Cabriolet and the high-performance S3 Sedan.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The A4 has long been Audi’s bread-and-butter model. The A3 was a smaller wagon configuration, directed at a different buyer. But in 2015, the A3 was recast as a sedan or a convertible, offered with three engine choices and option packages to load it up to your specifications. For 2016, the five-door version returned as the E-tron Sportback, a gasoline/electric hybrid.

My A3 test sedan arrived in a sophisticated coat of Dakota Gray metallic paint, with a complementary black interior. Audi has always offered at least one gray shade, always good looking and tasteful.

Under its hood, my test car came with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, mounted transversely, sending its 220 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque through Audi’s famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system. This is likely to be the most popular model.

The entry-level A3 features a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine that puts out 170 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque. On the other end, the S4 model boasts a turbocharged 2.0-liter with 292 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. For now, skip the fourth option, a Diesel.

The gasoline versions are all pretty efficient. The sticker showed 24 City, 33 Highway, and 27 overall. I averaged 26.8 mpg, admittedly including a lot of open freeway driving. My tester rated surprisingly clean, with an EPA Smog score at an excellent 9, with a 6 for Greenhouse Gas. This is a fine option for Audi intenders with a wish to minimize their environmental impact.

The A3 looks a lot like a shrunken A4, which is a familiar Audi family design. It’s a little sharper in the lighting designs at both ends, but it’s unmistakably an Audi. VW’s luxury division is turning out to be the most conservatively styled German manufacturer in the Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi battle for customers. Future models will take on a squarer, edgier shape, as hinted by recent concept cars and the new Q7 crossover.

On the road, the A3 is pleasingly taut and smooth, and controls fall to hand. Power from the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter is direct and plentiful. All A3s, despite their compact size, require Premium fuel, which may not be an issue today but could be when prices climb again.

020416a2It’s quiet in there, too, the better to enjoy the standard 10-speaker, 180-watt audio system. Audi’s controls are unique, but once you understand the logic, are easy to operate. Use the control knob on the center console to make selections on the slim, iPad-like screen that slides up out of the dash top. You can lower it if you’re tired of looking at it, and use the steering-wheel-mounted controls to make choices.

The A3 offers the engine variants, but there are equipment levels, too. The Premium Plus package ($2,700) ups the 17-inch wheels to 18-inchers, heats the already multi-adjustable front seats, provides the ease of keyless entry, decorates the car inside and out with metallic accents, and brings in a few handy things like Audi music interface and an automatically dimming rearview mirror.

My car included the Technology Package (also $2,700), which upgraded the audio, added navigation, and gave access to various online services.

Why pick an A3 over an A4? It’s smaller and less expensive. The A4 stretches nearly 10 inches longer on a nearly seven-inch-longer wheelbase. That does give rear passengers more than three inches greater legroom, though.

Pricing starts at $30,825 for the A3 with front-wheel drive and the 1.8-liter engine. The A4 begins at $36,825 with the 2.0-liter engine. My test car, with all its extras, came to $41,100. That’s the price of entry for a well-equipped sport sedan these days, and I’m guessing that most of the A3s go out the door equipped more or less this way. All prices include $925 shipping.

If you want a manual transmission, forget it in the A3. European buyers, who favor shifting for themselves, get one, but we don’t have a choice in the U.S. The A4 still offers one, which could affect your buying decision. European buyers also get an A3 three-door and a non-hybrid A3 Sportback.

Direct competitors include the BMW 2-Series sedans and the Mercedes-Benz CLA, which occupy the “junior” level at their respective marques. You also could investigate what Lexus, Infiniti and Acura have to offer at the entry-luxury level. American brands don’t really compete in this market today, but watch out for Buick and Lincoln to field something before too long.

Despite being assembled in Gyor, Hungary, the A3 is a German design, and these Teutonic cars have their fans because of the enjoyable driving experience. Audis are known for their excellently designed and built interiors, too, and even the baby of the brand exhibits that appeal. And, who knows, Audi could send us over a manual version someday.


Ford Transit Hauls it All | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 January 2016 14:22

012116aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Ford Transit arrived in 2015 to replace the ancient, good old reliable E Series van, formerly known as the Econoline. Ford is the second largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in the world. Reflecting the One Ford product strategy, this vehicle, with some regional differences, is offered in 118 markets around the globe.

Don’t confuse this new Transit with the compact Transit Connect, which uses small four-cylinder engines, and is built in Valencia, Spain. My Pueblo Gold Metallic Transit test van was assembled in good old Kansas City, Missouri and packs full-size hauling capability.

The Transit comes with different wheelbases, lengths and engine choices. It also offers three different roof heights. My tester was the lowest, at 56 inches of cargo height — still higher than most other vehicles. The middle roof cargo height is 71 inches, and the high-roof model gives 81.5 inches of interior cargo height — enough for a 6-foot-4 person to stand up inside.

All Transits come ready to accept shelving and storage options to let you customize them to suit your company’s needs. Choose the van, wagon, chassis cab or cutaway version. The van has no rear seats or side windows. The chassis cab has an enclosed driver and passenger row and a plain chassis behind. The cutaway has no rear panel, allowing direct access to the cargo compartment you attach.

Engine choices include the standard 3.7-liter V6, an optional 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, and a 3.2-liter Diesel. The 3.7-liter puts out 275 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The smaller, more efficient EcoBoost, with turbocharging, churns out 310 horsepower and a whopping 400 lb.-ft. of torque.

My tester, with its 3.7-liter engine, earned, per the EPA, 14 City, 19 Highway, and 16 mpg Combined. I couldn’t find a place in the truck to verify my own mileage, but it did display engine hours — both Idle and Running, useful information for the many commercial applications these big trucks are used for every day.

The Smog and Greenhouse Gas ratings were the lowest I’ve seen in a test car, but, of course, this vehicle isn’t meant for your average consumer. The Smog number is just 2, and 3 for Greenhouse Gas.

Shuttling around a small family of three, or just me, seemed like a huge waste. You can carry up to eight people in the smallest of Transits, and my upright bass could come along and still leave room for folks. The largest of the Transits can carry up to 15 people.

Cargo capacity for my tester was 246.7 cubic feet. Equipped with the longest wheelbase and highest roof, you can haul up to 487.3 cubic feet. And, to increase convenient access, the rear doors swing open 270 degrees.

This new full-size van is a radical departure in looks from the old Econoline. It’s notable for much more interesting and evocative styling, quite tall windows, an extended nose with large grille, and a semi truck style drop in the side windows near the windshield. This is very handy for giving the driver better visibility of the cars alongside, and enables a lower mirror mounting height.

012116a2Just because the Transit is aimed at commercial applications doesn’t mean it’s Spartan or uncomfortable. The interior is styled like a modern car, although all surfaces are hard plastic. The seats wear a durable cloth, “Pewter” in my tester. The sunvisor for the huge windows was as large as a skateboard, and protected along the side and in front from sun while driving. That’s a good safety feature for professionals who use these vans daily.

There are lots of places to put a drink, including cupholders at the ends of the dashboard.

Also valuable are large outside mirrors with a round wide-angle mirror added. My tester had a lane departure warning system and rear parking system, essential for such a bulky vehicle. It would be even more necessary in the van version, without side windows. Mounting the shifter for the standard six-speed automatic transmission on the dash leaves a nice clear floor up front.

The lowest, shortest Transit with the standard engine can tow 3,500 lbs. and carry a payload of 2,600 lbs.

Pricing begins at $33,175 for the short-wheelbase, low-roof model with the standard 3.7-liter engine. My tester, as an XLT, would run $34,795 without any options. The XLT model has an exterior upgrade with shiny grille, silver wheel covers, and AM/FM Stereo with CD. Order the highest roof, extended wheelbase, and the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine and you’re looking at $43,995 for the XLT. All of these prices include destination (shipping) charges. You can add from a long list of options to this, as well.

Schlepping lots of people and cargo has never been more pleasant than it is today with this updated full-size Transit van.


Chevrolet Improves Classic Impala | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 January 2016 16:03

011416aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

There are some folks who still want a full-size, American-made sedan, and the Chevrolet Impala is a bona fide classic. Now in the third year of this latest iteration, it’s picked up endorsements as a great family car from Kelley Blue Book and U.S. News and World Report.

The Impala goes back to 1958, when it was the fancy version of a favorite American full-size car. Before the 2014 model gave it glamorous, even beautiful, styling, the Impala had become more of a rental fleet special. But now, there’s that little kicked-up rear fender line that reminds you of not only the original ’58s but the gorgeous ’65 — one of the most popular cars ever made (about 1 million of them sold in just one year).

With midsize models dominating the sedan market today, full-size cars are almost by nature luxury vehicles. Spacious, with upgraded materials and sweeping lines, the Impala’s interior is a cruiser’s dream. You can order up leather in the top two models, but my Heather Gray Metallic tester’s black passenger cell was a mix of cloth and vinyl.

My favorite part of the Impala’s people space is the secret storage bin in the center of the dash, with a door that slides up with the push of a button. With the upgraded MyLink system, you can hook up your portable phone or music easily. New for 2016 is an Apple CarPlay integration and a wireless charging pad for your device right on the console. One off note: The door and console armrest felt at different levels, which left me feeling a little cockeyed.

As usual, you can pick from the LS, LT or LTZ levels. My 2LT, a mid-range car, felt well equipped, but I was surprised at the standard metal key and lack of heated seats. You can add option packages or step up to the LTZ for a complete set of features if you want to.

The big Chevy gets one of two engines. The standard and more efficient choice is a 2.5-liter four with start/stop technology. The engine shuts off at certain times, such as when you’re sitting at a red light or stuck in commute traffic. It then restarts automatically. So, you’re not burning fuel when you’re not moving. It boasts 196 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque, and is rated at 22 mpg City and 31 Highway (25 Combined).

The larger 3.6-liter V6 puts out a heftier 305 horsepower and 264 lb.-ft. of torque, which propels the 3,800-pound car along with no problem. My tester, with the V6, gave me 19.3 mpg average versus the EPA number of 22 mpg Overall (18 City, 28 Highway). Green scores are a pretty good 7 for Smog and an average 5 for Greenhouse gas.

011416a2Both cars come with six-speed automatics that go about their business unobtrusively. I saw a +/- button atop the shifter that let me make those gear changes manually if I felt like it, but as usual, I didn’t bother.

Safety is important for all drivers, but when you’re piloting a family car, it sits at the top of your list of considerations. The Impala comes with the usual assortment of airbags and smart features, but you can also order up a Driver Confidence Package, with Forward Collision Alert, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and Side Blind Zone and Lane Change Alert. I’ve used all of these in numerous cars now, and can say that they do help prevent the stupid collisions that come from inattention or lack of a clear view. Forward Collision Alert flashes when you’re approaching a car ahead and don’t have your foot on the brake. In commute traffic, that’s extremely handy.

There are no hybrid versions of the Impala, but you can order up a flexfuel version that will take ethanol (E85). I also saw information on a bi-fuel version that runs on gasoline or compressed natural gas (CNG). The CNG tank steals almost half of the 18.8 cubic feet of trunk space, but would make a good cleaner-running fleet vehicle. The CNG version has an EPA-rated 119-mile range.

Pricing on this car starts at $27,920 for the LS and works its way up to the LTZ at $37,240. My tester, with only one $80 option — a truly worthwhile thick rubber trunk mat that kept things from sliding around — came to $30,435 (all prices include $825 delivery charge).

The Impala is a traditional full-size American car. With 20 percent Mexican content and an engine built in Canada, it’s really more of a 21st-century North American model. This internationalization happens all the time these days. Regardless, if a midsize sedan is a little small for you, the Impala offers a bit more room in an appealing package.


Nissan Applies Lessons Learned | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 January 2016 15:40


The foundation for the new 2016 Nissan Maxima’s enhanced handling and ride comfort starts with a redesigned platform that features increased use of high-strength steels.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

When Nissan began selling Datsuns in the United States in the mid 1960s, the cars were tiny sedans and pickup trucks. In the 1970s, Datsun expanded. It wasn’t until 1981 though, that the first Maxima arrived, offering a real step up from basic transportation.

With a modest 2.4-liter inline six from the 240 Z sports car making all of 145 horsepower, the early Maximas weren’t barn burners, but they developed into midsized sedans that Nissan marketed as “The 4-door Sports Car,” the poor man’s BMW.

Through the years the Maxima grew and grew, and today’s all-new 2016 8th-generation car is a large midsizer. It boasts a 3.5-liter V6 that makes a formidable 300 horsepower and 261 lb.-ft. of torque.

Sometime in the mid 1990s, I received a Maxima test car. I’ll never forget how when I first applied my right foot to the accelerator, that car surged forward like someone had stung it on the behind.

Nissan’s VQ Series V6 engines have been winning industry awards for years, and the latest version is upgraded with more than 60 percent new parts. It benefits from lessons learned while developing the GT-R supercar.

Despite its greater power, the new engine notches a 15-percent improvement in highway mileage. EPA figures are 22 City, 30 Highway, and 25 Overall. Those are numbers formerly associated with four-cylinder economy cars like the Nissan Sentra. I averaged 21.6 mpg overall, although a lot of my time was spent in town and stuck in slow commute traffic. Green scores are a midrange 5 for Smog and 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

Nissan offers five ascending levels: S, SV, SL, SR and Platinum. The S is well equipped, but step up to the SV and you’ll get leather seats, heated in front, and heated outside mirrors, too. The SL provides a dual-panel moonroof, heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, and more.

The SR model, like my Deep Blue Pearl test car, brings in a raft of performance features. With suspension tuning, a performance chassis damper (to limit vibration), a D-shaped steering wheel covered in racy Alcantara (suede), and upsized 19-inch wheels, it’s the bona fide sportiest member of the family. Platinum is what you’d expect, at the top of the family tree, with rain-sensing wipers, a power sunshade, and real luxury car features.

You don’t need to go for the Platinum level to get safety. The SL, SR and Platinum all provide the latest safety technology acronyms, such as Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW), Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), Forward Emergency Braking (FEB), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Blind Spot Warning (BSW). You’re much less likely to run over or hit anything or anybody with these features on board. The Platinum even offers Driver Attention Alert, which somehow notices if you appear to be getting drowsy and sounds an alarm to wake you up. I didn’t get to experience this first hand.

Nissan’s plan with the Maxima is to offer five versions with specific levels of equipment, and leave the options to a minimum. Want more? Step up to the next higher level. The few options include little things like floormats and trunk pads.

Someone must have slipped something into the Nissan Design Studio’s water cooler, because its latest designs, epitomized by the new Murano crossover and now the Maxima, are just a bit strange looking. With the bold V-Motion styling up front, floating roof panel, and wildly animated side panels, the cars look like they are about to leap up and bite you. They are not boring, at least — you’ve got to give Nissan credit for that.

010716a2There’s no doubt that the Maxima is no ordinary car. Besides the power, the interior has been made especially demonstrative of strength and luxury combined. Despite not being in Nissan’s Infiniti luxury division, the driver’s position in the Maxima feels upscale and the console is “walled” to keep whatever you put there in place. The metallic trim and seat cushions wear a jaunty diamond pattern — the first I’ve seen in a Japanese car. The vents on the corners of the dash protrude assertively, and the armrests roll up dramatically into the doors. That took some careful thinking, and apparently, some lighthearted imagining.

Stepping above the ordinary involves digging deeper into your bank account. The S starts at $33,235, with the Platinum topping out at $40,685. My SR tester came to $38,750. All prices include an $825 destination charge (shipping).

Somewhere between basic motoring and true luxury cars is that place where all the goodies are included — the materials are premium quality, and you stand out a little from the crowd. That’s where the Maxima lives, and the complete package is meant to make you feel good about being there.


Ford Sharpens Its Edge Crossover | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 December 2015 08:34

121715aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Ford is the biggest seller of crossover and SUV vehicles in America, offering a very wide range of choices. The Edge, which debuted in 2006, sits in the lower middle part of the spectrum.

The Edge is one of the original car-based crossovers, but it was in serious need of an upgrade. Styling is now current, which means lots of folds, narrower lights, and lots more eye appeal. While they were at it, the engineers and designers increased efficiency and spaciousness, and rooted out sources of noise.

The SE, SEL and Sport trim levels are familiar, but the new Titanium level slots in between the SEL and Sport model. The Titanium models are proving very successful in other Fords, and include a long list of comfort, convenience and safety features.

The three available engines include two members of Ford’s EcoBoost family — the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a potent 2.7-liter V6. You can also order Ford’s stalwart 3.5-liter V6, but the 2.7-liter, thanks to its high-tech twin-scroll turbocharger and numerous other technical enhancements, has it beat by a wide margin in power, and even the little 2.0-liter comes pretty close. The 2.7-liter V6 is available only in the top-level Sport model.

The 2.0’s stats are 245 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque. The 2.7 gets a whopping 315 horses and 350 lb. ft. of torque. The 3.5-liter offers 280 and 250 respectively.

My tester, in optional Bronze Fire Tinted Metallic paint ($395), was a Titanium with the 2.0-liter four. It also came with the SelectShift six-speed automatic, which is standard across the entire line. My tester also boasted all-wheel drive, which is the seamless, don’t-worry-about-it type that can transfer up to 100 percent of the torque to the front or rear to preserve traction in bad weather.

That little 2.0-liter engine, moving a 4,078-pound family hauler, did alright. With all of the various sound-capturing technology in the car, I was hardly aware of its existence, and with just me and perhaps two other passengers on occasion, it seemed to fly along easily.

The EPA numbers, though, are more optimistic than what my driving bore out. The EPA says 20 City, 28 Highway, 23 Overall, and I averaged 18.3 mpg. That’s still decent for a big vehicle, but the EcoBoost advantage is really in that you get V6 power from an inline four (and V8 power from a V6) rather than strictly better numbers.

EPA Green Vehicle stats are a midline 5 for Smog and 6 for Greenhouse gas for the all-wheel-drive model. Interestingly, although the 2.7-liter engine is much more powerful than the 3.5-liter, both engines have virtually identical scores in fuel economy and environmental numbers (the 2.7 does get one more point in the EPA Greenhouse Gas score). The 2.0-liter emits about 13 percent less CO2 than the other two.

The total redesign is radical compared to the plain vanilla look of the old car. The windshield pillars are very fat, and the hood ramps up to meet them, giving you a little peek under it. It also makes it hard to see the road when you’re turning.

121715a2The interior quality is high, but the center console is surprisingly plain — maybe a little throwback to the old model. The Sony Audio felt like old times, with its large, handy dial. Just seeing that brand name in a car brings out a wave of nostalgia from when Sony was the big tech leader.

There’s loads of technology here, of course. My car had Equipment Group 302A ($5,645); it includes Enhanced Active Park Assist, which helps you get into a parking spot — and even does parallel parking for you. Adaptive cruise control keeps a consistent distance between you and the car ahead, accelerating and braking on its own. The now common Blind Spot Information System warns you of cars your mirrors miss.

And, you get forward and reverse sensing to help prevent accidents and household tragedies by stopping the car if it detects an obstruction. The lane keeping system holds you between the lines if you’re distracted. Active grille shutters improve aerodynamics for more fuel efficiency. It’s a long list.

The Government 5-Star Safety Ratings give the Edge an overall score of five stars, which is reassuring, with perfect numbers in frontal and side crashes for driver and passenger. In the rear, you’ll find Ford’s unique inflatable safety belts, which deliver some airbag technology to rear passengers, minimizing injury in a crash.

Prices start at $29,595 for the basic two-wheel-drive SE. My Titanium, with the optional package and fancy paint, came to $43,585. That’s a lot of money, but you get a lot of car for it. Ford will likely retain its lead in the crossover contest with the totally redone Edge.


Chrysler 200 Charts a New Course | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 December 2015 12:25


The all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 is the world’s first mid-size sedan to feature a nine-speed automatic transmission.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Despite their obsession with crossover SUVs, Americans also buy a lot of midsize sedans. For a long time, the leaders in this segment have been the Japanese brands — Honda and Toyota. Chrysler’s entry, the Sebring (later renamed the 200), was a laggard in style, performance, desirability and reliability.

Well, with the 2015 model, that’s all changed, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is hoping for a hit. The new car is so much prettier, better assembled and more enjoyable that there’s a good chance it’ll chip away at some of the Accord and Camry’s dominance.

Choose from the entry LX, Limited, S and C models. My tester, a 200S in Ceramic Blue Clearcoat  paint, actually resembled fine pottery. You wanted to run your hand along its softly contoured surfaces. With the busy cacophony of folds and swooshes in today’s designs, the new 200 is a relief to the eye.

Up front, the new face of Chrysler, a smoothly integrated strip of grille and headlamps, incorporates a new, bolder wings logo. The gently curving window line, modestly proportioned taillamps, and lack of extraneous bling are pleasing, too.

My S model test car wore blacked-out trim in place of chrome and flaunted optional 19-inch Hyper Black aluminum wheels (hip for today). The press material labels the S model “more sinister.”

121015a2Inside, the roundness continues. The handsome leather seats in my tester featured a complex stitching design and embroidered S logo, but felt a little overstuffed. They offered eight-way power adjustment, and an additional four lumbar support adjustments, too. Passengers make do with manual controls.

Chrysler products all enjoy the easy-to-use and attractive U-Connect system, accessed from a generous 8.4-inch center console display. That console swoops up from between the seats to meet the dash at a rakish angle. There’s storage behind, and you can poke cables through to a nifty compartment to plug in your valuable electronic devices.

The transmission, a segment-first electronic nine-speed automatic (standard on all models), is operated with a rotary dial — both futuristic and also a nod to the old 1960’s pushbutton Chryslers. It saves console space, as do the sliding cupholders. Chrysler’s wonderful back-of-the-steering-wheel audio controls still make me smile. The crisp blue interior illumination imparts sharpness.

Pick one of two engines. The standard Tigershark MultiAir inline four puts out 184-horsepower and 173 lb.-ft. of torque. This is a reasonable level of grunt for a 3,482-lb. car, but for more fun, move up to the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, with 295 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. In my tester it happily stepped up its game when merging onto the freeway or passing other cars on an uphill run.

Add all-wheel-drive to your car and you’ll gain traction in unfriendly weather conditions. Chrysler’s clever rear axle completely disconnects when it’s not being used, saving parasitic drag and precious fuel.

Fuel economy numbers for my all-wheel-drive car with the V6 were 18 City, 29 Highway, and 22 Overall. I averaged an even 20.0 mpg. The front-wheel-drive model does slightly better, at 19/32/23. Smog is a 6 and Greenhouse Gas is a 5 — totally normal numbers for this size and type of engine. The four-cylinder car scores higher, at 23/36/28, and bumps the Greenhouse Gas score up to a 7, while emitting about 20 percent less CO2; that earns it the EPA SmartWay designation.

You can order your 200 with flexible-fuel capability, so you can feed it E85 ethanol. Ethanol will reduce your maximum range, but it’s made from plants, not from petroleum, and emits about 15 percent less CO2 than gasoline.

FCA is known for the little graphical “Easter eggs” in its cars. The 200, built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, depicts the skyline of Detroit on the rubber mat in the under-console storage area. That auto plant recently enjoyed a $1 billion makeover, with a state-of-the-art paint shop with robotic booths featuring “rotisserie” rotating carriers. You get a beautiful paint finish and accurately applied sealer, so it’ll last. The new 1,000,000-square-foot body shop has tireless robots that never take coffee breaks.

Pricing for an LX begins at $22,695, including $995 for delivery. My 200S started at $30,365, but with a slew of great options, including navigation and a killer 506-watt Alpine audio system, totaled at $35,935.

Many may avoid the 200 because the old model was such an underachiever, but this new one is a lovely, fully-featured vehicle, and with its Alfa-Romeo derived platform, is a better driver. It’s surprisingly quiet inside. The sunvisor, when placed to the side, wouldn’t stay in place, but I had no other complaints. We’ll see if “most improved” can generate a sales success for this all-new model.


Ford Flex Takes Its Job Seriously | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 December 2015 19:25

120315aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Some folks call SUVs the station wagons of today. Commonly known as “crossovers” when they’re based on a car chassis (as most are these days), they’re great for hauling families and their possessions.

The Flex is in the middle of Ford’s vast array of crossovers. It’s neither the largest (Expedition) nor the smallest (Escape). It takes its station wagon job seriously — with three rows of seats, carlike styling (inside and out), and a utilitarian, squared-off shape.

My son and daughter-in-law recently chose to replace their aging Prius with a Flex. With two growing daughters, it made sense to them. They love it — but say the one downside is the fuel economy, which unsurprisingly, is half of what the Prius achieved.

The engine choices are one of two 3.5-liter V6s. The standard unit puts out 287 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque. However, the best one for moving this 4,828-lb. hauler is the EcoBoost engine, which bumps up the horsepower to 365 and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. The penalty for all that extra power is only one mile per gallon in the City and Overall ratings (Highway stays the same). That’s the magic of EcoBoost technology.

The EPA figures are 16 City, 23 Highway, and 18 Combined. My tester, in Bronze Fire Metallic Tint Clearcoat (a $395 option), earned 16.7 mpg while with me.

The Flex’s Smog rating, at 6, is a little above average, while the 4 for Greenhouse Gas is less “Eco” than you’d expect.

But this is a big car, with three rows of seats. My granddaughter likes to invite grandma back to the third row, and it sounds like it fits the child better than the adult. But 158.8 cubic feet of passenger space is a lot for any vehicle.

The Flex is actually assembled across the border, in Ontario, Canada. That’s nothing new for Ford, who builds cars all over the world. The Flex’s engines, however, are products of good old Ohio.

The Flex looks a little different from other large SUVs, mainly because it’s based on an old concept car. The deep grooves along the doors and tail are meant to convey, I think, ruggedness, but crossovers are less boxy and more flowing today. The Flex is a bit lower than a typical SUV, too. The larger Expedition stands 77.2 inches high, compared to 69.3 inches for the Flex. That makes entry and exit easier, especially for children.

You can haul practically anything in the Flex. The second row folds flat and the third row can be equipped with Power-Fold, which flips the seat around and folds it flat with the push of a button.

120315a2Being of the older Ford design school, Flex’s interior employs softly rounded shapes that look substantial and are not distracting. The 390-watt, 12-speaker Sony audio system is familiar to anyone with a home audio setup, with its large knob and tune/skip feature.

Ford’s Sync with My Ford Touch means you can configure two 4.2-inch screens in your instrument panel to see the information you care about most. The 8-inch center home screen provides a wealth of information for climate, audio, navigation and phone activities. Touch the outside corner of each quadrant to see a whole screen full of detail. It works surprisingly well once you’ve gotten used to it, and the steering-wheel-mounted controls are helpful, too.

My tester, as a Limited model, was top-of-the-line, with leather-wrapped heated memory seating, adjustable pedals, auto-dim rearview mirrors, and much more. Safety features abound, including blind-spot information, a rear-view camera, voice-activated navigation, and a reverse sensing system. One exciting new feature is inflatable safety belts in the second row seats. They reduce head, chest and neck injuries for the outboard passengers, kind of like mini airbags.

With the EcoBoost engine, all-wheel drive comes standard (it’s optional with the standard engine). It uses its computer intelligence to monitor and even predict traction issues, distributing torque automatically to the different wheels to keep you and your family secure.

Pricing depends on model and equipment. Choose from the SE, the SEL or the Limited, like mine. The SE starts at a five-spot under $30,000. My Limited tester, though, came to $49,845, including $7,000 worth of options. These started with Equipment Group 303A, which adds adaptive cruise control and collision warning, along with lots of interior extras such as a heated steering wheel. Then, throw in some bonus goodies, including the multi-panel vista roof, trailer towing package, and silver two-tone roof paint.

Surely dealers love delivering a loaded Flex like this, and folks willing to pay for it will have a truly tricked-out cruiser.


Scion iM Looks to Light Up Brand | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 27 November 2015 15:00

112615aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Scion, Toyota’s youth brand, began life early in the last decade. The huge Japanese company was selling lots of cars, but had concerns that young, first-time buyers were opting for other brands.

The answer? Import a few quirky models from Japan under a new brand and change the buying experience. No annoying salesman when you walk in the door. Do research online. Show you’re cool by driving an inexpensive, offbeat model like the original xB, a rolling statement of independence from tradition.

It worked well for a while, but Toyota deprioritized Scion, leaving their hatchbacks alone after a 2008 set of replacements. They did bring in a more conventional coupe, the microscopic iQ, and a couple years ago, debuted a two-seater sports car co-developed with Subaru. But the mainstream Scions were really getting old. Now, the new iM and iA have arrived to save the day.

The iA is a sedan version of the Mazda2, and will be the subject of a separate story, but the iM is, well, a very slightly sportier Toyota Corolla. The design is contemporary, but hardly attention-getting. Based on the European Toyota Auris (I saw a bunch of them in London recently), it features the sharp-nosed styling of current Toyota models. A blacked-out grille, 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/45R17 tires, and substantial ground effect panels below the doors cry out “sporty” on the otherwise Euro family car body.

112615a2The interior is pretty much straight Corolla. The upright, blocky dash panel appears to be influenced by BMW, but on a budget, so surfaces are hardly plush, and the design feels conservative, despite an unexpected slice of white trim along the passenger side. The piano black trim is a step above ordinary. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good in your hands, and features white stitching, but the shift lever isn’t hide-covered to match.

There’s climate control instead of just plain air conditioning, and with an acoustic layer windshield, foam-type insulation and floor silencer sheets, the cabin keeps pretty quiet for a small car.

The iM gets a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 137 horsepower and 126 lb.-ft. of torque. For young environmental protection enthusiasts, the EPA numbers are good — 28 City, 37 Highway, and 32 Overall. I averaged 25.8 mpg. Green scores are a 5 for Smog and a nice 8 for Greenhouse Gas.

My Classic Silver Metallic example came with the 7-speed CVT automatic, which although it’s a continuously variable transmission, when you use the shift paddles it approximates real gears. There’s a Sport Mode, which alters the “shift” points and tightens up the electronic power steering. The six-speed manual would be a better choice for driver engagement.

Scion has always sold cars as “monospec,” which means you choose a model, color and transmission, and take delivery. Where the fun begins is when you start choosing from the wide range of dealer-installed accessories. Much as you buy the same iPhone as everyone else but put it in a custom case, or have your special coffee combination at Starbucks, with the iM you can add navigation, install body graphics, upgrade the cargo area, brighten up the interior lighting, install all-weather floor mats, and more.

Still want something special? Scion offers some of the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) performance goodies, such as an air intake system, sway bar and lowering springs.

The original Scion mission was to relate to younger buyers, and in a gesture to busy millennials, some Scion dealers have started offering Pure Process Plus. Now, you can research Scions on their website, find the car in dealer stock, apply for financing and secure a price — all online. That sounds like a smart idea.

The iM is not the cheapest Scion, but it’s certainly not expensive, either. Prices start at $18,460 for the manual model and $19,200 for the automatic, plus $795 for shipping. My tester added carpeted floormats, wheel locks and a rear bumper protector, bringing the grand total to $20,334. My first new car, a Toyota Tercel (pre-Scion entry-level subcompact car) came to $4,300 out the door, but no millennial was even born when that purchase took place. Twenty thousand is an affordable price in today’s economy.

There are a few things I’d like to have on my car, such as keyless entry and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. I wish the sunvisor slid out when it was on the side so I didn’t get the sun in my eyes.

The verdict? As a Toyota, it should prove rock-solid reliable, inexpensive to maintain, and hold its resale value. It’s a nice ride for $20K. But with lots of competition, the new iM comes off feeling a little warmed over. It may take Scion’s next car, a small crossover, to really get the fires lit for the brand.


Lincoln MKC Attracts New Buyers | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 23 November 2015 22:17


With the MKC, Lincoln continues its move toward targeting younger, more diverse customers. The vehicle also positions Lincoln to resonate with drivers in desirable markets on the East and West coasts.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Once a major player in the American luxury car market, Ford’s Lincoln division has seen its sales slide over the years. Revered for its large sedans, such as the iconic early-1960’s presidential limousines, the brand has steadily lost its customer base over time — perhaps by sheer attrition.

Lincoln has recently mounted an aggressive recovery program, and the MKC small crossover SUV is a prime player there. Based on Ford’s new Edge platform, but vastly different in design and features, the MKC surely is inspired by Lexus’ popular RX models.

The MKC is handsome, with a contemporary high shoulder line, sleek flow from winged grill to LED taillamps, and an interior that looks and feels truly premium. The transmission operates by pushing a vertical line of buttons on the dash center console, a nod to old times but also recognition that transmissions are all electronic now. The missing lever frees up space in the floor console, too.

111915a2The interior materials and fit-and-finish look and feel top-notch, although a trim piece for the sun visor fell off on my watch. The leather look and feel would suit a high-end chair in your living room. The illuminated lower dash edge creates a soft, welcoming ambiance when you drive at night. The detailing on the instrument panel is precise, with delicate details.

The MKC offers two engines that might surprise you, in a nearly two-ton vehicle — 2.0-liter and 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinders. Both are Ford’s EcoBoost engines, designed to provide the efficiency of a smaller engine with the power of a larger one. The standard 2.0-liter puts out 240 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque while the 2.3-liter bumps that to 285 and 305 respectively. My 2015 tester, with the 2.3-liter, posted EPA numbers of 18 City, 26 Highway, and 21 overall. I got 17.6 mpg in my test week—somewhat disappointing. EPA Green scores are 5 and 5 — right down the middle, but also disappointing. However, driving performance was just fine, with the car pulling along happily.

You can order the 2.0 liter models with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD); the 2.3 comes only with AWD. This is a fine safety feature, but doesn’t mean you should take the MKC out for any serious off-roading. It all works automatically, so you don’t have to think or worry about it.

Choose from the Premiere, Select or Reserve levels. These names represent rising rosters of equipment. If you really want the top-level Lincoln experience, though, opt for Black Label. My test MKC, with Black Label, came dressed in a lovely but shockingly expensive Chroma Flame Metallic PRM paint job ($1,750). It also had other options, including $1,140 for the 2.3-liter engine. By the time all was said and done, the sticker read $57,500. The cheapest way to MKC ownership is a 2.0-liter Premiere level car with front-wheel drive, at $34,890.

Black Label is worth examining at It sounds like a sincere attempt to offer a premium ownership experience, from special interior themes (Oasis, Center State, Indulgence, Modern Heritage, Thoroughbred and The Muse) to special offers at premium restaurants, a premium four-year warranty plan, a special one-to-one relationship with a dealer representative, and, of course, a larger price tag. Whether Black Label is marketing hype or a real differentiator will have to be discovered over time.

MKCs, as you’d expect, contain high-tech safety equipment that’s becoming common in the higher-level cars today, available in the Technology Package ($2,295). These include Forward Sensing, to warn you when you’re closing in quickly on another car or object. Adaptive cruise control uses this technology to keep you a consistent distance from the car ahead while you’re driving. A lane-keeping system holds you within the lines in case your attention wanders (please don’t text and drive). Blind spot monitoring helps prevent accidents.

The user interface technology inside is Ford/Lincoln’s tried and getting truer Sync. Configure the instrument panel the way you like, and connect your remote devices with Bluetooth. You’ll see information on the center screen for audio, climate, navigation and phone all at once (or with a full screen view for each), and much more.

Lincoln is proud of the MKC’s special wraparound liftgate, and it is pretty — and opens when you slide your foot under the rear bumper, emitting a “doodly doodly” warning sound. Flip down the rear seats for plenty of hauling capacity. However, rear seat legroom is at a premium, and that’s surprising in a car with so much riding on it (so to speak).

Lincoln is remaking itself, and the MKC should appeal to a different buyer. It’s a step in the right direction. Rebuilding a brand is challenging, but I think Lincoln is serious about doing it right.


Mitsubishi Raises Outlander’s Game | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 November 2015 18:58

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times110515a

The competition is brutal in the midsize crossover segment, and when you’re not the major player, you have to up your game. Well, that’s just what Mitsubishi has done with their Outlander.

The new corporate face is dubbed Dynamic Shield. Mitsubishi claims the style comes from the old, beloved Montero’s bumper side protection. Expect this more exuberant face to migrate to the other Mitsubishi vehicles, as well. For now, it spreads itself over what was a bland offering in 2014 when it arrived.

The new exterior updates also include the lower door panels, taillamps, wheels, mirrors and tailgate garnish. The interior gets a new steering wheel and seats, and simply feels better to be in than the old one. It’s a world of matte-black vinyl with piano-black control panels surrounded by silvery trim.

The real story is the more than 100 engineering changes you can’t see. These include giving the chassis and body more rigidity, a redesigned suspension and updated power steering. To keep things quiet, there’s additional sound insulation, including a new windshield, door seals, and engine compartment baffling. Even the six-speed automatic transmission gets a rework; my tester featured prominent paddle shifters for manual gear selection.

All of these changes make the new Outlander a much nicer car from end to end and top to bottom. You can order yours with either a 166-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 224-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. Torque ratings are 162 and 215 lb.-ft. respectively. My GT-S tester, in jaunty Rally Red, was a top-level model with the larger engine. With the V6, the Outlander hits 3,593 pounds, and the larger engine had plenty of grunt for the freeway commutes and in-town errands to which I subjected it. The base model, with the four-cylinder, weighs in at 275 pounds less, so there’s less mass to move, but I can’t report personally on how it felt from behind the wheel with the smaller powerplant.

The four-cylinder, besides costing less, saves gas. The V6’s numbers are 20 City, 27 Highway, 23 Combined, while the four earns 25, 31 and 27 — a significant improvement. I averaged around 20 miles per gallon. The Green numbers for the V6 are a noteworthy 7 for Smog and an average 5 for Greenhouse Gas.

The seats may be newly designed, but they are somewhat narrow and the lower cushion is short. This helps to accommodate smaller people, and I fit OK, but I’m not sure how a larger person might feel.

110515a2The driving experience, with Mitsubishi’s careful upgrades, has more of a premium feel than the 2014 version I tested, but you can also sense a rugged, mechanical platform underneath — a bit more like the old Montero, which was thoroughly a truck. While the surfaces inside are more premium to the eye, there’s still some ruggedness left, and this could actually be a selling point, since modern crossovers are little more than tall, spacious cars, built on unibody platforms.

My tester had all-wheel drive, known as S-AWC in Mitsubishi speak. You can push a button to choose from Normal, Eco, Snow and Lock, depending on the terrain and weather conditions you’re experiencing. To encourage ecological behavior, a leaf display gives you feedback on your driving. Looking at the steering wheel itself, I could also see a tiny reflection of my face in the top diamond of the chrome Mitsubishi logo on the center logo.

Complaints? For some reason, this car insisted on running the A/C cold, regardless of where I set it. The way it zeroed out the fuel economy gauge with each visit to the gas station kept me from measuring my accumulated miles per gallon.

There’s a third row of seats in the Outlander, but it’s tight back there. I struggled with getting the second row to fold — it wanted to slide instead — but once I figured it out, I ended up with a long, flat load floor.

Thoroughly modern, the latest Outlander features all of the electronic automotive safety technology of our time, including Forward Collision Mitigation, Lane Departure Warning, and the company’s own Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) safety cell body construction. There’s also Active Stability Control with Traction Control Logic, seven airbags, and the list goes on.

Pricing starts at just $23,845 for the Outlander ES with the four-cylinder engine, two-wheel drive, and continuously variable automatic. My top-level GT S-AWC tester, with the $3,350 Touring Package (includes navigation system and the aforementioned safety electronics) came to $35,195. Prices include shipping.

As a small player in the American market now, Mitsubishi really needs a hit, and the Outlander, with all its improvements, is now definitely competitive. That was the idea behind the big changes. Reassuringly, it’s a finalist in the Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards, too.


Pilot Lifts Honda to New Heights | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 October 2015 15:09


Virtually every aspect of the 2016 Honda Pilot has been thoroughly redesigned.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

All new for 2016, the Honda Pilot is the top dog in Honda’s three-vehicle team of crossover SUVs. It sheds the two-box chunkiness of the previous generation and wears the latest Honda look. Honda has taken about 300 pounds out, although it still weighs in at over two tons.

Since 2003, Honda has sold more than 1.4 million Pilots, so it’s important to get it right.

Choose from a range, beginning at the entry LX model up through the EX (and EX-L featuring leather inside), and to the desirable Touring model. For 2016, there’s a new Elite premium level, which is the one Honda lent me for a week.

Honda has added flowing lines, chrome trim, and extra design filigree to all of its cars, especially at the front and rear ends. The façade on this Pilot looks right at home in a Honda family picture.

102215a2Inside is where the differences really show up in the new Pilot. The attention to detail and willingness to spend a little extra pays off in a car that feels dangerously close to competing with Honda’s own upscale Acura division.

The knobless audio system sits high on the center console in the middle of a contemporary matte-black panel with a silvery outline. And the transmission is a slick strip of buttons — no lever — and there’s a classy roll-top center console bin that’s big enough to swallow up a purse or full-size iPad.

Honda’s dual screen design is nicely integrated. You can enjoy interacting with a colorful and amusing console. One sour note: the flat electronic instrument panel washes out in certain sunlight conditions.

At night, cleverly hidden lamps illuminate the door handles and armrests, creating a suave ambiance. During the day, the enormous panoramic sunroof brightens the interior to the feeling of a back yard sunroom.

There is lots and lots of room inside the new Pilot, and it’s a bit easier now to climb into the third-row seats. And for cargo, there’s 16 cubic feet available even with all three rows of seats up. Fold the third row and you get 46 cubic feet; fold the second row and it grows to 82.1 cubic feet.

The standard configuration, with a second-row bench seat, carries 8 passengers. The luxurious Elite offers second-row captain’s chairs, which let third-row occupants enter between the seats but cut the passenger limit to 7. There’s an entertainment center for the rear passengers for long trips, and Honda has equipped the Pilot with up to five USB ports, so you can use and charge your iPad or game system while on the go.

Every Pilot gets a new Earth Dreams 3.5-liter V6 engine. It generates 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. Depending on the model, you get either a six- or a nine-speed automatic transmission. The benefit of the nine-speed is a wider range of gear ratios including overdrive in 6th through 9th gears for freeway efficiency.

You can get all-wheel drive with the Pilot, as my Obsidian Blue Pearl tester had. It’s meant for greater safety on the road rather than for any adventurous outings. The Intelligent Variable Torque Management system distributes torque not only front to rear but side to side, like Nissan’s SH-AWD system.

There’s also a button on the center console for Intelligent Traction Management. Pick from Snow, Mud and Sand, or Normal settings in all-wheel-drive cars, just Normal or Snow in front-wheel-drive units. These settings change the accelerator drive-by-wire settings, the transmission shift program, and the Vehicle Stability Assist and torque distribution systems.

The V6 will also turn off three cylinders for greater fuel efficiency when on an easy, level surface. The bottom line is ratings of 19 City, 26 Highway, and 22 Combined for the all-wheel-drive models, and one mile per gallon better for two-wheel-drive models. I averaged 19.2 mpg. EPA Green Vehicle scores are a mid-pack 5 for both Smog and Greenhouse Gas.

The Honda Sensing technology suite brings together safety features like a multiple-view rear camera with blind-spot monitoring and Honda’s wonderful Lane Watch system, which gives you a view of what’s on your right side in the center display screen whenever you activate your right turn signal. There’s also Collision Mitigation Braking to help you avoid running into the car ahead, Lane Departure Warning to keep you between the lines, and Adaptive Cruise Control to let you follow a car at a preset distance (it accelerates and brakes for you).

New this year is Road Departure Mitigation and a Rear Cross Traffic Monitor.

Pricing varies tremendously depending on model and equipment. My top-of-the-line Elite came to $48,180, but you can pick up the two-wheel-drive LX model for $30,875.

The new Pilot is all dressed up and ready for action.


Hyundai Sings Sonata’s Praises | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 October 2015 14:27


Visual enhancements to the Hyundai Sonata Limited model include a more aggressively styled front bumper from the Sport model with a 3-bar grille and a new 17-inch alloy wheel design.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

There was a time, years ago, when Hyundais were boring and derivative. Today, though, they’re not only distinctive, but are competitive for fuel efficiency, too.

The 2015 Hyundai Sonata large sedan offers two ways to make your drive less thirsty. Let’s talk about the Eco and Hybrid models.

The Eco model uses the easiest method to reduce consumption. In place of the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder base engine or the 2.0-liter turbo from the regular Sonatas, the Eco drops in a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine. It’s the opposite of the old big-engine, small-car method that was used to create the 1960’s muscle cars, like the Pontiac GTO. You might call this a “brain car,” because using a smaller engine, with a still generous 178 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, helps to meet a very different goal from that of folks in the ’60s.

The Eco model earns EPA numbers of 28 City, 38 Highway, and 32 Combined. I got 29.9 mpg during the weeklong test of my Symphony Silver sample. That’s better than most cars I’ve tested, including some much smaller ones. EPA Green numbers are 5 for Smog and a nice 8 for Greenhouse Gas.

You can do even better with the Hybrid Sonata. Like other hybrid cars, such as the poster-child Toyota Prius, it teams up a gasoline engine with an electric motor to really cut down on the carbon output. My Pewter Gray Metallic tester earned EPA numbers of 39 City, 43 Highway, and 41 Combined. I averaged 36.0 mpg. Green numbers are surprisingly ordinary for Smog — a 5 — but a fine 9 on the Greenhouse Gas score.

Compare both of these to the already good numbers the 2.4-liter base engine earns: 25 City, 37 Highway, and 29 Combined.

No matter which Sonata you drive, you’ll enjoy a sleek, spacious, quiet car. The Hybrid is silent when you’re cruising in pure electric mode. You can do that, if you’re careful with the right pedal, at up to freeway speeds, depending on driving conditions.

The newest Sonata goes for handsome rather than bold, which was the hallmark of the previous generation. That car helped kick-start the idea that the Sonata is something more than a bargain midsize offering. The lines that used to dip and curl are now straightened, and the grille is more angular. But from end to end, inside and out, it’s improved.

100815a2The obvious quality of construction and materials in the interior is pleasing, too. The simple two-circle instrument panel leaves room for information in the center and a wide, flat center panel features a line of control buttons. This overall reduction of “swirl” from the previous generation seems a little plain at first, but it’s easy on the eye, and has greater dignity. The artificial wood in the Eco wasn’t very convincing, and there was one assembly flaw in the lower door panel that caught my wife’s ankle.

My Hybrid tester had the SoundHound app on the audio system. Press it and it can tell you the name and artist for a song that’s playing. When I tested it, it got the right song title, but wrong artist! I guess it can’t tell Van Morrison from Bob Dylan.

The Hybrid also featured a simple display in the center of the instrument panel to monitor where the energy was coming from and going. It’s easy to stay on top of your consumption while keeping your eyes straight ahead. Part of driving a hybrid efficiently is paying attention to this electricity/gasoline flow.

As usual, there’s a gauge in the Hybrid Sonata to monitor when you’re charging the battery or using it to power the car. The industry trend is towards using a needle gauge, so you can see the shift from one to the other, much like you’d use a tachometer in racing. It’s located in the tach position, and is part of responsible motoring.

The Hybrid also offers a panel that breaks down your driving by “Driving Style.” It compiles percentages for Economical, Normal and Aggressive. My scores were 11, 70 and 19 percent respectively. I assume that the pejorative “Aggressive” was applied to times when I had to step on it to go uphill or accelerate onto the freeway.

You also can set the Drive Mode to Normal, Eco or Sport, which adjusts the shift points of the transmission and the responsiveness of the accelerator, among other things. I drove mostly in Normal, which may be why I got a mostly Normal rating for my driving style.

The Eco, with the worthwhile $4,100 Tech Package, came to $28,310, including shipping. The Hybrid, with the $4,500 Ultimate Package, hit $35,765. The base Sonata sedan starts at just $21,750. You do pay more to get that extra efficiency.




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