Hyundai Updates Elegant Genesis PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:50


The 2015 Hyundai Genesis expresses a truly modern design through distinctive exterior styling with a sleek, upscale appearance.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Genesis is part of Hyundai’s sport/luxury line-up, which also includes the larger Equus. You can choose from a sedan and a coupe, but the four-door is a more substantial and expensive car than the two-door. It occupies that place where cars transcend the level of nice and well equipped to become showcases for a brand’s technology and style.

The 2015 model debuts the second-generation Genesis. It proudly wears Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design scheme. The first generation missed Fluidic Sculpture 1.0 — that watershed moment in Hyundai history arrived to great acclaim on the mainstream midsize Sonata, and quickly filtered down to the compact Elantra and subcompact Accent, as well as over to Hyundai’s stable of crossovers.

Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 actually retreats slightly from the remarkable swirling exuberance of Version 1.0, and the Genesis, sitting above the Sonata, gets a very elegant treatment. Up front, the shield grille cuts through the air with a confident edge. The lines along the sides are straighter now, and the taillamps are more natural outgrowths of that flow rather than dipping and rising. It’s as if the stylists backed off a little to catch their breath, and the effect is calmer all around, and quite pleasant to look at from any angle.

052115a2Inside, Hyundai has also applied this careful consideration, and fixed everything that needed it and upgraded every surface. The wood they use features texture and a matte finish that doesn’t glare in your eyes when the sun is setting in your back window. Like the body, the dash and doors are a little more restrained, but the attention to detail is on full display throughout the cabin.

A square analog clock sits, like a refugee from Tiffany’s, at dash center. There’s a sturdy rectangular console between the seats with a split-top bin. The console implies solidity and strength and matches the doors, which are proud palettes of every material in the car. Starting at the top, you have dark pebbled vinyl. Below are wood and satin metallic trim. Then, you see tan plastic and leather as a background for black buttons with silvery lower edges. Below that, the bottom quarter of the door is dressed in a rich charcoal.

My Casablanca White test car came with Hyundai’s 3.8-liter V6; there’s a 5-liter V8 available, too. The V6 puts out 311 horsepower and 293 lb.-ft. of torque through the same eight-speed automatic the V8 uses, with slightly different ratios. Although it’s smaller than the V8, which I drove last year, the V6 seems more than capable of moving the 4,138-pound sedan down the road. The V8 model weighs in at 4,541 pounds, but boasts 420 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. Don’t these sound like Corvette numbers?

The EPA gives the V6 Genesis numbers of 18 City, 29 Highway, and 22 Overall. I averaged 20.2 mpg. The Green scores are 5 for both Smog and Greenhouse Gas.

The Genesis has everything you could possibly want for your amusement and safety, but you can add the Signature, Tech, and Ultimate packages. The Signature package includes an enormous sunroof, ventilated front seats with memory, a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, and a power rear sunshade (with manual ones on the sides) for comfort. For safety, there are HID headlamps with autodimming and blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert.

The Tech package supercharges the seats, with multiple adjustments and upgraded leather. It also adds numerous safety features, such as Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist (it gently pushes you back into line!). Smart Cruise Control keeps a preset distance between you and the car ahead, and brakes the car when the one ahead slows. The haptic steering wheel vibrates to warn you of an impending crash while the seatbelts tighten up to hold you in place. The electronic parking brake’s automatic hold keeps the car in place until you touch the accelerator to release it. There’s parking assist front and rear, so you don’t damage your beautiful new bumpers.

The Ultimate package adds wood and aluminum trim, a jet-fighter-style heads-up display, a fully-equipped navigation system, and the sensational Lexicon 17-speaker audio system. There’s even a CO2 sensor, not for the environment, but to make sure the driver is properly oxygenated for alert driving.

There’s more to say about this car’s numerous technical virtues, but no more room here to do it. It’s worth a visit to to learn more.

Pricing for the V6 models starts at $38,950 for the rear-wheel drive version and $41,450 for all-wheel drive. Just for comparison, the V8 starts at $52,450. With the aforementioned packages, my V6 tester came to $49,950.

With its stunning new looks, plentiful power, good fuel economy, and Hyundai’s great 10-year warranty, how can you lose?


Kia Strengthens a Solid Sorento PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:25

051415aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Sorento is Kia’s entry in the busy midsize crossover SUV market. With the 2016 model, the designers and engineers have given this people-and-cargo carrier a remarkable polish.

The biggest external changes for 2016 are in front, with a bolder take on Kia’s tiger nose grille, its shape befitting a Jaguar, and with a grille texture that has a rich feel and look of the latest Mercedes-Benz offerings. The new face, shared with the next-generation Sedona minivan, wears the alert look of today’s cars. The headlamps have a bit more squint, and at the lower corners are prominent fog lamps in four trapezoidal ice cube sections.

The new Sorento rides on a 3.1-inch longer wheelbase, which provides more legroom and easier rear seat access inside while adding 1.5 cubic feet of additional cargo capacity. The longer wheelbase also gives the new SUV a more stable ride.

Choose from five levels, from the entry L through the LX, EX, SX and SX-Limited (SX-L). Kia offers three engines, starting with the base 2.4-liter inline four, (185 horsepower, 178 lb.-ft. of torque) in the L and LX. Or, step up to a 2.0-liter turbocharged four (240 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. of torque). At the top is the 3.3-liter V6 (290 horsepower, 252 lb.-ft. of torque). My Snow White Pearl test car was at the pinnacle of Sorentos — an SX-L with the V6 and optional All Wheel Drive (AWD).

Kia’s AWD system is completely automatic, sending power to the wheels with the most traction. It’s designed not for offroading but for greater safety when the road is wet or icy. The 4WD Lock Mode splits power evenly front and rear when you need it, and with AWD and the 3.3-liter V6, you can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

051415a2Kia has outdone itself with an interior remake that feels more like a luxury car than an SUV. Everything is interesting to look at, padded, and beautifully integrated. The leather on my test car’s seats was not only soft and beautiful, but for the ventilation feature, the perforations were configured in attractive diamonds, not just the usual series of dots. The leather-wrapped steering wheel in my top-level tester had the upper 1⁄4 in “wood,” a typical luxury feature that’s amusing during sharp turns, as the wheel changes textures in your hands.

The shapes flow gracefully from the dash onto the doors, and the plastic surfaces are soft to the touch. The instrument panel stays with clean, simple design, with what is becoming a humorous industry standard 160-mph speedometer.

I tested the car’s cargo capacity, as usual, by placing my upright bass in the back. With the 40/20/40 split second-row seats, I could leave 60 percent up, leaving room for two people in the second row plus the instrument. Normally, there’s only room for one. The third row flips down easily for a perfect flat surface. The rear hatch moves up and down electrically.

The new Sorento rides better than the old one — in fact, it felt better than many other crossovers I’ve tested. Kia increased the frame’s torsional rigidity by 14 percent, thanks to greater use of high-strength steel, laser welding, industrial strength adhesives, and other advances. Despite weighing in at nearly two tons in SX-L form, it never felt ponderous. Of course, with 290 horsepower available, it shoots into slots in traffic and loafs on uphill climbs.

The EPA fuel economy figures for the 3.3-liter V6 are 18 City, 26 Highway, and 21 overall. I averaged 17.4 mpg, but I only had the car for a few days. The two four-cylinder models have Overall numbers of 24 mpg for the 2.4-liter and 23 mpg for the 2.0-liter turbo, which is a bit better, but not as big a difference as you might expect. My V6-equipped tester earned a 4 in the Greenhouse Gas test, and a 5 for the Smog rating.

Kia offers a broad range of electronics for both safety and entertainment. An audio highlight is the Clari-Fy system, which rebuilds details that are lost in today’s digitally compressed music files. That’s important when you’re enjoying the optional 630-watt, 12-speaker Infinity system. Kia’s UVO eServices offers new features like Speed Alert, Curfew Alert and Geo-fencing. See Kia’s website for details.

Pricing starts at $25,795 for the Sorento L with the 2.4-liter 4, hitting $31,995 for the midlevel EX with the 2.0-liter turbo, and climbing up to $43,995 for the top-level SX-L with the V6 and AWD. All prices include shipping.

In two decades of sales in the U.S., Kia has grown from an entry-level econocar to a provider of a range of highly desirable models. With every new product, like the 2016 Sorento, the Korean brand climbs higher and higher in appeal and quality.


Honda Civic Si Sports Super Science PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:21


Honda uses a helical limited-slip differential in the 2015 Si, something normally found in race cars.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

For three decades, the Honda Civic Si has been the brand’s pocket rocket. It’s a small car with a bit more under the hood than garden variety Civics without the Si designation.

The first Si models boasted 90 horsepower — a 50-percent boost over ordinary Civics. I owned one from the first year, 1986. With its five-speed manual transmission and three valves per cylinder, my little white Si with blacked-out trim was more Boston Terrier than Pit Bull.

In 2015, the latest Si’s 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine cranks out 205 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. Honda wants you to remember that it builds racing engines, too, and lessons from that program find their way into the latest technology for everyone.

Its close-ratio, lightweight, manual transmission now has six gears. The first five ratios are great for performance driving, but the tall 6th quiets everything down and boosts efficiency on highway jaunts.

The Civic, now in its 9th generation, is a perennial quarter-million-a-year seller. The Si is the fun one, has grown to a compact from its subcompact roots, and now comes in coupe or sedan form.

While some Civics are economy leaders, the Si, with its larger engine and more sporting personality, still puts out respectable fuel economy numbers: 22 City, 31 Highway, 25 Combined. The most efficient Civic, with a 1.8-liter four and automatic, gets 30/39/33 respectively. Green scores for the Si are 6 for both Smog and Greenhouse Gas (versus 8 and 9 respectively for the 1.8-liter).

Honda uses a helical limited-slip differential in the Si, something normally found in race cars and other high-performance applications. It gives you more steering control and response when you’re accelerating and cornering under less-than-perfect road conditions.

The Civic is at the end of this design cycle, and is no longer fresh. Because there are a million copies of the current issue out there, the little Si touches, like handsome 18-inch alloy wheels and body kit, help it stand out, especially in my tester’s Rallye Red. As a sedan, though, stealth could be to your benefit when the cops are looking for speeders.

050715a2Inside, Honda dresses up the cabin with Si logos embroidered on the black and red sport seats and mounted at the base of the button-filled steering wheel. There’s faux carbon fiber trim, red stitching on the seats, and aluminum on the shift knob and pedals. The instrumentation and gauge layout looks a little dated and chunky, but there’s a working tachometer and the gauges glow a sporty red. The Sequential Rev-Limit Indicator display is an Si exclusive, with six shift lights to track power delivery throughout the rpm range.

To satisfy the mostly youthful clientele, electronics include a centrally located seven-inch display screen, HondaLink for connecting to your favorite music and apps, Bluetooth for accessing your phone, and even SMS text messaging available.

The Civic Si gets a notable feature that I first experienced in its big brother — the Accord. Honda LaneWatch uses a small camera mounted on the passenger-side outside mirror to show you, on that seven-inch screen, what’s to your right whenever you set your turn signal for a right turn. It gives you a much better view than what you’d get from the mirror itself. I wonder how many accidents have been prevented by this one little item.

The Si gets an upgraded suspension, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear, with stabilizer bars (21 mm in front, 20 mm in back). The steering is motion-adaptive electric and the right pedal is attached to the engine electronically (drive-by-wire). This move to high tech is efficient and lightweight, but the newer Si feels less direct than the old one (as well as I can remember). The new car also weighs 3,000 pounds, while the ’86 came in under a ton.

Pricing starts at $23,680 for the Coupe and $23,880 for the Sedan, and rises slightly with summer tires and a navigation system. Pick from a few extras if you want them, but the package itself is ready to run as-is.

There’s no argument that more power, a firmer suspension and a manual transmission add up to more amusement out on the road. The Civic is pleasant to drive normally and easy to push if you want to. I used my tester to commute and run errands, and got little time on the twisties, but it was rewarding when I got out of town.

There are mightier sports cars out there, but few have the basic baked-in goodness of the friendly and familiar Honda Civic, with that little extra kick you get from those two letters on the trunklid: Si.


Azera Nicely Rounds Out Hyundai Portfolio PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 30 April 2015 12:30


Offering even more features for 2015, the new Hyundai Azera now comes equipped with standard Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic alert and Lane Change Assist.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

When Hyundai arrived in the U.S. 30 years ago, they offered the little Excel sedan at the bottom of the market. Today, a broad portfolio of offerings ranges from the Accent at one end to the Mercedes-Benz-like Equus at the other. The Azera fills the space between the midsize Sonata sedan and the more upscale Genesis.

The premium midsize segment offers a little more luxury and room than mainstream models. The Azera features unique “fluidic sculpture” styling that’s a little more evocative than the Sonata. The grille is a bit more elaborate, and the taillamps feature more complexity in their lenses.

Inside, seating is more stylish, materials are a cut above, and more features come standard. Size wise, the Azera has a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase, is 2.6 inches longer and is actually .2 inch narrower than the Sonata. Interior volume is 123.3 cubic feet — just under an inch more than the Sonata. So what’s the biggest difference?

Look under the hood. While some midsizers offer inline 4 and V6 engines, Hyundai splits them, giving the Sonata only a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four (178 lb.-ft. of torque) and the Azera a 3.3-liter V6 with 293 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. That partially accounts for the 500-pound difference between the cars. The Azera jets quickly to freeway speeds with that extra energy.

Fuel economy numbers are par for the segment, at 19 City, 28 Highway, and 22 Combined. I averaged 25.5 mpg — a number that used to be associated with subcompact sedans.

Much of Hyundai’s marketing strategy involves comparing themselves (favorably) with the competition. Price originally was a big issue, but now, with equivalent quality and features, it’s more subtle. The Azera’s 3.3-liter engine is the smallest in its segment, but has the highest specific output, with 88.8 horsepower per liter, making it completely competitive. The green scores are 5 for both Greenhouse Gas and Smog — right in the middle for a car that’s in the middle, too.

043015a2While not exactly a luxury ride, the Azera comes standard with things like finely crafted leather seating, a huge panoramic tilt-and-slide sunroof, heating and cooling seats (with Mercedes-Benz-style controls on the doors), power rear window sunshade, manual side sunshades, touch screen audio and a navigation system.

There’s a wealth of electronic safety features, including nine airbags, blind-spot detection with Rear Cross-traffic Monitoring and Lane Change Assist. On the Limited, you get Lane Departure Warning, too, which warns you if you drift over the line without using a turn signal. There’s automatic headlight dimming (an old Cadillac mainstay), and Forward Collision Warning, which gives you a sound and a flashing alert if you’re closing in on another car or object without applying the brakes. It’s a godsend in commute traffic.

Any modern car must have a broad selection of electronics, and the Azera delivers SiriusXM radio and the Real-time SiriusXM premium features, too, like Travel Link, with weather, sports, stocks, movie times and more. You can use Pandora, Sound Hound and Eyes Free Siri from your phone, and, of course, there’s Bluetooth to hook up your phone or iPod. The audio system is an Infinity 550-watt Logic-7 Surround Sound system with 14 speakers.

The Azera rides firmly, but not harshly. The suspension, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent setup in the rear, uses Sachs Amplitude Selective Dampers, which, according to Hyundai, means it can be more carefully tuned for “optimal small bump comfort.” You feel the road a bit through the leather-wrapped steering wheel, but that’s a good thing, right? Luxury no longer means complete isolation — you expect this in a BMW. Hyundai knows the right recipe today.

The Azera adds a few updates for 2015 to its recently revised design. The instrument panel displays are freshly envisioned, with an eight-inch touch screen, and a new center stack borrows from Volvo, with a little storage behind it. The door sills are illuminated.

Choosing an Azera is simple. There is the well-equipped base model and the Limited, like my Diamond White Pearl test car. The Limited upgrades the wheels to 19-inchers, adds some safety systems, the panoramic sunroof, HID Xenon headlamps, LED front fog lights, the sunshades, and more.

Prices start at $34,895 for the base car and $39,095 for the Limited, including shipping charges.

Spending a week with an Azera makes you realize that the best Buicks may be built in Asan, Korea. The Azera wears its luxury well, with an energetic flow of interior shapes that’s appealing to the eye but not overwrought, a sense of spaciousness, and little touches that indicate that the designers and engineers have thought it all out carefully. Materials have a soft, matte appearance and do not look cheap. And there’s plenty of power, too.


Acura ILX Flexes Some Muscle PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 April 2015 15:22

042315aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Acura introduced the ILX compact sedan in 2012 as a 2013 model, to give young upwardly mobile shoppers something to discover in the Acura brand. Acura offered the Integra and RSX before, but had decided to eliminate lower-priced models in a move upward. Well, with the top luxury brands, notably BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Lexus, now fielding smaller, lighter and less-expensive models, it was time to bring back a gateway vehicle.

The 2016 ILX brings many upgrades and improvements to the baby Acura, and makes it a more desirable choice. The biggest enhancement is a switch to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine from a 2.0-liter one last year. That loads up an additional 51 horsepower and 40 lb.-ft. of torque (201 and 180 respectively). And now, that power upgrade runs through a new eight-speed dual-clutch Sequential Sport Shift automatic with a torque converter and paddle shifters. The manual transmission from the old car is gone, however, in case you wanted one. You’ll have to visit a Honda dealer for that.

To make it feel more luxurious inside, Acura added sound insulation and even threw in active noise-cancelling technology to filter out the undesirable sounds and keep in a little of the sporty car sound. Considering that the ILX is based on the Honda Civic platform, it is now a very different car, both from the Civic and from the old ILX.

Despite its high amusement factor, the new ILX delivers laudable gas mileage — 25 City, 36 Highway, 29 Combined. I got 24.1 mpg in my driving, however. Green numbers are 7 for Greenhouse Gas. Smog numbers weren’t available on the website at this writing, but Honda and Acura products are generally in the upper levels.

When you’re looking for an entry-luxury, sporty sedan, you have expectations of some style, and the new ILX addresses this with some subtle but important changes. The headlamps get the Jewel Eye look that was introduced recently on other Acura models. The grille, in a continuing move away from the edgy shovel look of a few years back, is more refined and three-dimensional, and the front fascia is sculpted more aggressively in the way cars are designed today. In back, the taillamps get high-tech LEDs and there’s a new rear spoiler and lower fascia panel. New 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels sparkle in the wheelwells; upper models get bumped to 18s.

Like nearly every car on the market, the ILX comes in multiple levels. All are sedans, with the same powertrain. The main grades are ILX, ILX Premium and ILX Tech Plus. You can also select the AcuraWatch safety and driver assist package as an option with the ILX, or it’s standard in the other levels.

AcuraWatch is typical of the ways Acura has always tried to use technology as a differentiator. It combines adaptive cruise control, the Lane Keeping Assist System, multi-view rear camera, Road Departure Mitigation, and the Collision Mitigation Braking System (including Forward Collision Warning). With the Tech Plus package, you also get Blind Spot Information and Cross Traffic Monitor. These electronic marvels are becoming more common, and help to avoid accidents by keeping you better informed.

The A-SPEC package is all about looks. Available on the upper models, it adds side sill garnishes, a trunk spoiler, front fog lights and 18-inch wheels on the outside. Inside, you get the Premium Black theme (black headliner, Lux Suede seat inserts), red instrument illumination, aluminum pedals and other upgrades.

042315a2Acuras feature double dash screens, so you can view, say, the navigation system in one and the audio selections in the other. My test ILX featured (I counted them) 15 different buttons on the steering wheel for cruise control, audio, phone, and the like. The fun part is feeling like you’re flying a plane, but the downside is having to look around to figure out where things are. If you owned and lived with the car for a while I’m sure it would become second nature.

The 3,137-pound ILX feels and looks a lot like its larger Acura brethren, but being based on a compact platform, it zips around with a taut, quick feel. To go with the upgraded engine, Acura retuned the suspension and upgraded the chassis. You just point it and go, with the turbo kicking in to thrust you forward. It stays level when you brake or accelerate, and in the turns it hugs the road.

My Graphite Luster Metallic ILX tester was the very top of the line, with everything, and priced out to $35,810. The basic ILX starts at $28,820.

With all of its fresh enhancements, the 2016 ILX puts Acura squarely in the game in the compact entry-luxury sports sedan market, which is having a renaissance right now.


VW e-Golf Was Worth the Wait PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:15

041615aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Volkswagen Golf has been sold around the world for 40 years. A mainstream model in Europe, it is less central to VW’s model mix in the U.S. However, with a major redesign for 2015 comes Volkswagen’s first all-electric car, the e-Golf, and it was worth the wait.

The new e-Golf is aimed right at pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf. There is no sacrifice in driving enjoyment or practicality in choosing the electric option. In fact, it boasts the same 95 cubic feet of capacity as the gas version, with its battery tucked away out of sight.

The e-Golf’s motor puts out 115 horsepower and 199 lb.-ft. of torque through a single-speed automatic transmission. Having just tested the sporty Golf GTI model a few weeks before, I could sense that this electric version still delivered the same fine Golf road feel and, at 3,391 pounds, didn’t feel sluggish. Although it didn’t rocket ahead like a GTI, at 10 seconds from zero to 60, the feel of electric-motor-driven acceleration is instant and exciting.

Naturally, the driving range of an all-electric vehicle is at the top of any driver’s mind. The e-Golf gets an official rating of 83 miles but, when I charged the car up, I saw a reading as high as 98 miles on the instrument panel gauge. How you drive, what kinds of roads you drive on, and how you program the car’s adjustable settings make some difference, but this car didn’t feel like it would leave you in the lurch.

To ease your range anxiety, VW provides a roadside assistance program. If you run out of charge within 100 miles of home, they will take your car to a charging station and then get you home via taxi or other transportation method on their dime.

To maximize your e-Golf’s efficiency, there are three driving profiles: Normal, Eco and Eco +. The latter two progressively lower the horsepower and top speed, change the accelerator action, and, in the case of the Eco + setting, turn off the climate control, to reduce energy consumption. You can also program the amount of regenerative braking to generate a small amount of juice in the normal setting or produce progressively more in two other settings.

041615a2VW provides the VW Car-Net app, so you can keep track of your charging, turn the climate control on or off remotely, and monitor performance data for your car. Part of owning an electric is the science project aspect, where you are thinking about what your car is doing rather than just sitting in it and going. It’s important and fun, too.

The VW Golf is all-new for 2015, but still looks familiar. It’s a two- or four-door hatchback, but also, this year, it takes on the wagon role from the Jetta. Numerous engines and trim levels are available, but you can tell the e-Golf by its blue accents.

VW sent the e-Golf to market as the loaded SEL Premium model. That means full climate control, heated seats, leather steering wheel and shift knob, alloy wheels, heated mirrors, and the like. Now, VW has just released the Limited Edition, which shaves $2,000 off the $35,445 base price by swapping out the alloy wheels for steel, LED headlamps for standard halogen, and cloth seats in place of leatherette. Federal and state tax rebates help mitigate some of that cost as well.

Charging is simple. However, using household 110/120 volt current, it could take you 20 hours to fill the battery from empty. A 220/240 volt charger, which you’d install at your house if you owned the car, can do it in less than 4 hours. The e-Golf comes with the SAE combined quick charge socket, so you can get an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes in a pinch.

It’s particularly quiet inside the e-Golf because when VW removed the vibration-causing gas engine, they went after the little sounds that could annoy you, which were suddenly exposed. The car emits a little sound at low speeds, so oblivious pedestrians are warned of your approach.

Part of owning an electric is the knowledge that you’re reducing your carbon footprint and helping the planet. In that spirit, VW has teamed up with 3Degrees, a renewable energy service provider, to offset the e-Golf’s greenhouse gas emissions from its production, distribution, and 36,000 miles of charging.

My Pacific Blue tester was a delight. Electric motoring is smooth and pleasant. With an 11-mile commute, I had plenty of charge left over at the end of the day. This would be an ideal commute vehicle, with its quiet, spacious interior and gasoline-free ways, but as with any other electric car (except a Tesla), you’ll need another car for long trips.


Enjoy Open-air Motoring in the Stylish A3 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 13:48


The 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet comes with the choice of two turbocharged engines, which can deliver the power of a larger engine while using less fuel.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

In the early days of motoring, cars didn’t come with tops. Like the horse-drawn wagons from which they evolved, they gave you an open-air experience, which was likely loud, dusty and smelly. By the time of mass production, cars like the Model T Ford offered some cloth-covered protection; thus was born the convertible.

Today, drop tops are a small but glamorous part of the market, and Audi offers more than one.

The A3 is the least expensive way to drive an Audi with a moving roof. While some cars opt for complex hard tops that fold like Transformers behind the rear seat, the A3’s cover is crafted of durable cloth. It also folds down — in about 18 seconds, at the push of a button — and when it’s stashed beneath its metal cover, 100 years are gone and you’re back in the early days of fresh-air transportation.

I drove the A3 sedan recently, and my Scuba Blue Metallic A3 Cabriolet tester shares much with the higher volume sedan offering. Other than possessing just two doors instead of four, its interior is the same — simple, uncluttered, and even a little retro.

The information screen, so often a part of the center dash on modern cars, is hidden, and rises up, like bread out of a toaster, when you start the car. You can press a button to hide it if you don’t want to spoil the softly rounded contours of the dash top. Otherwise, you access it with a dial and buttons situated on the center console as part of Audi’s MMI system.

040915a2While most Audis have become more exuberant in their styling, moving away from the Bauhaus aesthetic introduced with the TT years ago, the A3 hews to a simpler theme. I recently discovered a 1999 Audi brochure from an auto show I attended then. It’s remarkable how much more bright and sparkling interiors are today, with metallic accents and extra flourishes. The A3 is closer to that classic Audi design than its siblings.

The body wears Audi clothes, but this A3 is more the size of the late 1990s A4, which is just about perfect. Rear seat legroom isn’t abundant, but it’ll do. Trunk space is compromised with the folding top. In fact, you need to be sure the special folding section is opened before the automatic system will permit the top to move at all. You can still stash a suitcase or two, and with the top up, the trunk is big enough for a couple weeks worth of groceries.

The A3 Cabriolet comes with a choice of two turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder engines. The A3 sedan I recently tested had the 2.0-liter version, which puts out a healthy 220 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels, through Audi’s famous Quattro system. It offers only the six-speed S Tronic automatic. My drop-top tester came with the other option, a 1.8-liter four with 170 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque through the same six-speed, with different gear ratios, driving only the front wheels.

Frankly, the smaller engine in the Cabriolet seemed equally up to the task, while at 3,373 pounds, a nearly identical weight to the sedan with the larger engine, the convertible should have felt slower. Maybe the air rushing past above your head creates a greater sense of speed. The official numbers show a 7.4-second zero-to-sixty time for the Cabriolet with the 1.8-liter engine versus 5.8 seconds for the sedan with the 2.0-liter engine, so you surely would notice if you drove the cars back-to-back.

The fuel economy and green numbers for my topless tester were good. The EPA gives it 24 City, 35 Highway, and 28 Overall for mpg, and the car averaged 28.3 mpg over 42 hours and 1,302 miles (including my test and a few journalists ahead of me). The Green scores are 9 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas — better than average. It helps to have a smaller engine, and these Audi power plants are high tech all the way.

My tester had a few extras, including $550 for the deep blue paint, $2,600 for the MMI Navigation Plus package, and $2,550 to upgrade to Premium Plus. This latter package grew the alloy wheels an inch to 18s, heated the front seats and mirrors, gave the electronic key more features, and sprinkled aluminum accents throughout the cabin. By the time all was said and done, and transportation was included, the bill came to $42,225, from a base price of $35,600.

The A3 Cabriolet is a sweet proposition, and it has its work cut out for it, competing with fresh Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and other upscale entries.

Open-air motoring remains an enjoyable pastime, but don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses.


Baby Crossover Expands Chevy Lineup PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 12:19


With the utility of an SUV and agility of a compact car, the 2015 Chevrolet Trax is a city-smart vehicle ready for almost any adventure.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Trax gives Chevrolet a jump start into the coming wave of new little crossover SUVs. While new to American buyers, Buick has marketed a fancier version as the Encore for the last few years, and more than 180,000 Trax vehicles have already been sold in countries around the world.

Based on the successful Sonic subcompact, the little runabout offers the higher riding position and practicality of an SUV with nimble handling and laudable fuel economy. You’ll find up to 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the second-row seat folded, and 18.7 cubic feet if you leave it up. Real people fit in the back row. The front passenger seat folds flat, so you can carry long objects, such as a surfboard or a ladder.

Compared to the Encore, the Chevy version is scaled back on the luxuries, with the base LS front-wheel-drive model, like my Brilliant Blue Metallic test car, starting at a very reasonable $20,995, including delivery charges. The last Encore I drove was the top-level Premium, and came to $32,595; base Encores start at $25,915. Interestingly, the Buick tester was the same color as my Trax.

The Trax features the same engine as the Encore — a 138-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder with 148 lb.-ft. of torque. With its standard six-speed automatic, it doesn’t feel underpowered, although it is no high-performance machine. With electric power steering, it handles with a satisfying zest, though, and doesn’t feel too isolated. The Quiet Tuning from the Buick is not present, but that’s fine in a Chevy.

Fuel economy numbers are good — 26 City, 34 Highway, and 29 Overall. I achieved only 20.6 mpg, but I drove the car only in town. The Encore I tested got 24.2 mpg, a more realistic number.

040215a2The Trax LS interior is less flashy than the Buick’s, featuring a sturdy-looking gray-on-gray plastic that you’d expect in a Chevy. There are an amazing 15 storage compartments, starting with a dual glovebox, and running in pairs on the dash and doors. The sweeping twin-cowl interior design was introduced in the previous generation Malibu midsize sedan, recalling cars like the early Corvette, and is now a Chevrolet mainstay.

The instrument panel borrows some of the intimate motorcycle-style design of the Sonic sedan and hatchback. In a compact binnacle, you get a round blue tachometer gauge on the left and a tall digital speedometer in the middle, with useful information on the right, such as average fuel economy, distance to empty and compass direction. The chrome ring around the panel helps it stand out from the matte-finish gray around it.

The well proportioned steering wheel provides much of the feel of a leather-wrapped one, but you don’t get real leather until you step up to a higher level. It has controls for the audio system and the Bluetooth phone hookup.

Years ago, manufacturers offered stripped base models, but those days are long gone. The entry-level Trax LS comes with the MyLink Infotainment system, with its 7-inch diagonal touch screen for accessing things like smart phones and MP3 players. Or, use the USB port. You also get GM’s OnStar with 4G LTE, and there’s even a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, so you can easily hook up multiple devices in seconds. The Trax is the first car in its class to offer Siri Eyes Free for iPhone users. Does this sound like what millennial first-time buyers want and expect in their cars? Yep.

Step up from the LS to the LT and LTZ to get more. The mid-level LT adds extras such as roof rails and heated mirrors, but also opens the door to numerous options, which come standard on the top level LTZ. These include Rear Park Assist, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power seat adjustment and a power sunroof. Even if you order the top-level LTZ, the bill comes to $26,780, just above the base price of the Buick Encore, ensuring little price overlap between the GM mini crossovers.

Add all-wheel drive to any Trax model for $1,500. You lose two mpg City and 3 mpg Highway in the fuel economy numbers thanks to extra weight, but AWD makes the Trax a little more secure on and off the road. However, the Trax is not designed for serious adventuring.

With the Trax, Chevrolet now offers five models in its SUV/crossover portfolio, with the nine-passenger Suburban at the other end of the range. It gives GM’s worldwide volume brand a competitive entry against current cars like the Nissan Juke and Kia Soul, as well as upcoming contenders such as the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Fiat 500X. If you’ve enjoyed riding in a Chevy Equinox or Tahoe, you’ll feel right at home in the Trax — in miniature.


Volkswagen Updates Classic Golf GTI PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 14:18

032615aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The GTI is the sporty version of Volkswagen’s longtime mainstream model, the Golf. The original “hot hatch,” with a compact platform with lots of carrying space, arrived in the U.S. in 1983, and, through the years, has been the choice for drivers who wanted a little more interaction and involvement with their Golf.

This latest GTI, based on the new, 7th-generation Golf, is true to the tradition. It’s just slightly larger in every dimension except height; it’s about an inch lower to the ground. The revised proportions, along with unique body additions, give the new GTI a more hunkered-down appearance.

The first Golf, which arrived in the mid 1970s, was a revolution in edgy design, so taking on more angles in 2015 redeems the design from the softening it has acquired over the years. Standard 18-inch alloy wheels keep the planted look going, too.

032615a2You can order your GTI as a two- or four-door hatchback. The entry-level S model comes well equipped, with a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed DSG automatic. Inside, there’s a new 5.8-inch touch screen infotainment system; SiriusXM Satellite Radio; a Media Device Interface for your electronic music and other gadgets; leather on the steering wheel, brake lever and shifter; and more. You even get plaid sport cloth on the seats — a cool nod to the original 1980s models.

The midrange SE adds a sunroof, keyless entry, rearview camera, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and rich-looking leather seats. It also includes VW’s 400-watt, eight-speaker Fender Premium Audio System, which sounds sharp and wears the iconic Fender logo. It’s like bringing your favorite guitar amp along.

The top GTI is the Autobahn, which comes only as a four-door, and provides a navigation system, 12-way adjustable driver’s seat, and full Climatronic automatic heat and air conditioning. The Performance Package, available on SE and Autobahn models, ups the ante with 10 more horsepower, limited-slip differential, and larger front and rear brakes.

The GTI’s engine is a 210-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. This fine powerplant produces 10 more horsepower and a remarkable 51 lb.-ft. more torque than its predecessor, all powering a car that starts in its most basic two-door, manual-transmission form at just 2,972 pounds.

Even better, fuel economy improves, too, to 25 City, 34 Highway (28 Combined). The old car was rated at 21 City, 31 Highway. Besides mechanical efficiency improvements, the car, despite being longer, wider and roomier inside, weighs less, thanks to more hot-formed, ultra-high-strength steel and careful manufacturing techniques.

The 2.0-liter engine earns excellent green credentials, despite its promise of vigorous motoring. My Tornado Red tester posted an excellent 9 for Smog and a 7 for Greenhouse Gas from the EPA.

If it’s 2015 there’s plenty of high tech in every car. The VW GTI gets the XDS+ Cross Differential System, which monitors slip in each wheel and applies braking automatically to wheels that retain grip to direct the car the way you intended. With the Performance package, you can opt for the DCC adaptive damping system, to improve the way the car performs by managing the details of the suspension individually.

The new Driving Mode Selection lets you choose from Normal, Sport and Individual. Normal and Sport have different amounts of steering and throttle feel; use Individual to set it the way you want it. With the automatic shifter, the car shifts more aggressively in Sport mode.

Despite all of these electronic marvels, the GTI’s real goodness is that it’s made for fun driving in its basic nature. The compact dimensions keep handling taut, while the hatchback proportions prevent claustrophobia, and let you use your car for all of your needs. Bring some friends along! Fold the back seats down and throw in your bicycle. You can raise the trunk floor by nearly four inches, so opt for more capacity or a flatter surface. The 52.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity is 15 percent larger than the last generation GTI.

The GTI remains affordable. The two-door S model with manual transmission starts at $25,605. My SE tester stickered at $28,215 with no extras. The Autobahn begins at $30,865. Plan on adding $600 for the convenience of the four-door S or SE version. All prices include delivery.

The new Golf comes in several flavors, including the regular Golf, the brand-new Golf SportWagen, extra-potent Golf R, and the eGolf electric variant. The GTI is the one for affordable performance. The new Golf is widely awarded: The entire lineup won the Motor Trend “Car of the Year,” the Golf and GTI made Car and Driver’s “10-Best List,” the GTI was singled out by Automobile magazine as a “2015 All Star,” and Autoweek named the GTI a “Best of the Best” winner. That’s some serious consensus, and I agree with them.


Volvo S60 Features Fuel-saving Functions PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:15


The front end of the 2015 Volvo S60 was redesigned last year, sporting all-new exterior panels, including a new hood, front fenders and fascia.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Volvo is a Swedish brand, now owned by a Chinese corporation, whose origins go back 100 years, to when the company was founded as a subsidiary of a ball bearing manufacturer. The official founding date, however, is April 14, 1927, when Volvo built its first car in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Much of Volvo’s history placed substance over style, and stressed safety and durability to weather Sweden’s harsh climate. At about the turn of the 21st century, Volvos began receiving attractive, modern styling, so instead of looking like boxes, they blended in more with current design trends.

Volvos today present an interesting alternative to German, Japanese and Korean luxury products.

The S60’s front end was restyled last year, and wears a wide grille with the Ironmark (or male) symbol on a diagonal chrome sash across it. The block letters, V-O-L-V-O, march proudly across its carefully carved trunk lid.

031915a2The interior offers the expected level of comfort, convenience and beauty, in a spare, Volvo way. There’s the flowing center console, introduced a number of years ago, that provides storage behind it and reduces the sense of bulk. The gauges are clean and gleam like fine jewelry. The climate control knobs are arranged on a plain, flat panel, two on each side of the center control area, surrounding Volvo’s charming visual representation of a human to indicate where the air is flowing. Satin silver accents dress up the cabin, giving a heightened sense of plushness.

My tester’s center speedometer was entertaining, with no numbers on it, adding the necessary digits as needed. It pops open and splits out the auxiliary gauges in an amusing graphic at startup.

The S60 sedan offers multiple engines. Two new Drive-E engines employ turbocharging and supercharging to extract strong performance from just 2.0 liters of displacement. The T5 models get the turbo, with 240 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Step up to the T6 Drive-E, like my Bright Silver Metallic test car, and you’ll enjoy 302 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. by adding a supercharger.

Drive-E includes the new ECO+ fuel-saving technology, which optimizes shift points, engine control and throttle response, for a gain of up to five percent in fuel economy. ECO+ has a stop/start function that turns the engine off when you stop at a stop sign or traffic light. ECO-coast lets the car coast, disconnecting the engine when you take your foot off the accelerator. ECO-climate disconnects the air conditioning compressor to save energy, too.

The T5 AWD (all-wheel-drive) model uses a 2.5-liter turbo five-cylinder engine to get 250 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. Its Haldex AWD system supplies traction when you need it, sending power to the wheels with the best grip.

For the ultimate S60 power, the T6 R-Design comes with Volvo’s turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, with 325 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque. This powerhouse also has a standard Sport Chassis to help it compete with BMW and other sport sedan offerings.

The Drive-E engines use a new Geartronic eight-speed automatic, with paddle shifters on the steering column. This is the sportiest way to shift automatically these days. As in a race car, you can select a gear instantly, or let the car’s computer do the work for you.

Fuel economy numbers for the T6 Drive-E are 24 City, 35 Highway, and 28 Combined. In exclusively in-town driving, I averaged 25.5 mpg.

A tradition of safety goes way back in Volvo’s history. The company introduced shoulder belts as standard equipment, and invented the three-point belt system used by everyone today. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the S60 its highest award, the new Safety Pick +. It gets a best-level 5 in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program, too.

Volvo’s program includes City Safety, which works at speeds of 31 mph or lower. It uses a closing velocity sensor to warn of an impending crash. It can set up the brakes or even use them to help avoid a rear-end crash.

The Volvo Sensus onboard information management system gives you in-car connectivity not only for entertainment but also for an on-screen owner’s manual, internet browser, and service booking. The Volvo On Call telematics system responds automatically to alert emergency service providers in case of an accident.

Pricing starts at $34,675 for the S60 T5 Drive-E. My S60 T6 Drive-E tester was $39,925. The top-level T6 AWD R-Design Platinum stickers at $47,875. All prices include destination charges.

With style, performance and safety, the Volvo S60 is a very appealing package. Its mission is to distinguish itself in a competitive entry-luxury marketplace — enough to attract not only traditional customers but new, younger buyers, who don’t have any memory of the safe, reliable boxes of the past.


Subaru Adds Luxury to Larger Legacy PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 15:08

030515aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Legacy has been Subaru’s midsize sedan offering for decades, and the redesigned 2015 model is the most competitive one ever. It brims with the practical, efficient, and unpretentious design and features that have made Subaru’s range of sedans, wagons and crossovers so successful over the years.

The largest Legacy ever, it’s marginally more spacious inside than the competition, which includes the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. All of these cars have grown over the years to become the roomy family sedans of today. At 104.6 cubic feet, the Legacy feels cavernous, especially with its horizontally themed design.

Despite being brand new, there’s a sense of tradition and solidity to its no-nonsense interior. There’s more padding, stitching here and there, and nicely rendered accents that make it the most luxurious feeling Legacy ever.

As usual, you can choose a four- or six-cylinder engine, both of the boxer variety. That means they are flat, with horizontally opposed pistons and are in neither an inline nor a V configuration, like other cars. This gives them a slightly different sound, but otherwise, you’ll never know or care.

Both engines use Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission. I noticed that Drive sometimes took a second to engage after I backed out of my driveway, but it was otherwise unobtrusive. Power goes to the front wheels, but the standard Active Torque Split Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system routes power to the rear wheels when it detects slippage, for extra safety and security. Every Subaru, except for the rear-wheel-drive BRZ sports car (co-developed with Toyota) comes with all-wheel drive standard.

The 2.5-liter four-cylinder, as in my Twilight Blue Metallic 2.5i test car, puts out 175 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque, which seems sufficient for a 3,455-pound vehicle. The 3.6R model dishes out 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. Drive both to see if you need the extra power, because the four-cylinder averages a significant 7 mpg better Combined fuel economy. The 2.5i rates 26 City, 36 Highway and 30 Combined per the EPA. I averaged 25.3 mpg. The 3.6R’s numbers are 20, 29 and 23 respectively.

The four-cylinder models come in plain 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, or 2.5i Limited. My tester was a 2.5i Premium model, with nice items like a 10-way power driver’s seat; dual-zone climate control; heated seats, mirrors and windshield de-icer; an upgraded audio system; air filtration; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; and fog lights.

030515a2The Limited model adds even more — in fact, it’s the fanciest Legacy ever. You get perforated leather seating with two-position driver’s seat memory, heated rear seats, rear air conditioning vents and a super Harman/kardon surround sound stereo system. The audio in my 2.5i Premium tester wasn’t bad either, although I found an odd quirk when I used the volume knob on the left, I sometimes bumped the smooth touch screen behind it and changed stations unintentionally.

As part of its overall upgrade for 2015, the Legacy gets better noise reduction and sound isolation. They added a new acoustic windshield, liquid-filled engine mounts, thicker panels in some locations, and more foam insulation and floor damping materials.

Subaru has always offered some things that no-one else thought to provide. There’s a PIN access (like an ATM) which lets you lock your keys in the car — intentionally — in cases where you want to, say, go out for a jog and not carry them along. And, as before, Subaru gives you its traditional hill holder, which keeps you from rolling back when stopped on a hill, and also Incline Start Assist.

New cars are filled with high-tech features for efficiency, enjoyment and safety. Subaru offers the EyeSight driver-assist system in Premium and Limited trims. It uses stereo camera technology to combine adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and vehicle lane departure warning systems. With EyeSight, you also get Steering-Responsive Fog Lights. When the headlamps are set to Auto and the fog lights are off, the car automatically switches on the left or right fog light when you’re turning at night, to illuminate the way.

With all of its content, the Legacy seems like a bargain, with pricing starting at $22,490 for the four-cylinder 2.5i model. The 2.5i Limited starts at $27,290, with the 3.6R Limited six-cylinder topping out at $30,390. All prices include delivery.

Subaru has had remarkable success, weathering the economic crisis better than other brands, and it continues to flourish today. Rather than dazzling car shoppers with flash and trendiness, Subaru does it with solid quality, stylish but not overwrought designs, comprehensive safety features, affordable pricing, and a consistent identity throughout its lineup. Built in Lafayette, Indiana, the new Legacy has traditional Japanese build quality (and engine/transmission), but a feel for American tastes and needs. Their advertising talks about love, and they are referring to long-term relationships, not infatuation.


Audi A3 Circles the Competition PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:49


The 2015 Audi A3 was recently named “2015 Best Upscale Small Car for the Money” by U.S. News Best Cars. The Best Cars for the Money awards are determined by combining quality and value data into a composite score.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The A3 is Audi’s entry-level car in America. Its challenge is to deliver the style, feel and performance of the popular A4, as well as the larger and more expensive sedans, in a competitive package.

The larger A4 is a perfect compact sedan, but as it grows, there is room under it. The A3 has been offered only as a five door wagon in the U.S., but the new one comes as a four-door sedan or a handsome cabriolet (convertible). Audis still look like Audis, but the details have evolved, with more folds, lines and sharp delineation of surfaces.

The new A3 is actually the size, more or less, of the original A4 from the late 1990s. The interior is a little more straightforward and linear than the latest Audis, which have the swirling drama of today’s computer-driven design.

Circles are everywhere, from the prominent vents on the dash to the four-circle logo in the steering wheel, the buttons, speaker grilles, and the various knobs and buttons.

Also circular is the illuminated MMI controller knob, which sits on the center console between the front seats. Use it to make selections on the dash screen, which rises out of the center dash like toast from a toaster when you start up the car.

There are four engines, including three turbo-charged gasoline and one TDI Diesel. The base car has a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. It puts out 170 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque. My Monsoon Gray Metallic tester, however, had the 2.0-liter turbo engine with Quattro all-wheel drive. That pushed horsepower and torque up to 220 and 258 respectively. The S3 puts out even more – 292 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft. I hope to spend time with one someday for another story.

The 1.8T delivers a 7.2 second 0-60 time; the 2.0T cuts it to 5.8 seconds, while the S3 drops to just 4.7 seconds. The TDI Diesel is slowest at 8.1 seconds, but delivers its benefits elsewhere.

Sadly, there’s no manual transmission option, at least in the U.S. I assume there isn’t enough demand for it, and it’s hard to fault Audi, whose sales have risen every month for years, for stocking their dealerships with what will sell.

My test car, using gasoline, rated 24 City, 33 Highway, and 27 combined; I averaged 23.6 mpg. Green numbers for the 2.0 turbo I tested run surprisingly good, at 9 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas. If fuel economy is your prime interest, the TDI Diesel claims EPA numbers of 31 City, 43 Highway and 36 Combined.

Performance is partly numbers and partly the visceral experience, and the A3 is long on the latter. It delivers more driving satisfaction than an ordinary car of its size. I drove it back-to-back with the worthy Lexus IS 250, and you can tell the German car from the Japanese one. In a world of ubiquitous technology, subtle differences are the ones that will motivate buyers.

021915a2Audis are renowned for having great looking and high-quality interiors. I found one misaligned edge by the driver’s side door’s speaker grille, but otherwise, even at this price point, the leather, trim and instrumentation were sharp. The fuel and temperature gauges were bands of light rather than needles, a modern but slightly budget-conscious choice.

The high tech really lives beneath the traditional surface of the instrument panel. The center screen has that level of complexity you expect from a modern luxury car, so best to do your learning in your driveway first. I found station selection to be a little tricky — Audi likes things that scroll — but there were the usual redundant steering wheel controls as well. The A3 gets illuminated strips on the doors, an amusing touch for evening driving, matched by the illuminated ring on the MMS controller. When you turn on the interior lighting, it’s a sharp, frosty blue-white, and the exposed bulb looks high tech.

The A3 may be the entry point, but it comes in three levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. My tester had the $8,450 Prestige package, with extra fancy 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, auto-dimming headlamps, navigation system, parking assistance, an upgraded Bang & Olufsen audio system, and more. This also includes some style upgrades, including the S line exterior, with extra bright moldings and trim. With the Sport Package as well, the front seats get an upgrade and you can shift the automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

Somehow, this car, which starts at $30,795, arrived at $43,345 when equipped the way mine was. Much of what makes the car so delightful are those extra features, so it would be worth checking out a “base” model to see if that would be enough for you.




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