Lexus IS 350 Stands Out from the Crowd | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:52

073015aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The IS is Lexus’ answer to the BMW 3 Series, along with other contenders in the compact luxury sports sedan field. It flaunts dramatic styling, with the official Lexus spindle grille up front. This is as dramatic and imposing as the 1958 Edsel’s vertical slit must have seemed, and it’s more stunning than beautiful. It juts out defiantly, and the rest of the car is hardly a shrinking violet either.

The side panels are sliced and worked like the clay models they used to use for auto designs — there’s even a line tracing along the lower body sides and right up into the sharply terminated taillamps. Someone was having a good time in the Lexus styling studios and their directive was surely, “No boring cars, please!”

All IS models have V6 engines. The IS 250, which I drove at the beginning of this year, comes with a solid 204-horsepower 2.5-liter mill. The IS 350, like my Ultra White test car, drops in the 306-horsepower 3.5-liter version, so it moves the same sized (but 132-pounds-heavier) car from zero to 60 mph more than two seconds faster (5.6 seconds).

The IS 250 and 350 come as rear-wheel-drive cars — like the 3 Series — and also offer all-wheel drive (AWD), which they call “all-weather drive.” This nomenclature helps you understand that it’s all for extra safety and not about going off road to your favorite campsite. The AWD system normally divides power equally between the front and rear, but can go as much as 30-70 when needed for better traction in bad weather.

When you select the brawnier IS 350 over the IS 250, you pay at the pump for it, but not as much as you might think. My IS 250 tester gave me 21.8 miles per gallon while the IS 350 delivered 18.8 mpg. That 3 mpg difference adds up over the years, but you’ll be having more fun for the entire length of the lease.

The IS 350 gets EPA Green Scores of 5 and 5 — decent for a relatively high performance car.

You can add the F Sport package for $3,740 to dress up your IS. Naturally, there’s all the leather covered stuff and electronic wizardry for entertainment and safety. The eight-inch display screen in my tester is controlled by the Remote Touch Interface (RTI) joystick on the console.

073015a2There’s a mind-boggling set of choices for entertainment and other options, especially if you order the Navigation system ($2,995), which comes with Mark Levinson super audio, with its 835 watts of power through 15 speakers.

2015 IS 350s have some nice little upgrades after the redone 2014s stretched the wheelbase three inches and delivered the bolder styling. One is the Siri Eyes Free, which leverages your phone’s brain to let you perform some functions hands-free as you’re driving. Other updates this year include gridlines in the rear-view backup monitor, and Lexus Enform Remote, which ties the already sophisticated electronics to a phone app (iPhone or Android), so you can do things like unlock the doors or start the climate control from your phone.

The IS comes with an alphabet soup of safety acronyms, such as ABS (anti-lock braking system), EBD (electronic brake distribution), TRAC (traction control), and VSC (vehicle stability control). It’s also equipped with electronic power steering, which lightens the car by removing the hydraulic steering pump from the engine, improves mileage a little too, and lets you choose how much or little power assist you’d like.

Then, there’s VGRS — Variable Gear Ratio Steering. Along with the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), VGRS lets you set up the IS 350 just the way you want it. We live in a world of mass production but endless customization. AVS gives you the choice, from a console-mounted dial, of selecting Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport +. You find the road and then select the appropriate setting.

On the way to a five-star (top) U.S. Government safety rating, other safety acronyms come into the picture, too, such as BSM (blind spot monitoring), LDA (lane departure alert), and much more. All of the electronic marvels of an IS 350 cannot be contained in one review.

My IS 350 test car, with the F Sport Package, Navigation/Audio upgrade, and a few other goodies, came to $48,725. My IS 250 tester from before, which looked much the same, totaled $40,870. You decide if the eight grand difference is worth it for the 2.1 seconds of speed and F Sport features.

The IS 350 is comfortable to ride in, fun to approach in the parking lot, and loads of fun to drive. It is not a BMW, but you could easily cross-shop it, and possibly choose it over the 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C Class, or other compact sport sedans.

CAPTION 1: The Lexus IS features a host of upgrades for 2015, including new LED fog lights and numerous cabin enhancements.

CAPTION 2: The combination of a longer wheelbase and a special front seat design increases rear seat legroom by 1.6 inches in the 2015 Lexus IS 350.

Chevy Builds ’em Big in Texas | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 28 July 2015 08:59


The lightweight aluminum hood and liftgate panels of the 2015 Chevrolet Suburban enhance efficiency by reducing  its overall mass.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Chevrolet has sold the capacious Suburban for 80 years now. Today, they still build them, in Arlington, Texas, conveniently located where these big SUVs are bestsellers.

For 2015, the Suburban wears a brand-new suit of clothes. The new look is more slab-sided than before, with subtleties and a high window line contributing to a monumental look. Inlaid doors (GM’s terminology) are supposed to aid aerodynamics and reduce cabin noise.

The 5.3-liter EcoTec3 V8 engine is more powerful, with 355 horsepower and 383 lb.-ft. of torque pulling up to 5,896 pounds when you opt for four-wheel drive. This drivetrain earns EPA numbers of 15 City, 22 Highway and 18 overall. This reflects a nearly 10-percent improvement in the highway number.

This could be a result of a neat trick. The V8 engine turns into a V4 with cylinder shutoff when the car doesn’t need all eight. You can’t tell except by a little instrument panel graphic. Every little bit helps on those long, flat Texas interstates, for sure. I averaged 16.3 mpg in suburban (appropriately) and urban driving.

The EPA’s Green scores are 6 for Smog and 4 for Greenhouse Gas — average numbers for a larger-than-average ride.

072315a2GM interiors have enjoyed an upgrade in recent years. Compared to Chevy interiors of yore, plastics look and feel better, seams match, and aesthetics are way up. As in the new Impala, the center dash panel rises to provide a neat little cubby. You get the right mixture of matte plastics and metallic accents, and, of course, stitching. The center console bin is unbelievably roomy. It almost serves as a trunk for secure storage.

Besides all-new looks inside and out, 2015 brings more electrical and electronic marvels:  wireless phone charging (with a panel on top of the aforementioned cargo bin), a hands-free liftgate, updated MyLink system with Text Message Alerts and Siri Eyes Free, and a standard built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.

The Suburban is the largest vehicle I’ve driven in 23 years of testing, with the exception of the humungous Hummer H1 I tested in the mid 2000s (like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s). Driving it is not difficult, thanks to a comfortable cabin with easy-to-use and reach controls, but you really have to watch where you’re going. You do get a bird’s-eye view over everything except for the semi trucks out on the highway.

The Suburban is not an ideal car for the city. I had to drive into downtown San Francisco one day and was relieved that the car even fit into the underground parking garage. But, they charged me an extra $20 for being oversized!

That massive size, however, is very handy for carrying lots of people and cargo. Both the second and third rows fold down and provide a giant 121.1 cubic feet of cargo space. And those people in the Suburban will all have plenty of room to stretch out. At 80.5 inches wide, the Suburban is not much smaller than my first studio apartment (made from a one-car garage).

With that much metal moving down the road, it’s good to be aware of what’s around you. My test vehicle, a top-level LTZ with four-wheel drive in Tungsten Metallic (gray), had the safety of the vibrating Safety Alert Seat (!) that warns the driver in a way he or she can’t ignore when approaching another vehicle at a speed the computer thinks is risky. There are also audio warnings — some of them mysterious. My tester once told me “Caution — toll booth.” Hmmm.

Other available safety devices include Adaptive Cruise Control, which keeps a set distance between you and the car in front and includes Crash Imminent Braking. You can also order the Side Blind Zone Alert, Lane Change Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning. You can see that the self-driving car is evolving out of the human-driven one right before your eyes. Chevy is proud of its segment-first front-seat center airbag, too.

The Suburban comes in three levels, typical for Chevy vehicles — LS, LT and LTZ. All ride on a long 130-inch wheelbase and stretch 224.4 inches. That’s just a few inches under 19 feet long. Loaded up like my LTZ, the base price is $66,785, and by the time you add in $1,195 for shipping and the Sun, Entertainment, Destination package and a few other items, my tester hit $71,930. The LS starts at $51,390.

This is not a vehicle I personally would ever need, but, as Don Jose says in the Dos Equis commercial, if I did, the Suburban would be right up there on the list. Despite its 16 miles per gallon fuel efficiency and parking lot premium pricing, when you fill it with eight people, it begins to be an efficient way to travel.


GX 460 Features Full-time Four-wheel Drive | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:36


The 2015 Lexus GX 460 easily performs family commuter duties during the week and can comfortably switch to more demanding 4x4 needs on the weekend.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Over the last two decades, the luxury SUV/crossover market has grown tremendously. Despite their large wheels, prominent fender bulges and towering proportions, most of these vehicles aren’t designed for any serious off-roading. With its traditional body-on-frame construction and full-featured four-wheel drive, the GX 460 is.

The GX 460, in regular or Luxury levels, recently received Lexus’ distinctive and polarizing spindle grille up front. It boasts bold styling along the sides and tail to match the luxury brand’s increasingly in-your-face look.

The 5,179-pound GX 460 carries a mighty 4.6-liter V8 under its prominent hood. It pushes out 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft. of torque, so you can tow up to 6,500 pounds. EPA fuel economy numbers are 15 City, 20 Highway, and 17 Combined. I averaged 15.6 mpg. EPA Green scores are 5 for Smog and 4 for Greenhouse Gas.

Standard full-time four-wheel drive with a Torsen limited slip differential keeps you safe on the highway, but you can also shift into low for slower going in rough country, and even lock the differential. Taking a $65,000 car into the dirt and rocks may not be everyone’s choice, but some folks do it with Range Rovers, and the GX 460 is happy to oblige.

Once you’ve climbed up into the tall cabin, driving the GX 460 is easy and quiet. The Adaptive Variable Suspension uses electronically controlled dampers to maintain calm by adjusting to varying road surfaces. Console switches let you choose the Normal, Comfort and Sport suspension settings, raise or lower the ride height, and choose the Low four-wheel-drive gear, as well. And with the rear air suspension, you’ll stay level when the car’s loaded up with your stuff or filled with six passengers plus the driver.

More complex is the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which uses hydraulic cylinders to vary the stabilizer bars. This helps limit body lean in tricky situations.

Presuming you’ll be tackling serious off-road adventures, the GX460 also provides numerous electronic assists. The Downhill Assist Control helps on the way down and the Hill-Start Assist on the way up. Then, there’s Active Traction Control, to distribute torque automatically, Vehicle Stability Control — a worthwhile feature on any car — and something called Crawl Control, which is a boon in sand, snow and mud.

Crawl Control automatically modulates the throttle and brake, making it much easier to drive in treacherous terrain. It also engages the front and rear differentials to reduce tire slippage and optimize chassis behavior.

If you’re not going off road, you won’t feel deprived. The interior electronics in the multi-media system are thoroughly up to date. You can configure the layout of the generous eight-inch center screen into one, two or three panels. So, for example, you can monitor what’s going on with your audio, navigation, and even the weather, at the same time.

The Lexus Enform App Suite system provides a wealth of features, including Bing internet searches, OpenTable restaurant reservations, and access to audio services such as Pandora and iHeartRadio from your connected phone. For 2015, Siri Eyes Free Mode arrives, too. You will never be bored driving a GX 460, but you could become a bit overstimulated if you’re not careful.

071615a2The posh interior shows extra thought. The padded dash and door surfaces look like they’re laid over the metallic parts, so the panels don’t meet flush. This adds dimension and a sense of drama. There’s plenty of handsome stitching everywhere, going with the latest style trends for automotive interiors. The heated mahogany and leather steering wheel is a nice place to lay your hands, as is the leather shift knob.

The GX 460 boasts three-row seating. Open the rear door (to the side, like the front door of your house, not up like a tailgate) and you can flip down the second- and third-row seats by pressing buttons. You can also raise the third-row seats back up electronically from there, but you’ll need to walk to the side to lift the second-row chairs again. With both rows down, you can load up to 65 cubic feet of cargo onto an expanse of level, carpeted space.

My test car, in Silver Lining Metallic paint, was a Luxury model with the Driver Support Package (which includes the sensational Mark Levinson 17-speaker audio system). It priced out at $65,980, including shipping. This car comes loaded before you add on special options, but this package does provide numerous additional safety features besides the enhanced entertainment. The “standard” GX 460 starts at $50,410.

Most SUV and crossover buyers don’t need this much capability, and Lexus has other options for them. But if you want to take your luxury into inhospitable places, the GX 460 is more than willing and able to do it comfortably and safely.


Subaru Revs Up Rotation with Sporty BRZ | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 July 2015 10:59


Powered by a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter BOXER engine, the Subaru BRZ marks a return to the fundamentals of sports car design, emphasizing low vehicle weight, an ultra-low center of gravity and precision steering.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

A few years ago, I never would have expected Subaru, longtime builders of sturdy four-wheel-drive wagons and sedans, to offer a real sports car. Heck, they practically invented the crossover vehicle, and have been respectable citizens since the 1970s in the U.S. But Subaru also markets the hot compact WRX, so they actually do know a lot about building a high-performance vehicle. The BRZ, which debuted a couple of years ago, offers low-slung, action-packed fun. It’s like a Mazda Miata with a hardtop.

I got to spend a week with a Crystal White Pearl example. While the BRZ normally arrives as a Premium or Limited model, mine was the special-for-2015 Series Blue limited edition. While all BRZs come with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine and good old-fashioned rear-wheel drive, the Blue Series cars get lots of goodies to dress them up.

Subaru is importing just 1,000 Series Blue BRZs from Japan to the United States, half in white like my tester and the other half in WR Blue Pearl. Special black 17-inch alloy wheels wear 215/45 R17 Summer-Performance tires. With only 2,764 pounds sitting on that rubber, acceleration is brisk and with an extremely low center of gravity, stability is superb.

You can pick from either a manual or automatic six-speed transmission with the garden-variety models, but the Series Blue comes only with a manual, and I’m very happy about that. When you’re competing with a Miata you’d better have a good shifter, and Subaru came through. The satisfying feeling of metal working through the gears with short throws is delightful. Fifth gear is an exact 1.0 direct drive, while sixth is your freeway cruising gear. The engineers pipe a little engine sound into the cabin for that exciting sports car ambiance.

The 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, with 151 lb.-ft. of torque, earns fuel economy numbers of 22 City, 30 Highway, and 25 Overall with the manual. I averaged 27.4 mpg. Just to show how much smarter (and less prone to feelings of exhilaration) computers are, the electronically controlled automatic transmission boosts those numbers substantially to 25, 34 and 28 respectively. The EPA Green scores are 5 for Smog and 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

The BRZ is snug and low, just like it’s supposed to be, but the vestigial rear seats, which are good only for a sweater or a grocery bag or two, fold. So, I was able to schlep my music equipment to a Blues band gig in the little car, making it a much more practical ride than I had expected.

The real joy, though, with a car like this is the handling and performance. All BRZs receive revised suspension damping this year, but the Blue Series gets the lower body kit, including an underbody panel, to increase downforce. You may be looking out the BRZ’s side window at the wheels of the SUV next to you, but you can scoot out of there in a flash.

070215a2The Premium level comes well equipped, but the Limited adds a few extras, like automatic climate control and illuminated vanity mirrors. All models receive new, larger stainless-steel exhaust tips, a shark fin roof antenna, and simulated carbon-fiber dash panel.

The Series Blue Package, at $1,795 after a discount, brings in a leather- and alcantara-trimmed interior in blue and black, with a nice silver BRZ logo on the seats and mats. The steering wheel wears special black and blue leather, too. Outside, you can identify the special edition by its black painted alloy wheels with red brake calipers peeking through and the STI markings, and front and side lower body spoilers.

It’s good to know that the BRZ, as a small car, is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, thanks in part to Subaru’s Ring-shaped Reinforcement Frame safety structure.

The BRZ isn’t a family car — Subaru makes plenty of those — but neither is it an exotic. Prices start at just $26,490, including shipping, for the Premium model. The Limited begins at $28,490. My Series Blue tester topped out at $30,285.

Subaru supplies a virtually identical vehicle to Toyota, which they market as the Scion FR-S. Other than a different front clip and badging variations, there’s not much difference, but Subaru did the lion’s share of the design and development, so getting a BRZ puts you closer to the source.

Subaru has been on a roll over the last several years, and was about the only brand to improve their sales performance during the Great Recession. They offer value and quality, and now, with the BRZ, some more performance and sex appeal, too. The little sports car won’t sell in large quantities, but it’s an affordable halo car for the brand (although it’s the only Subaru without standard all-wheel drive).


Ford Builds F-150 Leaner, Lighter | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 29 June 2015 08:34

062515aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

Ford doesn’t change their F-150 very often, and why should they? It’s been America’s bestselling full-size pickup for 37 years, and for 32 of those years, the bestselling vehicle, period. But the 2015 version is all-new.

The biggest news is the aluminum body. A first for a pickup, this “high-strength, military-grade” aluminum alloy, along with a much greater use of high-strength steel in other areas, saves up to 700 pounds. That means Ford can now offer smaller, lighter EcoBoost engines to increase performance and fuel economy.

There are four engines on the menu for 2015, which all run through an automatic six-speed transmission. The base powerplant is a 3.5-liter V6, and there’s an EcoBoost version of it as well. The smallest and most efficient choice is the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6, which employs start/stop technology to quit when you’re sitting at a traffic light to save gas. And, you can still order the mighty 5.0-liter V8.

Why pick one engine over the other?

It depends what you want to do. The 2.7-liter V6 earns the best fuel economy and EPA Green numbers, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost offers the highest towing capacity, and the 5.0-liter V8 carries the biggest payload. The base 3.5-liter V6 has the lowest numbers for horsepower, torque, towing capacity and payload, but is still capable of performing the tasks most people buy a pickup to do. You can add four-wheel drive to any engine.

How many people do you need to carry? There are three configurations — Regular, SuperCab and SuperCrew. The Regular provides a single bench seat that holds three across. The SuperCab has a second row, but the back doors open only if the front doors are open, and are hinged at the rear. This is inconvenient in parking lots when you’re parked near another vehicle. The SuperCrew boasts four full doors.

How much stuff do you need to haul? All three configurations come with a 6.5-foot bed length, but the Regular and SuperCab also offer an 8-foot long bed; the SuperCrew will give you a 5.5-foot short bed, to help make turning and parking a bit easier.

You can buy a basic truck at the XL grade, and it’s up from there to the XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum, with ascending sets of standard equipment to match. The top two levels are quite posh — like taller luxury cars with more hauling capacity.

My test truck was a Ruby Red Metallic Tinted Clearcoat SuperCab with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine and four-wheel drive. Among its options, it had the XLT package, with a rear window defroster, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, and a rear-view camera. The XLT Chrome Appearance Package ($1,695) gave the truck a more upscale look. The spray-in bedliner ($475) was handsome and looked durable. My tester’s price rang up to $43,480.

A Regular-cab, two-wheel-drive XL with the base 3.5-liter engine will set you back $26,995, while the two-wheel-drive Platinum SuperCrew starts at an eye-opening $52,545. All prices shown include $1,195 shipping.

What’s it like to drive a big, classic Ford pickup? From the inside, it’s smooth and quiet, and you have a panoramic view of traffic, which looks like swarming pesky flies from your comfortable perch. The width imparts great spaciousness, and the handsome dash is bedecked in matte finishes, with chrome trim. The enormous center bin will hold your laptop, and probably a week’s worth of groceries, too.

062515a2The soft, padded steering wheel is covered with buttons for audio, phone and cruise control. The instrument panel features a 120-mph speedometer and a tachometer, and full set of auxiliary gauges with fat blue needles. I was surprised that my test truck lacked automatic climate control and an illuminated visor mirror.

The outside is typical big truck — tall, tough and angular, but with interesting little accents, including a small spoiler on the top of the tailgate. The grille is suitably massive, and is flanked by (unique for a truck) LED headlamps.

Downsides? I averaged just 17.8 miles per gallon, which means you’ll be filling the 23-gallon tank often. Maneuvering the truck in city traffic is challenging, but folks normally give you a wide berth when they see you coming.

If you need a pickup truck, you will surely find one that will do the job in the vast world of Ford F-150 pickups.


Lexus Carves a New NX Niche | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 23:35


Inspired by performance vehicles, the 2015 NX unites the engineering input of racers with the impeccable touch of Lexus luxury in a design that steals the show.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

After years of growing larger, the latest trend in the world of crossover SUVs is towards more compact models. So, to compete in this segment, Lexus introduces the brand-new NX below its popular RX model.

As the newest Lexus, the NX proudly wears the L-finesse styling exemplified by the GS and IS sedans from Toyota’s luxury brand. This means lots of visual excitement, from the spindle grille to the dramatic sculpted side panels to the slashed L-shaped taillamps. Lexus claims they went for the “carved from a solid piece of metal” look, and they have succeeded as much as any company has in that elusive goal.

The NX is smaller than the RX, but still weighs in at two tons. Propelling the car is either a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (a first for Lexus) in the NX 200t or a hybrid drivetrain that mates a 2.5-liter four to an electric motor in the NX 300h. You can add Lexus’ all-wheel drive system to either model. The NX 300h is the sixth member of the Lexus hybrid portfolio.

The 2.0-liter turbo four in my Eminent White NX 200t test car put out 235 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic. You can select Normal, ECO or Sport settings using a console dial. These let you be more environmentally conscious or fun loving, but the EPA numbers show the NX is no fuel sipper. Numbers for two-wheel-drive models are 22 City, 28 Highway, and 25 Overall. I averaged 21.3 mpg using the Normal setting most of the time. Green scores are 5 for Smog and 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

The hybrid powertrain in the NX 300h puts out a total of 194 total horsepower from engine and motor, and improves upon the gas version with EPA numbers of 35 City, 31 Highway, and 33 Overall. Green scores jump to 8 for both Smog and Greenhouse Gas.

The NX enters a field with some strong competition, including the German Audi A5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, as well as the Acura RDX. As these cars, particularly the Germans, have very specific styling and handling qualities, Lexus has gone all-out to stress its own look and feel. Besides the overt angularity of the body, the interior avoids subtlety as well. The complex dash juts out horizontally towards driver and passenger, and materials and surfaces are definitely upscale. Black and silver heighten the metallic feel. Everything feels strong and solid… and, in an aggressive way, elegant.

There are two high-tech items of note. The map lights are proximity sensitive, so when you move your hand close to one, it turns on (or off). Also, the center console contains a wireless phone charger — just set your compatible phone in there and it’ll fill up with no cable required.

061815a2There’s a lot more high tech in the rest of the car, too. The new Remote Touch Interface (RTI) controller replaces the joystick used in the RX and other models. Place your right wrist on the ergonomic pad and use your finger to select areas of the color display in the upper dash. It’s more like interacting with a smart phone, and with practice, lets you keep your eyes on the road, glancing slightly over at the screen rather than down at a button. The home page in my test car displayed a map, radio settings and fuel economy readings all at once, and you can use the RTI to pick from many other choices.

My tester arrived with the F SPORT package, which adds a bolder black mesh grille, metallic lower bumper molding and black mirrors on the outside, along with exclusive 18-inch wheels and F SPORT badging. Inside, quilted NuLuxe seats in Rioja Red, a special steering wheel, and brushed metallic gearshift spice up the look. The instrumentation and drilled aluminum pedals are inspired by the Lexus LFA supercar. There’s even Active Sound Control to pump in a sportier engine note in the otherwise extra quiet cabin.

Prices start at $35,405 for the 200t and $37,505 for the 200t F SPORT model. My tester contained several options, including the Navigation Package, electrochromatic (auto-dimming) exterior mirrors with blind-spot monitoring, Intuitive Parking Assist, and a power moonroof, bringing the grand total to $43,230. The NX 300h hybrid starts at $40,645 with front-wheel drive.

The Luxury Utility Vehicle (Lexus’ term) market is a busy place, so having another player in the segment is a good move for Lexus. Although it’s smaller than the RX, the NX boasts all of the luxury, performance, safety and style features it needs to be competitive. And with the hybrid powertrain, it’s a compelling green vehicle. The hyperactive design separates it from the others, but if the look works for you, go for it.

Toyota recently announced that it is conducting a safety recall of approximately 3,000 model year 2015 Lexus NX 200t vehicles. For more information, call Lexus Customer Service at 1-800-255-3987.

Toyota Updates an American Favorite | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 June 2015 14:56


The 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid is available in three grades: the value driven LE, the sporty SE and the premium XLE.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Toyota Camry, introduced in 1983, has developed into America’s favorite midsize car. So, when Toyota’s management updates it every several years, they are generally cautious. The 2015 Camry, though, is probably the most adventurous one ever.

Retaining only the roof (but disguising it by adding a black panel behind the rear side window), the body is otherwise all new, and is a celebration of curves and sporty accents. The nose takes on the prevailing Toyota motif of squinting lights and gaping mouths, and shows a surprisingly fierce expression for a mainstream sedan. Wheels are trending larger overall; the smallest, on the base LE, are 16-inchers, while my tester wore 17’s. Upper-level Camrys boast 18’s.

Many of the changes to the Camry are on the inside, too. The last generation car was beginning to feel a little cheap, but this new one upgrades to nicer looking plastic surfaces, satin chrome trim accents, and French stitching on the dash and seats (stitching is expected these days). The upgrade includes a more elaborately developed center console, which stretches out a bit from its moorings, creating an interesting depth to the interior.

061115a2Besides looking more posh, the interior is quieter than before. The new, stiffer body structure adds more spot welds to the doorframe, enabling revised suspension tuning and use of a unique stabilizer bar, absorber valve structure and control arm bushings. My SE tester rode pretty firm for a daily driving family car, which perhaps matched more closely the more aggressive styling. I’m guessing that the XLE model feels a bit softer.

Contributing to the near silence are revised window and door seals to keep out wind noise, and there is more sound abating material in the carpet. They even tweaked the outside mirrors for smoother airflow.

As usual, you can select from the entry-level LE and move up through the SE, XLE and XSE and accumulate more comfort and convenience features and performance. The Hybrid model comes in LE, XLE and SE versions.

Not every midsize car offers a V6 anymore, but the Camry still does. It’s a proven 3.5-liter with 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter four with 178 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s competitive for a 3,500-pound sedan these days.

My Blue Crush Metallic test car was the Hybrid model, which combines a 2.5-liter four with a 105 kW electric motor and a sealed nickel-metal hydride battery. Combined horsepower is 200, so performance falls somewhere between the four and the V6. The Hybrid will go from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds, relatively quick for a midsize sedan with no racing intentions.

The real payoff of selecting the Hybrid is the significantly higher fuel economy and reduced emissions. The EPA rates it at 40 City, 38 Highway, and 40 Combined. I averaged a lower, but still good 34.5 mpg. Green scores are 7 for Smog and 9 for Greenhouse Gas.

Of course, the Camry Hybrid can’t match Toyota’s iconic Prius for fuel economy and Green numbers, but it does come from the company that knows how to build hybrids. Performance is absolutely seamless, and you really don’t know while you’re driving which powerplant is doing the work. You can monitor it on the instrument panel or in the larger center console display, but the relevant thing for efficient motoring is to be aware of whether you’re charging or discharging the battery.

If you want to improve mileage, select the ECO mode, which optimizes throttle response and limits air conditioning output in favor of better fuel economy. You can also choose the EV mode for pure electric driving of up to about a mile and a half if you’re driving below 25 miles per hour. When I tried this, though, the instrument panel display told me I couldn’t do it. I expect it’s best for maneuvering in parking lots.

The Camry Hybrid in SE grade starts at $27,995, plus $825 for shipping. My tester also had the Entune Premium Audio with Navigation ($1,300), which sounded great in the deep quiet of the new Camry’s interior. It also came with a moonroof ($915), remote start ($499), and illuminated door sills ($299). These last two items would not be on my list of necessities. The bottom line was $32,133. The LE non-hybrid starts at $25,285, and the XLE tops out at $29,405. All prices include shipping.

So, America’s favorite midsize sedan boasts a new skin and upgraded accommodations, while still delivering the safety, entertainment, economy and reliability that folks expect. Camrys for U.S. consumption are built here, and much of the design work comes from the American studios, so despite its brand name, the Toyota Camry is now an American institution. The Hybrid is the Camry of the future.


Volkswagen Updates an Icon… Again | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 04 June 2015 17:43


Placing the original Beetle and the latest car next to one another, it’s clear that the lines of the rear sections are nearly identical, but the overall look is bolder and more dynamic.

By Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

In 1998, two decades after Volkswagen stopped selling Beetles in the U.S., the New Beetle arrived, based on the front-engine, water-cooled Golf. Its successor, now simply called the Beetle, debuted as a 2012 model.

The original Beetle was legendarily rugged, efficient, and inexpensive to buy and maintain. And, if something did break, you could fix the car yourself using John Muir’s “Compleat Idiot” book and some cheap parts. The latest Beetle, however, is a sophisticated, thoroughly modern machine that evokes the original car without sharing much of anything with it.

The Beetle is no longer VW’s price leader in the U.S.; the base Jetta sedan now has that honor. The least expensive Beetle, the 1.8T, comes with a 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 170 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. My 1964 Beetle boasted only 40 horsepower, just for comparison’s sake.

060415a2You can order the 1.8T with a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The automatic ekes out one extra mpg in the City fuel economy number -— 25. EPA Numbers are 25 City, 33 Highway, and 28 Combined. Green numbers are 7s for both Smog and Greenhouse Gas — better than average.

My Reflex Silver Metallic tester was a 1.8T with the automatic. It was fun to zip around in, although I hankered for the manual. Weighing in at just over a ton and a half with the automatic, this car is no longer a lightweight vehicle.

Step up to the R-Line model and you get a 2.0-liter engine, also turbocharged, that’s good for 210 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. This model gets a full six gears in its manual transmission, and upgrades the automatic to VW’s ingenious DSG (dual clutch) model. The gear changes in a DSG are instantaneous, which provides a race car kind of enjoyment.

The third Beetle choice is the 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel. With Diesel fuel cleaned up now, it’s no longer a penalty for the environment or your nose to own and fuel one of these cars. Despite producing just 150 horsepower, the turbodiesel churns out a whopping 236 lb.-ft. of torque and gets 31 City, 41 Highway fuel economy numbers.

The latest Beetle actually borrows more from the style and proportions of the original car than the 1998-2011 New Beetle, which was developed after the Concept 1 concept car. Its design theme was based on three arcs, so the windshield was huge, the dashboard was a tabletop and rear seat headroom was compromised. The newest Beetle has a more upright windshield, flatter roof, and from the back, looks strikingly similar to the legendary car.

060415a3Inside is where the fun really happens. The dash and door tops are shiny, hard plastic in the body color for most models, which means if it’s bright red or yellow outside, it is inside too. The secondary glovebox, with upward-opening door, takes over the retro role from the bud vase featured in the New Beetle.

When you start up, the Beetle’s dash information screen displays a friendly, “Welcome to Your Beetle.” One oddity is the dashtop tray, 3⁄4-inch deep with a rubber mat. It wouldn’t be safe to put something there while you’re driving, but on a long freeway cruise it might hold a snack or two (no candy bars, please).

The old Beetle was rugged but would not have fared well in a crash. The new one gets a five-star overall U.S. Government safety rating, including a full five stars for side crashes. That’s just one of many reasons why the new car is better than the old, despite any lingering nostalgia for four-speed manuals or prayer sessions during long, noisy uphill climbs. The new car is quiet in the way any modern VW should be, although I still detect some four-cylinder Beetle sound in that turbo engine.

Pricing starts at $21,515 for the 1.8T with manual transmission. You can upgrade with a sunroof or add the Sunroof, Sound and Navigation package — like my test car had. With the automatic, it stickered at $27,805. The R-Line starts about where the 1.8T leaves off — $27,370 with automatic — and goes up to $33,290 with the Sunroof, Sound and Navigation package. TDI models are priced close to the R-Line. All prices include shipping.

There’s a new limited-edition Classic version of the 1.8T this year, which features unique seat fabric, front lumbar supports, RNS 315 navigation system and a six-speed automatic.

It’s still fun to drive a Beetle, but it’s no longer cheap. The simplest version is price competitive with other compact cars above the basic level, such as the MINI Cooper — another retro-themed choice. And with the larger engine and turbodiesel TDI option, you can opt for greater entertainment or economy. But the real reason to own a Beetle is because you love it.


Mazda3 Makes Schaefer’s Short List | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 28 May 2015 16:40

052815aBy Steve Schaefer • San Leandro Times

The Mazda3 is on my short list of recommended cars. For more than a decade, it’s offered a compact sedan and wagon that do all of the things small cars should while giving the driver a little bit more fun.

The five-door wagon configuration is really handy, but this time, I tested the four-door sedan. In this new generation of the Mazda3, introduced with the 2014 model year, the sedan and the wagon look a lot alike, and both are very attractive.

Mazda names its design language with each change. This is “KODO” (Soul of Motion) styling, which, to you and me, means curves with some edges, and fine detailing on the ends. It also marks the end of the previous generation’s grinning face, replaced with a more restrained, carefully rendered Signature Wing five-point grille. The Mazda3 placed in the top 3 in the World Car Design of the Year competition.

The overall effect of KODO is a sense of mass and strength, and the car is a little more elegant than the previous model. The Mazda3 gets a five-star (top) rating in the overall Government safety ratings, so the mass and strength are not just for looks.

The KODO style is also very aerodynamic. And Mazda offers something special in the compact segment — active grille shutters, which open and close depending on driving conditions to help the car slip through the air more efficiently (part of SKYACTIV).

Another SKYACTIV high-tech feature is the i-ELOOP system, which generates energy whenever the car slows down and uses it to power onboard electronics, such as headlights, climate control, and the audio system. This reduces the amount of fuel needed. The system starts up whenever you release the accelerator.

You can pick from the SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring version of the sedan, in the i or s series. The i models receive Mazda’s SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. My Soul Red Metallic tester had this engine, and it provided sufficient oomph to move the 2,918-pound car along with the SKYACTIV-DRIVE six-speed automatic transmission. The s models get the 2.5-liter engine, which ups the ante to 184 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. Other than the base i SV model, you can order any combination of body style, engine and transmission.

SKYACTIV2 is Mazda’s program for improving the performance of existing gasoline engines. They are not selling hybrids or electrics or Diesels right now. SKYACTIV combines lightweight materials, better fuel economy and improved driving dynamics. My test car was rated at a respectable 30 City, 41 Highway and 34 Overall; I averaged 30.5 mpg. Green scores are an excellent 9 for Smog and 8 for Greenhouse Gas — nearly hybrid numbers.

052815a2All Mazdas channel the iconic MX-5/Miata two-seat sports car. You see hints of sportiness in the Mazda3’s black cockpit, with a hooded instrument panel and silvery trim pieces. The simple, clear gauges and knobs fall easily to hand. The seats are sporty buckets with deep bolsters to hold you in place during spirited driving.

The center console provides a central dial surrounded by five buttons that control audio, navigation and other features on the seven-inch display screen that sits like an iPad Mini glued to the dash top.  There’s a star button for storing and selecting your favorite stations. You can mix and match AM/FM and Satellite Radio choices. Sadly, the Satellite Radio display truncates information at 16 characters. The screen’s home page lets you access all of the numerous features quickly.

In front of the driver, the slim plastic Active Driving Display shows important information in a “heads-up” fashion, like some systems that project onto the windshield. It pops up when you start the car and folds down when you turn it off, and is adjustable.

The Mazda3 is assembled in Mexico, with Japanese engines and transmissions. Other companies build for the North American market there, too, and the quality on the new cars seems quite good.

Prices start at just $17,740 for the i SV with manual transmission ($18,790 with automatic). The s Grand Touring with automatic tops out at $27,890. My i Touring test car came to $23,410, including $300 for special paint and $1,600 for the Technology Package, which adds a moonroof, dual-zone climate control, and nicely upgraded audio. All prices include a $795 shipping charge.

The Mazda3 isn’t meant to be a hot rod, but it does have that Mazda zoom-zoom, so driving it is a pleasure. It would be more exciting with the manual transmission and larger engine, but the smaller engine/automatic combination is fine — and likely to be the volume model. This car is Mazda’s biggest seller, with more than 4 million moved so far, and there’s nothing to indicate that’s going to change.


Hyundai Updates Elegant Genesis | 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 | 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 | 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.




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