Category Archives: Car Reviews

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 50s Edition

Beetle drop-top reflects heritage of 1950s models

New vs. old, now tell me the new one doesn't do a terrific job of reflecting the old Beetle's personality!
New vs. old, now tell me the new one doesn’t do a terrific job of reflecting the old Beetle’s personality!

Simplicity is its own reward, but it’s often accompanied by modest cost and a style that stands out in today’s overwrought world.Such has always been the case with Volkswagen’s simply shaped Beetle.

Now comes a new Beetle convertible, replacing the 8-year-old New Beetle convertible. THIS new iteration actually is more in tune with the original, with a less rounded roofline that looks perfect. Yet overall the car has grown 6 inches longer and 3.3 inches wider than its predecessor.

Making this 2013 model all the more tantalizing, VW offers three special decade editions, including the tested 50s Edition bathed in black and featuring key chrome trim along with beige leather seats. This Beetle looks so ’50s-ish you may want to slick back your hair or put on a poodle skirt. This model also adds chrome exterior mirrors, a chrome strip along the car’s lower extremities to remind you of earlier models’ small running boards, and 17-inch chrome Heritage wheels that look much like the simple chrome wheel covers of the 1950s.

Not that old? Well, VW also offers a Denim Blue 60s Edition with two-tone interior, and Toffee Brown 70s Edition. They vary a bit on engine and other specs, but include small spoilers. Continue reading 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 50s Edition

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2013 Nissan Sentra SL

Sharp new Nissan Sentra has its mojo back

A few years back Nissan’s Sentra lost its way. For years it had been right up there with Toyota’s Corolla and Honda’s Civic as a premier entry level sedan, great for young families.

sentra1But then it started to look like a cheap little car, inside and out. Worse yet, it drove like one, maybe a step or two up from a Suzuki. Then Hyundai and Kia came into the market and leapfrogged right over Sentra with their entry-level cars.

Nissan’s restyled 2013 Sentra aims to put a stop to that, and it certainly should make a dent in the segment, likely gaining Nissan a chunk of market share. The reason is way more than skin deep, although the skin looks decidedly more attractive and upscale than its preceding models. There’s chrome around windows and along the sides and on the trunk. The taillights look sporty like other Nissan models.

No, with this one you won’t be singled out in your elementary school kid’s parking lot as the parent who couldn’t afford a nice car. This looks sharp, and its interior is equally impressive. Continue reading 2013 Nissan Sentra SL

2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Sayonara Prius, C-Max Energi more useful, drives better

Families looking for superior gas mileage, a small crossover/wagon with generous cargo room and a roomy back seat with massive headroom will feel comfortable in Ford’s new C-Max.

The C-Max comes in standard hybrid and plug-in, the Energi.
The C-Max comes in standard hybrid and plug-in, the Energi.

This is a tall wagon this is 100% hybrid, as in that’s all you can buy, although there are two choices.It’s a mini-minivan of sorts, that looks like a Mazda 5, which seats six. This will seat four easily and five in a pinch. The C-Max name certainly will inspire absolutely no one, but this is an extremely useful wagon that due to its hybrid-only power is a fine commuter too.There is a standard hybrid model that operates much like the successful Toyota Prius. But I had the Energi model, which is a plug-in hybrid, meaning you can plug it in to get a full charge in 2.5 to 7 hours. The lower number is for folks with 240-volt power outlets in their garage, the higher number for most of us with 120-volt service. A full charge gave my pleasant Ice Storm (blue-gray) test wagon 17 miles of  electric power, getting me to the office and part way home.

At that point the gas-powered 2.0-liter I4 kicks in and delivers decent power along with reasonable gas mileage. The C-Max Energi is rated 100 mpg when it runs on electric and gas, while the EPA rates it 43 mpg on strictly gasoline. All the auto forums are full of folks saying the car’s numbers are overrated. Ford says to expect 47 mpg city and highway. Other auto writers say that’s high too.

But I’ve got to say I managed 67.8. mpg in a week’s driving. Each night I charged the lithium ion batteries fully and then drove it to and from work, the store, etc., like any other test car. I was impressed with the performance, both mpg and over the road. Continue reading 2013 Ford C-Max Energi

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

Hybrid is good on gas mileage and easy on the eyes

Ford’s new Fusion might do well to co-opt the old Miller Lite motto and tweak it a bit – Looks Great, Less Filling!2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

That seems apt for Fusion’s hybrid model, which was my first full drive of the swoopy new Fusion with its fastback looks and Aston Martin-like grille. This is a looker to be sure. As one might expect with a hybrid gas/electric system under the hood, this runs quiet and delays your gas station visits a bit. Fusion’s new system combines a highly fuel efficient. Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter I4 with lithium ion battery powered electric motor and earns an EPA rating of 47 mpg city and highway. It’s rare that city and highway numbers are equal in a hybrid.

Ford cuts the overall power from 191 horses in its former Fusion hybrid to 188 hp on this model, but also trims more than 100 lbs. from the car, 15 just from the gas motor. Yet while the car earns good EPA numbers, it has been criticized for not living up to those claims.

My mileage fell short, but at 36.7 mpg in a week’s drive, it was still head and shoulders above other family sedans I’ve driven. Compare that to 27.4 mpg I got in a recent Honda Accord test, and 28.7 mpg in my recent Mazda6 test drive. Continue reading 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

2013 Chevrolet Volt (plug-in electric)

Smooth, quiet, but Volt  packs power too

Chevrolet’s Volt is the leader of the hybrid pack when it comes to performance.1volt

It’s quick and handles almost like a sports sedan. I know what you’re thinking, “No Way it’s quick!” Ah, but you’d be wrong.

The difference between the plug-in electric hybrid Volt and a gas-powered sedan is that there’s no engine grumble to give you a sense of speed. With Volt, you simply press a button on the center stack and change from Normal to Sport mode.

Next time you press the accelerator (not a gas pedal, right?) this 3,781-lb. car rips away from a stoplight, quietly, but with smooth seamless acceleration. Most cars are still slipping from second to third gear as you streak away.

Handling is borderline sporty too. No, it’s not a BMW, but steering is pretty darned precise and quick, so you can zip around corners with authority. Plus, its low-slung battery packs keep the Volt well balanced, aiding its cornering.

Ride is on the sporty side too, but still is pleasant and well controlled, the Volt’s 105.7-inch wheelbase making this ride like a mid-size sport sedan. But, since it’s a hatch, it’s more useful for carrying things than a standard sedan.

Now let’s face it, if you’re a prospective Volt buyer, the last thing you probably were even thinking about was performance. But the cool thing here is that you get performance along with all those great hybrid characteristics you’re likely aiming for. Continue reading 2013 Chevrolet Volt (plug-in electric)

2013 Toyota Avalon

Avalon XLE Premium aims for younger drivers

avalon-parked
Styling is dramatically improved on the 2013 Toyota Avalon.

An old automotive axiom goes that you can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you can’t sell an old man’s car to a young man.Apparently Toyota didn’t know that, until now.

Toyota’s Avalon, long a senior citizen favorite, has been restyled and its suspension and steering firmed up to move it decidedly out of the old fuddy-duddy market in looks and performance. Its crisp new body with thin chrome-trimmed grille above a larger lower opening and its thinned taillights with chrome across the rear deck turn styling yawner into a sharply tailored machine.

At least now mature adults who are not yet AARP worthy may look at the Avalon. Continue reading 2013 Toyota Avalon

2013 Toyota Corolla S

 New Corolla  S a family sedan, with sporty look

corollaMy family owned a Toyota Corolla back in the early 1980s. That’s family as in me, my wife and two small kids. So, take note young families, you CAN survive without a minivan, crossover or sport-utility truck.

That’s even easier now as the current Corolla, the 10th generation, is nearly as large as a Camry was a decade ago. Call it dimensional creep.

The 2013 Corolla rides on a 102.4-inch wheelbase and is 179.3 inches long. But it still weighs a seemingly svelte 2,767 lbs. and is rated at 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. I got 28.3 mpg in a fairly even mix of city and highway driving. That’s good for a young family’s budget.

My tested magnetic gray metallic (dark metallic gray) test car was the top-level S model that offers sportier looks, but not much in the way of sporty performance. This one came with an automatic transmission and even with that it remains a solid choice for youngsters needing just a step up from basic wheels. But don’t confuse this with a sports sedan. Continue reading 2013 Toyota Corolla S