Category Archives: Car Reviews

2014 Nissan Versa Note SV

Versa is inexpensive, versatile, but extremely underpowered
Rarely have I driven a car as underpowered as the Versa Note, Nissan’s new four-door hatchback version of the Versa, which debuted last year as a sedan.versa

Naturally this is an economy model, but still, with a 1.6-liter, I4 that cranks only 109 horsepower the acceleration is lackluster, and that’s being kind. Adding to the car’s giddyap woes is its Xtronic CVT, or continuously variable transmission.

Nissan has some of the best CVTs around, designed to increase fuel economy and give smooth quiet seamless shifts. This one does just that, but, oh my. I found myself disengaging the tranny’s overdrive system via a button on the shifter just to get out of the way of traffic as I “accelerated” away from stoplights.

I had done this with the sedan version too, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Still, it’s a tad embarrassing when other small cars pull out and around you as the car lumbers up to speed. Those were NOT friendly stares or looks of admiration for the hatchback. Oh, and there’s small engine moan as you creep up to speed.

I feel compelled to start with this sour note because anyone driving this car will immediately notice its lack of power. Yet I know full well that Note buyers will be looking for economy and the utility of a hatchback, vs. the sedan version.
There really are plenty of both. Continue reading 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

Small cars can be fun to drive if spunky and good handling

Driving small cars isn’t a turnoff to me. I enjoy their economy, their simplicity their easy handling and their low cost.14FiestaST_go-around_15_HR

But frugal needn’t mean blah, and Ford’s Fiesta has learned that lesson. It offers a spunky look and feel, good handling and an overall simplicity that helps you enjoy the pure driving ability of the car. And it does it without all the electronic gee-whiz gadgets that add so much cost to today’s cars, yet it was no fuddy-duddy.

I drove the SE hatchback, the mid-level model of seven trims. There is the base S sedan starting at a bargain basement $14,000, all the way up to a racy ST hatchback with a turbocharged four-banger at $21,400.
The Race Red SE hatch is indicative of what many Fiesta buyers will select and lists at $16,050.

First, the hatch gives you more cargo hauling capability and it looks sportier in profile than the sedan. There’s even a little spoiler in back.

Standard to all but the ST model is a 1.6-liter, Duratec I4 that creates 120 horsepower that is effectively put to use via an easy shifting 5-speed manual gearbox. The Fiesta never seems slow or pokey. While no speed racer it’ll get up to highway speeds easily and feels downright frisky as you pull away from stoplights, having good low-end torque. That’s quite a contrast to the Nissan Versa Note I tested recently. It felt way underpowered, yet these cars are almost identical in price, amenities and weight and the Note was just 11 horsepower shy of the Fiesta. Continue reading 2014 Ford Fiesta SE

2014 Lexus IS350 AWD

Who makes the best compact sport sedan? Well, BMW has owned that segment for years, but it would be hard to argue against Lexus now making the best looking sport sedan with its new IS series.lexus red

Lexus created the IS to be a BMW 3 Series (now renamed the 4 Series) fighter, but Lexus is better at creating a luxury feel than BMW. The difference is BMW always leans toward total performance and Lexus leans more toward luxury in any of its makes.

Ah, but the tested bright metallic red (Matador Red) IS350 AWD has plenty of power to go with its outward styling pizzazz. Lexus pops a 3.5-liter V6 with variable valve timing under its well sculpted hood and that throbbing engine pumps out 306 horsepower. Boom! It’ll kick you in the seat of the pants and with paddle shifters on the steering wheel you can control your own seat kicking!

There’s a seamless shifting 6-speed automatic that you can control manually with those paddle shifters, but a key here is the svelte nature of the IS350. The sport sedan weighs 3,737 lbs., but rides on a 110.2-inch wheelbase. So while it feels nimble, it’s long enough to provide a mostly fine, yet sporty ride.

lexus red3Sure, take it on our crumbling cement streets or over railroad tracks and that stiff sport suspension will give you a little shake. But that’s the nature of the beast. Lexus puts a double wishbone front suspension on the IS and a multi-link system in back.

Handling? Precise, is the key word, along with fluid. The car steers easily and smoothly, but you can snap off corners or apexes of turns crisply and the car stays completely flat as you power through a sharp turn. A BWM gives you that same handlingl, but usually with heavier steering feedback. Whichever you like is certainly a matter of personal preference. Continue reading 2014 Lexus IS350 AWD

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 1LT

Fast & furious new Stingray sets a new standard 

The company parking lot was alive with color, as was the driveway at home. People stared, gave a thumbs up and admired what for 60 years has been America’s Sports Car.1LT, 2014 Corvette Stingray, auto reviews, Chevrolet, chevy, Corvette, heads-up display, savageonwheels.com, sexy cars, Stingray, Vette, Z51

This was a Torch Red Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51, fresh off the assembly line in Bowling Green, Ky., and raring to have its legs stretched, its engine thrummed, its giant near slick ZR-rated tires warmed and spun. The Corvette remains a two-seater, but by the late 1960s had transitioned from sports car to muscle car.

Oh, these babies are raced to be sure, but on the highway, on our city streets, it’s their muscle that most folks admire. They are low, so low I found myself looking up to a Mini Cooper that I was passing on the freeway. Vettes are fast. Chevy claims 3.8 seconds from 0-60 mph and even it if it’s 4.0 or a touch more, it’ll haul butt.

Top speed? It’s rated at 190 mph and there’s no good place to test that out, legally. Suffice it to say I got within 90 mph of that. Highway entry ramps are too short in a Corvette, which for its seventh generation that debuts as a 2014, brings back the much loved Stingray name.

1LT, 2014 Corvette Stingray, auto reviews, Chevrolet, chevy, Corvette, heads-up display, savageonwheels.com, sexy cars, Stingray, Vette, Z51For the record Chevy has revamped its giant 6.2-liter V8 to add direct injection and variable valve timing. That translates into 460 horses and a torque rating of 465. Consider that a Porsche 911 Carrera S manages 400 horses, albeit from a flat-6, and costs almost twice as much. Continue reading 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 1LT

2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Lackluster new RAV4 underwhelmingrav4a

Underwhelmed, that was how the new Toyota RAV4 left me.

Oh it looks fine, pretty much like every other compact ute out these days, and with all the features and electronic options and doodads you’d want. But given Toyota’s history, I was surprised by how lackluster it felt and it had fit and finish issues.

First, there was a small hole in the console. Was a button missing? And what would it have been for?

Second, there was an obvious and annoying squeak in the dash and it squeaked no matter what speed you were going, or how rough the road. The ute had only about 2,800 miles on it when I received it. I’d expect that squeak on my wife’s 12-year-old Camry because it has 100,000+ miles on the odometer. Actually, I think her car’s interior is quieter, which leads me to point three. The RAV4 interior is noisy, very echoey sounding.

Fourth, well, the 2.5-liter, I4 engine simply feels down on power. Maybe it’s the gearing, but acceleration is flat and dull. The engine is rated at 176 horsepower, but acceleration is lackluster. There’s an ECO button to give it better gas mileage and even less oomph, or a Sport button to give it more torque. That helps, but you still must mash the gas pedal to get that power, and at that point the power train whines and moans like it’s being tortured. Continue reading 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

2013 Chrysler 200

Chrysler 200 Touring feels like a rental car, but scores with good MPG

I wasn’t expecting much when the silver Chrysler 200 Touring arrived. It’s not a styling leader and isn’t far removed from its Sebring predecessor. It looks like a rental car and feels like one too.Chrysler

This one tried to spiff up a bit with a $495 package that ups the tires from 17-inchers to 18 and adds the S appearance package that blacks out the grille and light bezels and puts an S initial on the trunk. For the price, it helps gussy it up a bit.

But I don’t want to demean the 200, its build quality seems light years ahead of the Sebring, and actually seemed better than the Convertible version I drove last winter. Fiat, which owns Chrysler, has, ironically, improved build, fit and finish at Chrysler.

Yet I have to say, on a 600+ mile trip to Indianapolis and back via back roads in central and northern Indiana, the 200 was comfortable and paid big gas mileage dividends.

Its standard 2.4-liter I4 with variable valve timing delivers a moderate 173 horsepower. But its gas mileage was stellar. I got between 25.5 and 28.5 mpg and topped out at 32 mpg in a straight highway drive. The EPA rates this car at 20 mpg city and 31 highway and the trip computer estimated I could travel 502 miles before a fill-up. That makes for a stellar long-distance driver. Continue reading 2013 Chrysler 200

2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Core

Challenger SRT8 puts 470 ponies under you

Muscle is one thing. Looks are another. But I still expect a boatload of amenities at $41 grand.

This is the RT version and the SRT8 just takes it to a whole new level ... yes, it has a HEMI.
This is the RT version and the SRT8 just takes it to a whole new level … yes, it has a HEMI.

The “TorRed” Dodge Challenger SRT8 Core that I blasted around town in last week targets the fanatical muscle car lover. It packs a 6.4-liter V8 SRT HEMI that punches out a nasty 470 horses. You don’t think that’s enough? You may want to get your noggin checked.

Slapping the 6-speed manual shifter through its gate you can squeal the rear tires in any gear, exploding up to 60 mph, or beyond, in just under five seconds. You can embarrass about any other vehicle you want with this wild child of a car.But even at $41 grand, including delivery and a Gas Guzzler tax (the price for all that power), you won’t have a navigation system, back-up camera, automatic lights or leather seats. I guess that’s why this is the Core SRT8.

SRT is Chrysler Corp.’s high-performance team and it makes any of the Fiat-owned firm’s vehicles, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee, into land rockets. Certainly performance is SRT’s main focus, along with some street-ability, but many daily driver features and comforts are side-stepped. Continue reading 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Core