Tag Archives: CVT

2014 Toyota Corolla S Premium

Simplicity, reliability, economy = Corolla

toyo1Our family owned a Toyota Corolla in the 1980s and it’s on that generation of Corolla’s reputation that Toyota has built its automotive empire.

Simplicity, reliability and economy were the building blocks and the revamped 2014 Corolla appears to continue that corporate line of thinking. There are no surprises here, except maybe that the compact sedan’s interior has been improved in look and feel, and its exterior rounded a bit more and given a sportier nose.

Beyond that, if you own the last generation Corolla you’ll feel the new one is much the same in ride and performance. It is a tad surprising that the ride did not improve more as the 2014 model’s wheelbase grows nearly 4 inches to 106.3 inches. That’s where most cars and crossovers begin to exhibit a more refined ride. This still feels like a small car.

Ironically too, this is about the size that Toyota Camrys, Honda Accords and Mazda 6 sedans were, just a few years back. All the compacts are growing in every dimension attempting to keep up with the expanding size of U.S. drivers. s plan in Mississippi, but some models also will be shipped over the border from Canada. Reportedly no Corollas will be imported from Japan.

My test car was the sportier S model, in fact the S Premium with a starting price of $20,400. It was an attractive metallic blue, something Toyota calls Blue Crush Metallic, with black leather interior, which is standard on the S model.
A base Corolla L still starts at a more modest $17,610, including destination charges and comes with a four-speed automatic, pretty old school.toyo2

The S came with Toyota’s new CVT, a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters behind the wheel that allow you to shift through simulated gears, giving the car more oomph. It needed it, but only in standard ECO mode, which the car defaults to every time it’s started.

In ECO mode the 1.8-liter I4 with intelligent variable valve timing feels puny. It makes 132 horsepower, about the same as my 13-year-old Camry that is similar in size. Yet the torque feels much less aggressive as the CVT is programmed to slowly ramp the sedan up to speed, reducing gas consumption. Continue reading 2014 Toyota Corolla S Premium

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

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

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

Subaru adds some macho to its 2014 Forester 

Simply put, I have a new favorite small sport-utility vehicle, the 2014 Subaru Forester.

While the rest of the small ute world is going toward crossover status and swoopy designs, the Forester, one of the early crossover/utes with AWD, is going away from that. It’s going all macho angular and edgy.

A black pre-production Forester reflects its Darth Vader looks.
A black pre-production Forester, shown in this Motor Trend photo, reflects its Darth Vader looks.

I like it, particularly the sparkling black test ute’s Darth Vader look to its nose and accented with sexy black and chrome five-spoke wheels.But looks are only sheet metal deep and for love to blossom (and Subaru tells us their vehicles are all about love), there has to be a deeper connection. There was in the tested mid-level 2.0XT Premium model.

This isn’t your base Forester, the one with a mild 170-horse 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine. Oh, that would be fine, but No, this XT baby comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection Boxer 4-cylinder. And get this, it bangs out 250 horsepower, that’s 26 more horses than in the comparable turbo model previously.

The funny thing is you don’t notice that power right off. You can drive this around town like it’s a regular Forester, just cruising from stoplight to stoplight and getting decent gas mileage, considering its an all-wheel-drive ute. But Subaru has created an absolutely delicious CVT (continuously variable transmission). Continue reading 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

 Attractive Crosstrek a bit of sedan, wagon, crossover 

Subaru_XV_Crosstrek-2Subaru’s new crossover, the XV Crosstrek, is an attractive vehicle that splits the difference between sedan, wagon and crossover, with many of the good characteristics of each.

But the Crosstrek, which rides on the compact Impreza platform, is underpowered, so keep that in mind if you plan to haul four people or a load of stuff under its roomy hatchback.

I like that Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, but looks more like a tall hatchback than a true crossover or SUV, now a dying breed as most truck-based SUVs have switched to car chassis. But, like a Subaru sedan, this has good road manners. It’s easy to drive and handles well with a moderately light steering feel from the electronic power assisted steering system.

Best of all, it’s useful. Not only will four adults fit in the Crosstrek, but you can haul a load of junk, er stuff, in back with its 22.3 cubic foot cargo bay. Fold flat the split rear seats and it’ll haul 51.9 cubic feet of your best stuff, just like a wagon. And it has AWD, like an SUV. Continue reading 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL AWD

No longer truck-based, Pathfinder a softer, more civilized crossover

            Back in the day, which wasn’t long ago, Nissan’s Pathfinder was a sport-utility truck that was truck tough and set for off-roading and hauling gear.path1

Today, like many of us as we age, it has gotten a little softer and is tailored now more for comfort. Oh, it can haul and is available with all-wheel-drive, but you are not going to take this off road. In fact, with its remodel for 2013 it is pure crossover, leaning toward minivan. That’s because it’s no longer truck-based, instead riding on the Nissan Altima sedan’s platform.

The silver test vehicle, a pre-production model, was the almost upper end SL model, so begins at $36,070 and with just a trailer towing package at $400 and the $780 delivery charge ended up at $37,250. You can spend less if you opt for the entry-level S model with front-wheel drive. It begins at $28,650 and bumping up to an AWD model moves you to $30,250. There’s a mid-level SV with cloth seats and then the SL, plus a Platinum edition 4×4 model at $41,150.

If mall cruising and hauling a family is your main purpose, the Tennessee-made Pathfinder is accommodating. Its interior is spacious, like a minivan, with oodles of head and legroom in the first two rows of seats, plus a third row is standard and folds easily into the rear floor to boost cargo room. Continue reading 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL AWD

2013 Honda Accord Sedan EX MT

Fine Accord masters the fine art of blending in …

Honda’s Accord has become the generic family sedan in America, the car everyone’s neighbor owns. It’s a good value, an excellent performer, but it blends in.

So you’ll likely never notice the 2013 model, but you may want to own one.

honda1While Toyota has added a touch of styling flair to its formerly vanilla Camry and Ford has leaped forward with its new Fusion design, Honda stays with its safe, bland look, coupled with mechanical excellence. This deep rooted philosophy at Honda caused the company to deliver a less than stellar Civic for 2012, necessitating that it immediately be remade for 2013.

Luckily Accord isn’t broken, so Honda doesn’t need to fix it. A little sheet metal creativity would be welcomed though. For 2013 the revamped Accord sedan is 3 inches shorter, taking away some of its size and bulkiness that made the last version a full-size car.

It still rides on a pleasant 109.3-inch wheelbase though, and that, coupled with its independent four-wheel suspension that now uses struts up front instead of a control-arm system, delivers a smooth, controlled ride. Traction and stability control also are standard. Continue reading 2013 Honda Accord Sedan EX MT

2012 Toyota Prius C Two

Smaller hybrid easy on gas, hard to get out of its own way

The new Toyota Prius C is what most folks think of when they imagine a hybrid car.

Toyota Prius CThey think of an extremely small car that gets great gas mileage, but has a hard time getting out of its own way. But unlike many hybrids, the original Prius’s smaller cousin also comes with a smaller, more entry-level price, the base C One starting at $18,950 and the tested C Two starting at $19,900. That’s about $4,000 less than many hybrids, including the Prius II that is about 19 inches longer too.

The C looks more like a Honda Fit, which is to say it’s sort of pointy-nosed cute with a lot of glass and bathed in a bright red paint job, the test car looked fun and spritely. Certainly its handling is light and accurate enough to be rated spritely, but its power, its acceleration skews toward methodical. And that’s after Prius C dropped about 500 lbs. from that of the original hybrid. Continue reading 2012 Toyota Prius C Two

2012 Nissan Murano SV AWD

Luxurious crossover, quiet comfortable family mover

A lot of time has passed since I last tested Nissan’s fine Murano crossover, yet it remains a solid, quiet, comfortable family mover.Nissan Murano exterior

While many folks buy this in front-drive form, Nissan says, I had the next to top level SL model with AWD. That means it goes for nearly $41 grand, which seems high, until you consider many other crossovers with luxury leanings.

The tested dark metallic blue Murano started at $38,000 and ended up $40,855 with mainly a navigation system upgrade adding to the price. If price is a concern, start shopping at the S level, which begins at $29,960 for front-drive and $31,560 for AWD. There are four trim levels, the top, LE, going for $40,560 with AWD. Continue reading 2012 Nissan Murano SV AWD

2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

Refined family sedan with superb CVT deserves its due

As in the political world where the frontrunners get all the hype and some worthy candidates get brushed to the sidelines or back pages, Nissan’s Altima doesn’t always get its due.2013 Nissan Altima

That may be about to change. The 2013 Altima has been revamped to be slightly wider and infinitely quieter and more comfortable. Its styling is even tweaked to give it more arrow-like front lights and a smoother overall shape. This is a fine family sedan that should send shivers down the spines of Honda and Toyota engineers. Continue reading 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV