Tag Archives: ECO

2015 BMW M235i xDrive

BMW1Ultimately, BMW’s M235i a great drive

BMW made its mark in the U.S. market years ago with the likes of the BMW 2002, a compact sporty handling car that could run circles, or ovals, or whatever shape you wanted, around most other cars. It was quick and lithe and fun to drive.

But as all cars, BMWs included, have grown in dimensions, especially weight and length, many Bimmer fans have bemoaned the Bavarian firm’s stray from the small coupe market. Some of us also wish there were still an “Ultimate Driving Machine” that a few more of us could afford.

Well, BMW nails, or should we say re-nails, the lithe fun sports coupe with its 2 Series. A base 228i with 240-horsepower and a manual transmission now comes in at $33,050 including delivery, so in line with an average car’s cost. I’d love to drive one in that trim. Yet this week I was granted an audience with the M235i xDrive, which takes the 2 Series to its raciest extreme. The M with xDrive drops a 320-horse twin-turbo I6 into the smallest BMW coupe with terrific results.

That twin-turbo pumps out a delicious 330 ft.lbs. of torque and turns the 2 Series into a street legal racer. Slap down the throttle and the M235i pushes you back in the seat and you hold on to the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel praying there are lot of winding roads just over the horizon. The car’s steering is moderately heavy, but extremely precise, exactly what you’d expect from a BMW. Yet the coupe doesn’t feel heavy, tipping the scales at just 3,695 lbs.

Ride is good, not as comfortable as the marvelous 428i that I drove last year, but then it rides on a 110.6-inch wheelbase compared with 105.9 inches in the 2 Series. Five inches goes a long way to smoothing rough roads. Still, as in the 4 Series, the M235i mates the superbly designed suspension with BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system that adjusts the chassis and modulates the engine’s power curve too. Continue reading 2015 BMW M235i xDrive

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2015 BMW X4 xDrive 35i

BMW X4 blends car, SUV and gets it about half right X4-3

When is a car not a car, or an SUV an SUV?

When it is an X4, BMW’s new blended vehicle. From the front it looks like a BMW sedan, it even has four doors, but a decidedly taller profile that unfortunately looks bloated and bulbous, especially from the rear. Think Honda Crosstour, but with a better nose.

Plainly this is a vehicle meant to appeal across several market segments and it succeeds in several ways, but mainly as a car.

Continue reading 2015 BMW X4 xDrive 35i

2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic

C300 helps Mercedes moves back toward top

            Mercedes-Benz has rejoined the top-tier of luxury automakers after a decade, or more, of struggling with design and execution while other luxo-makes were raising the bar.MB2

Nearly two years ago I praised the GLK350, a small luxury ute that hit on all cylinders for luxury, equipment and performance. Now Mercedes goes deep again with its C300 sedan, one of its bread and butter offerings, a compact to mid-size sedan along the dimensions of a Lexus IS or, for us less monied folks, a Mazda6.

The C Class rides on a smoothing 111.8-inch wheelbase and weighs a middling 3,583 lbs. The car feels delicious.

How so? It’s a scrumptious blend of sporty power, an eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with 241 horses, and comfort. All that starts with a silky 7-speed automatic transmission that easily harnesses the turbo’s 273 ft-lbs. of torque, and cushions the ride with independent suspension at all four corners.

Ride is absolutely stellar, controlled and easy on the occupants, but still responsive enough to lend the car a sporty edge. Cornering is smooth with minimal body lean and as precise as you want it to be.

MB5That’s courtesy of the test car’s Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Moving up from Eco, each setting adds a few hundred engine revs and slightly firms the steering and ride. Eco naturally provides lackadaisical acceleration and a soft steering effort, but Comfort is close to right on for city driving. The C300 still has good power and handling is forgiving. Continue reading 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic

2014 MINI Cooper S Hardtop

New MINI Hardtop maximizes motoring fun

 MINI has a deceptively simple message for its potential buyers, Let’s Motor!IMG_0864

Yet it delivers exactly that, simple motoring fun.

A new, larger MINI was reintroduced in 2002 by BMW, the former Mini was a British make. Now, a dozen model years later, its third and again larger (about 5 inches nose to tail) iteration, continues to be a cute boxy hardtop that is a blast to drive. This is especially true of the tested Volcanic Orange S version with a new 2.0-liter twin-turbo 4-cylinder engine.

That smooth running BMW-designed powerplant belts out 189 horsepower and features a torque rating of 207. It kicks you in the seat of the pants, especially when the car is set to Sport mode. The S model offers three driving settings, Eco that reduces power and saves fuel (MINI-malizing they call it), Mid (perfectly fine for nearly all driving) and Sport (booster rocket power).

You simply turn a ring on the base of the shift lever housing and once it hits Sport you know it. Power is instantaneous. The MINI zips forward like a race horse set free from a starting gate. Sport also firms up the suspension, which might be needed on the race track, but only further intensifies the rump thumping you already get in the MINI on the street. Despite the 2014 model’s wheelbase growing 1.1 inches, the ride is no smoother and the shock damping feels almost non-existent in the Sport setting.

IMG_0866The Mid setting eases shock stiffness some, as it does the horsepower and torque. But MINI still hustles away from stoplights quickly and power is near instant with the twin-turbo booster set at the Mid, default, level. Go Eco and you’ll feel the car ease away from a stop, but power is substantially reduced. This may work well in jammed city driving where you just crawl from stoplight to stoplight.

Handling is go-kart like responsive all the time, but extraordinarily quick in Sport mode. That’s what makes MINI so much fun, especially around town. You can flick the car into a tight curve or corner and zip out the other side like you’re an F1 racer on a quick practice lap. Steering is immediate and easy. Continue reading 2014 MINI Cooper S Hardtop

2014 BMW 428i xDrive

BMW’s new 428i coupe a really super car

How great is the new BMW 4 Series Coupe? My notes showed no, nadda, zero negatives.bmw

I list price by default, because at $50 grand, more than a few of us won’t be able to afford it, and that’s a shame. Because this may be the best all-round performing car I’ve ever driven, no matter the price. The 4 Series (formerly the 3 Series, but that’s now reserved only for sedans), is a perfect blend of power, handling, ride, comfort and looks.

Call it a home run, a royal flush, a perfect 10, or whatever you will.

What surprised me was the ride. I’ve often enjoyed driving BMWs, but rarely have I felt comfortable in them or enjoyed the ride. The 4 Series changes all that. Its well-controlled ride is a combination of a superbly designed suspension mated with BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system that adjusts the chassis and modulates the engine’s power curve too.

So if you set the DDC on Eco, you get lowered power and a somewhat more pedestrian chassis feel. Move to Comfort and you’ve dialed in ride perfection for our pathetic highways and city streets. One road near my Northwest side church is full of potholes and pavement gaps, creases and crumbling pavement. It regularly puts my test cars’ suspensions to the ultimate test. I barely noticed the craters this week. I was amazed.

The DDC also has Sport and Sport + settings that noticeably bump the torque and firm the ride and steering feel. The Sport + setting is best used on a race course, but the Sport notch kicks the car’s performance up a few serious notches. Continue reading 2014 BMW 428i xDrive

2014 Lexus RX 450h

H = hybrid in luxurious 450h crossover for a smooth quiet cruiser
lex450Lexus makes quiet, comfortable and reliable vehicles as well, if not better, than most car makers and its RX crossover has been a hit for years, being an early entry into the crossover, or tall wagon, market.

Certainly Lexus does nothing to embarrass itself with its latest RX iteration, and this was the 450h, which means it’s a hybrid. That translates to better gas mileage and quiet startup and running. But then all of the RX models are quiet as a church on a snowy Sunday morning.

Yet quietness is just one of the RX 450h’s virtues.

The metallic tan (satin cashmere metal is what Lexus calls it) test vehicle delivered good gas mileage with its hybrid assist system and in both Normal and Sport mode it accelerates well. Steering effort is moderate and handling is smooth and linear so you always feel in control.

A seamless all-wheel-drive system keeps it well planted even in heavy snow. I had this during a pre-Christmas snowstorm and traction was excellent.

Under the hybrid’s hood is Lexus’s proven 3.5-liter V6 that features variable valve timing and is backed up by a hybrid battery system that combined gives the RX a substantial 295 horses. There are three driving modes, with Normal and Sport allowing all those ponies to be used, although you’ll likely burn more gas. The ECO mode, which I used for several days, delivers lame low-end power. You creep, although smoothly, away from stoplights.

The hybrid uses an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with an intelligence feature that helps it understand your power needs and driving habits. This system gives it an infinite amount of gear ratios, allowing the crossover to accelerate as efficiently as possible. It’s incredibly smooth, but again, most of us will prefer anything but the ECO mode. Continue reading 2014 Lexus RX 450h

2014 Kia Forte EX

Common sense Forte also sporty, fun, loaded with goodies
Kia1Kia cranks out another winner with its updated Forte compact sedan, a near sport sedan with a modern sporty look and common sense price tag and performance.

The Forte is stellar in nothing, but good at everything. Such solid execution from a car maker creates the dilemma auto writers despise, precious few nits to pick.

What Forte does well is deliver smooth modern looks and a fairly quiet interior that’ll easily hold four adults while providing comfort, a big trunk and all the amenities of higher priced sport sedans.

A base Forte LX comes with a 1.8-liter I4 that delivers a reasonable 148 horses with a torque rating of 131. Yet the tested metallic blue Forte EX, its top level model, packs a 2.0-liter I4 with direct injection that’s capable of 173 horses and 154 ft.-lbs. or torque. Not monster power to be sure, but sufficient to hurry the car onto a freeway or away from a stoplight.
Putting the power to the pavement is a 6-speed automatic with Sportmatic, which means you can shift manually if you want. Plus the EX adds 17-inch alloy wheels for $300. The base car comes with 15-inch steel wheels. This gives it more rubber and much better looking wheels.

Forte is front-wheel drive and handles well on dry or snowy pavement. Traction was good even in slippery fresh snow conditions and Forte turns into corners well. Continue reading 2014 Kia Forte EX