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2015 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye

Dodge Dart SXT sharp looker, affordabledart1

I’ve always liked the lightly regarded Dodge Dart because it’s a sporty looking entry-level car with a low price tag. It’s affordable and doesn’t look like a cheap econobox.

I gave it my Zoomie Car of the Year award in 2013.

So I was a bit surprised I wasn’t as impressed with the tested SXT Rallye as I’d anticipated. But the Dart is on it fourth model year and while still a high-value car and a sharp looker, much of the competition has caught up and I’m afraid that has raised my expectations.

I have to give the Fiat-Chrysler folks credit because the Dart still offers you more choices than most entry-level sedans. There are five trim levels and three engine choices. With engines it’s usually one and done at this price point.

dart2But Dodge offers a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 in the Aero high gas mileage model. That engine generates 160 horsepower and 184 ft.-lbs. of torque to make it fun and frugal, as it’s rated 28 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. The tested SXT model features the 2.4-liter MultiAir I4 that creates 184 horses and a 174 torque rating. The base SE model features a 2.0-liter I4 that still manages 160 horses, but just 148 ft.-lbs. of torque. Continue reading 2015 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye

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2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Avalon Hybrid excels at comfort, quiet, fuel efficiencyavalon front

A couple years ago Toyota wised up and restyled its full-size Avalon sedan to avoid it turning into the Grand Marquis of Japanese makes.

The more stylish lines, thinned taillights and overall slimed down look moved it from senior-citizen-mobile to family friendly sedan. Now comes the hybrid version that not only provides the same ride and comfort, but boosts gas mileage with its efficient hybrid system backing up a 2.5-liter I4 with variable valve timing.

The result is a smooth running family sedan that at one point during my weeklong drive said it was getting 42 mpg. Try to find that in an SUV that seats five comfortably, or a sedan driven solely by a gasoline-powered engine.

For the week I clocked 36.8 mpg in about a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates the Avalon at 40 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. That’s excellent! Only the Kia Optima hybrid I drove last summer topped that with 39.5 mpg in mostly highway driving. For the record, I managed 24.2 mpg in the gas-powered Avalon I reviewed in 2013.

My metallic silver test car was the XLE Premium model, one up from the base model, but also with the hybrid system that stores energy in batteries and uses regenerative braking to repower those batteries. The hybrid system also powers an electric motor at low speeds when gas engines are at their least efficient. Continue reading 2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

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 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