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2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

Subaru’s new Outback epitomizes luxury AWD wagonoutback1

Subaru could be credited for starting the crossover craze as an early adopter of AWD on all its vehicles, including its wagons. Jeep could argue, but Jeeps are unique unto themselves, at least in their original form.

The Legacy wagon comes to mind from the Subaru camp and that morphed into the Outback years ago. Basically it’s a tall wagon with AWD, good cargo room and an interior that easily seats five. Yet it wasn’t, and isn’t an SUV. Oh, it has 8.7 inches of ground clearance to help it straddle snow piles and the stray large rocks if it goes off-roading.

But this is a luxury wagon in the best sense of both words.

The new 2015 Outback is slightly longer and larger than its predecessor, with a bit more cargo room, better gas mileage and a quiet comfortable cabin that encourages conversation, not the thrum of road noise.

My dark blue Subaru test car was the Limited, with an impressive $2,990 option package that added virtually everything, except a heated steering wheel, that most folks might want. Its base price is $30,295 and with delivery fee, this one hit the turnstiles at $34,207. Cheap? No, but a high value crossover that nearly perfectly blends luxury sedan with crossover usefulness.

outback2Here’s what I like. Continue reading 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

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

2014 KIA Sorento SX Ltd. AWD

Sorento handling, performance make it more fun than Santa Fekia1

KIA has raised the bar with its revamped 2014 Sorento crossover, making it a much more enjoyable drive than the 2012 model I tested roughly 18 months ago.

This is the smaller cousin of last week’s Hyundai Santa Fe, which wins on value and size, but Sorento wins on handling and performance, while packing the same engine and transmission.

For the record, the new Sorento looks much like its predecessor, which means it’s attractive, I think more than Santa Fe. But the wheelbase also is 4 inches shorter and overall it’s 9 inches shorter in length. That makes it look, and feel, a bit sportier. It’s also 200 lbs. lighter, and that improves its power to weight ratio, which you feel at every stoplight.

Where the Santa Fe felt heavy and somewhat lumbered away from a stop, the Sorento seems livelier. Both feature Hyundai’s new 3.3-liter, DI V6 that packs 290 horsepower. This is a new engine replacing the KIA 3.5-liter V6 that made 276 horses. The new V6 comes in all trims except the entry level LX which features a DI I4 that creates 191 horses.

Fuel efficiency dips a bit, according to EPA ratings. But remember KIA got into a bit of trouble with the EPA for using more optimistic numbers than it should have on previous models. I was happy with 23.7 mpg in about 70% highway driving, but I must say the trip computer was about 2 mpg more optimistic. I’m seeing a pattern here. The EPA rates this model at 18 mpg city and 24 highway, running on regular gas. Note too there is an ECO mode button you can press to suppress acceleration and reduce gas consumption. Continue reading 2014 KIA Sorento SX Ltd. AWD