First Drive: 2015 Acura TLX

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It has been a long time, more than a decade, since you could put “Acura” and “fun to drive” in the same sentence. But the Japanese automaker unleashed its engineers and let them create a car that is indeed a watershed.

The 2015 Acura TLX replaces the Acura TSX and TL. Neither midsize sedan could be called a rousing success. Worse, the TL grew to be almost as big as Acura’s flagship RL sedan, throwing the automaker’s lineup out of whack.

The premium and luxury car markets used to be mannerly, almost sedate, but not anymore. Though it was the first Asian luxury brand in the U.S. market, Acura got left at the gate by Infiniti and Lexus. Now, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have risen to their challenge, and from Acura’s standpoint, there is a resurgent Audi and a rejuvenated Cadillac too compete with as well.

In short, you’ve got to have a great product to even call yourself a premium or luxury brand these days. It seems that Acura’s head honchos have gotten that message and allowed some of the best engineers around to develop the all new TLX. The midsize luxury sedan’s overall length has been shortened from the old TL, but the wheelbase length remained. That means the back seats of the TLX are spacious, comfortable and can carry two full-sized adults with no problem. But the real story here is under the TLX’s hood.

First, there’s a 2015 Acura TLX with a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine with an eight-speed dual clutch transmission and P-AWS. This engine makes 206 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. There’s also a TLX with a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic. The model comes with either P-AWS or Acura’s SH-AWD.

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First Drive: 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris & Sienna

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Testing new vehicles is always an adventure, but the opportunity to test new vehicles in Hawaii is just a whole different experience. Auto journalists love cars, but we also love to drive cars in adventurous destinations featuring incredible roads with twists and turns in places so grand that you realize how spectacular other places on earth can be. The sunny Kona District stretches for about 60 miles from Kona International Airport to beyond Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii’s lava-lined western coast. Along this expansive area, we found everything from coffee farms to historic Hawaiian landmarks. Our homebase was the Fairmont Orchid, which is a luxurious Hawaiian resort on the Kohala Coast inspired by culture, well-being and genuine Aloha. To take in all of the Big Island while driving a stable of new offerings from Toyota can make for eye-opening visuals in the 2015 Camry, Yaris and Sienna. These new Toyotas are so different and compete in three distinctive segments, but all shared the same careful design and manufacturing expertise that is synonymous with a Toyota.

There is no car more important to Toyota than the Camry, and for 2015, the folks at Toyota continued their quest to be king of the midsize car market with a new 2015 Camry that ups the stakes. Yes, the best-selling car in America for the last 12 years just got better! When redesigning the Camry for 2015, Toyota went bumper to bumper and floor to roof, changing or re-engineering nearly 2,000 parts. Only the roof remains unchanged, and it caps off the boldest Camry body ever. That provides an idea of the scope of the transformation that also endows the new Camry with a stiffer body structure, enhanced aerodynamics and its quietest ride ever. The redesigned, upscale interior and advanced instrumentation with intuitive controls help keep the driver safely focused on the road. The redesigned interior also looks and feels much more upscale, featuring premium, soft-touch materials throughout. The 2015 model is easily the best-handling and most comfortable-riding Camry ever. Beneath the bolder body lines, the Camry’s body structure has been bolstered with additional spot welds to enhance rigidity. Retuned suspension systems in all models put an edge on handling agility while taking the edge off bumps.

The exterior of the Camry just keeps getting sexier and the 2015 model is like no Camry we’ve ever seen before. An aggressive looking front bumper and grille, pronounced side character lines and low-profile LED headlamps give the new Camry a far more expressive style. It’s a sleeker look that’s also slightly longer (1.8 inches / 45 mm) and features a widened track (0.4 inches / 10 mm) that communicates a dynamic stance and presence. In profile, a pronounced body line starts from the Camry’s muscular front fender and spans across the doors and rear quarter panel, conveying a sense of motion. The fun doesn’t stop there, as the new cabin takes this segment upscale and will surely have some rivals looking for the medicine cabinet! Everywhere you look and touch, the Camry presents premium materials, an overall roomier feel and enhanced amenities.

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First Drive: 2015 Lexus RC F

There’s something about straight-line acceleration that’s exhilarating when you’re driving a car with balls, so the memory of flooring the Lexus RC F on the straightaway at the track at the Monticello Motor Club is seared into my brain. This all-new sport coupe from Lexus has some serious power with 467 horsepower that can go from 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. The engine also produces a memorable growl that’s sure to put a smile on your face as you gain speed through the straightaway.

Lexus gave us the opportunity to test the RC F along with the RC F Sport at the picturesque Monticello track that features 18 turns per lap, so we got to test much more than the straight-line speed. For our safety, however, they added some cones and an S curve in the middle of the straightaway so we wouldn’t get too carried away with speeds we couldn’t handle going into the hard right curve.

As for those curves, the handling of the RC F was pretty amazing as it gripped the corners effortlessly at high speeds. Lexus has built a car that’s fun to drive regardless of your skill level. I pushed the F as hard as I could around that track and frankly had a blast.

The RC F is the most powerful Lexus V8 performance car ever and is a worthy successor to the 416 horsepower Lexus IS F launched in 2007 and the LFA carbon-fiber supercar that featured a V10 engine with 552 horsepower. If you’re looking for a performance coupe you have to check this one out.

In addition to the F model Lexus is also introducing the RC 350 featuring a 306 horsepower V6 along with an F SPORT model with Electronic Suspension Damping and Rear-Wheel Steering. We had the opportunity to drive the F SPORT at the Monticello track as well, and while it obviously can’t match the more powerful and more expensive RC F in terms of performance, it’s still an impressive vehicle that was quite fun to drive on the track.

Exterior

Both the RC F and the RC 350 feature the signature Lexus spindle grille, with the F and F SPORT models looking more aggressive in a black mesh pattern. I love this new look for Lexus and it’s definitely changed the image of the brand. Also, the F SPORT models are bringing younger buyers to Lexus. As you can see from the photos above this is a beautiful coupe that will get plenty of attention.

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Car Review: 2015 Honda Fit EX-L

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The Honda Fit EX-L is larger for 2015, and somehow added more power while also increasing fuel efficiency. We took the Fit for a one-week spin to find out how great a compact car can be these days. Prices start at around $16,000, but can climb significantly when adding features and moving up trim levels.

EXTERIOR

When Honda took to redesigning the Fit, you can quickly see that style was going to play a large role in the new car. The new Fit sports a fresh and dynamic exterior design with slimmer headlights that integrate into a solid grille design and an aggressive lower intake. Chiseled sides emphasize the wheels and the dynamically tapered roofline that terminates in a color-matched spoiler. Eight colors, including several new and vibrant options, accentuate the fresh exterior styling. From some views, the 2015 Honda Fit EX-L can resemble a shrunken minivan, but when you are reaching for practicality, there is only so much room to thread the needle in regards to design.

INTERIOR

Inside, the increased interior room and visibility create a sense of airy spaciousness, which is complemented by upgraded, soft-touch materials that raise the feeling of quality. The rich and sophisticated black with silver accented design of the interior surfaces and controls, and blue backlit instrument dials, are stylish and functional. The available Display Audio touchscreen interface and first-ever leather seating (on EX-L models) further increase the premium feel of this new Fit. New standard features on all Fit models include auto on-off headlights, LED brake lights, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink and a center storage console with armrest. Items such as Smart Entry Push Button Start, a one-touch operated moonroof, 7-inch touchscreen Display Audio with next-generation HondaLink, and heated leather seats are among the upgrades available for the first time in Fit.

We did find the driver seat to have relatively limited room to slide back to make room for taller drivers. There is also a feeling of tilting into the long windshield where you get that minivan feeling, and not in a good way.

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Car Review: 2014 Lexus ES 300h Sedan

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As Lexus continues to advance the styling of their products, they continue to lead with impressive hybrid offerings. The first luxury brand to introduce a hybrid vehicle nearly 10 years ago, Lexus continues its hybrid leadership by offering the 2014 Lexus ES 300h sedan powered by the innovative Hybrid Synergy Drive. We spent a fun-filled week driving the luxuriously appointed 2014 Lexus ES 300h sedan and can appreciate why folks just flat-out love this car!

EXTERIOR

The ES 300h cuts a striking figure, highlighted by the Lexus spindle grille dramatic L-themed LED daytime running lights and coupe-like profile. The car’s shape cheats the wind with a low 0.27 coefficient of drag (Cd), which helps reduce fuel consumption and minimize wind noise. The ES 300h conveys its hybrid status in subtle ways, with specific split-five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, lip spoiler, hidden exhaust pipe and blue hybrid badges. The cerulean blue metallic paint stood out on the road and is one of the cleanest colors when it comes to maintaining that clean look. The striking looks are enhanced by the new generation ES 300h gains LED fog lamps with HID headlamps.

INTERIOR

There is no mistaking a Lexus when you enter the cabin space, as top of the line materials and ergonomically placed controls are right at your disposal. The original ES sedan upended the entry luxury category nearly 25 years ago by making a V6 standard in a category populated by four-cylinder models, and by offering more interior room and more standard luxury amenities. Lexus continues to set the trend in the entry-luxury category by virtue of a unique two-model strategy. The front-wheel drive ES models emphasize roominess and comfort, and the sport-minded IS models, which are built on a different platform, offer a choice between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. In contrast, other brands try to mold one model series to fit both roles.

The ES 300h is built on the sixth-generation ES platform, which grew slightly in external size over the previous-generation model and added a significant 4.1 inches in rear seat legroom to offer 40 inches. That compares favorably with legroom in some larger sedans All told, the Lexus ES continues to belie the term “entry luxury” by offering sumptuous accommodations. The ES 300h comes standard with 10-way adjustable power front seats, automatic climate control, NuLuxe interior available in parchment, light gray or black and with elegant piano black trim for instrument panel, doors and upper console. Other interior trim options include espresso bird’s eye maple or bamboo. Also available, 12-way heated/ventilated power front seats allow the seat cushions to extend by 1.4 inches for added leg support.

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