Car Review: 2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD

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From first glance last year, one could tell there was something special about Toyota’s fourth-generation RAV4. We spent a week driving the 2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD in some pretty harsh weather conditions and this SUV knows how to handle snow and sleet.

EXTERIOR

The new RAV4’s design achieves strong proportions while conveying the agile and fun character. Sophisticated and dynamic, the exterior features a progressive silhouette, with a sleek-sloping roofline and an aggressive character line. The RAV4 pursues a modern design with aggressively sculpted front and rear fenders and boldly proportioned taillights that define itsathletic presence. The stance looks stronger and much more in tuned with today’s customers.

In a significant break with its heritage, the RAV4 switches from its side-hinged rear door to a convenient roof-hinged liftgate with a space-saver spare tire will be stored under the cargo floor. Standard on the Limited grade is a one-touch power rear liftgate with driver-selectable memory height settings. As on other recently introduced Toyotas, RAV4 engineers paid special attention to aerodynamics — the most obvious detail being small vortex generators molded into the taillight cases and near the base of the A-pillars. Less obvious are the aerodynamic undertrays beneath the passenger cabin that help smooth and control airflow. From the 17-inch alloy wheels, to the Barcelona red metallic paint, the RAV4 has a skin that is light years ahead of past models when it comes to styling and substance.

INTERIOR

The RAV4 XLE model we tested did not have leather seating, or heated seats, for that matter, but the new cabin was nonetheless very impressive. The new RAV4’s dash panel is driver-centric and asymmetrical, with primary and secondary controls all within easy reach. On the passenger side, the sculpted dash panel creates a sense of airy spaciousness.

The RAV4’s dash panel and gauges all feature Clear Blue illumination, which provides crisp visibility in most ambient light conditions, and a unified, coherent appearance at night. The RAV4 XLE driver and front passenger ride in premium bucket seats with sport bolstering, providing ample support of the lower hips, lower torso and shoulders during cornering. The XLE has premium fabric with French stitching on the seats and portions of the dash panels. All RAV4s feature 60/40 split/fold second-row seats that recline several degrees to enhance passenger comfort. In contrast to the 2013 RAV4’s compact exterior dimensions, the cargo area is deeper, larger and easier to access than in the previous generation, with just over 38.4 cu. ft. of cargo capacity behind the rear seats. With rear seats folded, the RAV4 has a maximum cargo capacity of 73.4 cu. ft. This is a very large area, and you really need to see the back seats folded down to appreciate this space.

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Car Review: 2014 Mazda6 i Grand Touring

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From the time we saw the first teaser images of the 2014 Mazda6 i Grand Touring, there was no doubt that this new Mazda had some mojo! The midsize car segment is very competitive, and after a week driving the new 6, we came away with a favorable view of this car’s possibilities.

EXTERIOR

The hot new Mazda6 Grand Touring proudly wears its equally skin-deep beauty on its sleeve with a sense of confidence reserved for the real deal and not for pretenders. An evolution of the TAKERI Concept, Mazda’s new midsize features the brand’s KODO “Soul of Motion” design language, which is inspired by the movement of animals in the wild – their ability to showcase power in its purest form combined with agile finesse. KODO’s prominent personality, inside and out, easily distinguishes the Mazda6 from competitive people movers, whose personalities seem to have been relegated to match their prudish exteriors. The Mazda6 makes no excuses for its muscular manner, nor does it need to. With pronounced sheet metal strokes, the vehicle evokes a controlled intensity, seemingly moving yet standing still. Not meant to be ignored, the stunning Mazda6 presents an uncommon but welcome appeal of emotion to the midsize segment. With 19-inch alloy wheels and dual exhaust with bright outlets, the new Mazda6 has that It factor that some rivals can only dream about!

INTERIOR

The zoom zoom statement continues into the cabin with black leather seating that can stand up to much more expensive sedans. As tested, the highly-optioned Mazda6 Grand Touring offers Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio connectivity, a 5.8-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera, HD Radio Technology, Pandora, Sirius Satellite Radio, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rear view mirror with Homelink, an 11-speaker Bose Surround Sound System, a TomTom-based navigation system with real-time traffic alerts, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and memory settings, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, those upscale leather-trimmed seats with front seat heaters and paddle shifters. Standard interior equipment for all Mazda6 models include a push-button start, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, cloth seat upholstery, power windows with a driver’s side one-touch auto open/close feature, sliding sun visor extensions, a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, carpeted floor mats, six-way manual driver’s seat adjustments with lumbar support, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker audio system, auxiliary and USB connection ports as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shift knob.

There is so much room in the 2014 Mazda6 i Grand Touring that it’s hard to believe at times that you’re actually in a midsize sedan!

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Car Review: 2013 Lexus CT 200h

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As Lexus continues to evolve and grow with vehicles like the CT 200h, it’s clear that the size, packaging, full hybrid technology and ultra-low emissions perfectly meet the requirements of a young, environmentally conscientious customer. Yet the Lexus CT 200h Premium offers no compromise on the refinement and driving pleasure that hallmarks the progressive luxury inherent in every Lexus. We spent a week driving this offering from Lexus in all kinds of weather and we were impressed!

EXTERIOR

There is no mistaking this car as a Lexus, as the grille is flanked by headlamp clusters positioned on a higher plane than the grille itself and the headlamps themselves focus on piercing, single halogen or optional twin LED low beam lamps. This gives the Lexus CT 200h Premium a new look that is more aggressive and modern. Believe it or not, the mirrors were something to behold in both function and style, as they were compact and aerodynamic door mirrors with an integral, LED side turn signal lamp. Careful aerodynamic detailing of the lower bumper and finned rear undercover smooths airflow from beneath the car, further improving both vehicle stability and fuel consumption. For just the right look, the 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels fit nicely under the fenders for that performance appearance certain buyers crave.

INTERIOR

The first thing that stood out to us was how much room there is in the cabin of the CT 200h. Design and function were at high levels with the dashboard being divided into two distinct zones with an upper Display Zone with an 8-inch LCD multi-display screen located at an ideal distance for at-a-glance viewing, and a lower Operation Zone which allows access to the uniquely designed shift lever and system controls.

Our test model was loaded with power tilt and slide moonrooof with sliding sun shade; NoLuxe trim interior; 10-speaker Lexus premium audio system; auto-dimming rearview mirror; Lexus homelink universal transceiver; black perforated leather-trimmed seats with driver’s memory; heated front seats and 4-way power passenger seat rain sensing intermittent wipers with mist cycle; HDD navigation system backup monitor; Lexus Enform with destination assist; HD radio; illuminated door sills; Bluetooth technology and SmartAccess with push button start. The extensive use of metallic finishes and dark, soft touch materials reinforces the premium quality of the cockpit. Customers will appreciate the Ecological Plastics with 30 percent plant-based Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) materials that are used for the floor mats, deck side and deck board trim. The CT is more than 80 percent recyclable and is designed to be easily dismantled. Recycle marks have been placed on the front, rear and tailgate trim to facilitate optimum recycling.

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Car Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe LTD FWD

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When Hyundai designed the all-new six and seven-passenger Sante Fe, their recipe of bold design, high-output powertrains with Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) and a host of other features to please drivers and passengers stayed intact along with high expectations for functionality, versatility and comfort. After spending a week behind the wheel of the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe LTD FWD, we can now see why sales keep going up.

EXTERIOR

The new Hyundais have accomplished fantastic reviews for styling, and the new six-passenger 2013 Hyundai Santa FE LTD FWD continues the good-looking traits of prior Santa Fes. Hyundai designers crafted Santa Fe Sport and three-row Santa Fe together, with the signature differentiating element being the sideview daylight opening (side window shape); the larger Santa Fe features a shape that highlights the increased passenger and cargo room behind the third-row seat. Santa Fe also has its own bodyside character lines from the B-pillar back, grille design, chrome-tipped dual exhaust and a flush-mounted tow hitch design. Our test model was shining in becketts black paint, and with the19-inch Euroflange alloy wheels, this was one sharp looking machine. Also adding to the overall exterior package were front fog lights, heated exterior mirrors with turn signal indicators, roof side rails and windshield wiper deicer. I will say the new front lighting system looks as sleek as any vehicle on the road.

INTERIOR

Impressive from the moment you enter the cabin! The Santa Fe trim features the same flowing interior look designed for passenger functionality and comfort. From the available heated rear seats and eight-way power driver seat with four-way lumbar support, to a standard 40:20:40 folding rear seat back, Santa Fe boasts flexibility and a pleasant cabin for all. Also new for 2013 – and standard on all Santa Fe equipped with cloth seats – is a ‘YES Essentials’ seat fabric treatment that provides soil-resistant, anti-odor and anti-static properties for added longevity and livability. Special care and attention went into other interior details, such as an optional panoramic sunroof, which allows more natural light into the cabin and rear side window sunshades. Available on Santa Fe models is a push-button starter with proximity key, Electroluminescent Gauge Cluster with color LCD trip computer and a heated steering wheel.

Our test model sported heated black leather seating surfaces with second row captain’s chairs. The three-row Santa Fe increases second-row legroom by 1.9 inches and cargo capacity 5.5 cubic feet and features standard rear-passenger HVAC controls and vents to increase family comfort, while also offering a standard 50:50 split folding third-row bench seat with 31.5 inches of legroom. This seat back is perfect for seating five passengers comfortably or accommodating four passengers plus long items like skis, golf clubs, snowboards and surfboards. Fold down two seats to seat three people and hold larger packages, or fold all rear seats to maximize cargo space. Our three-row Santa Fe also featured a power liftgate for added convenience.

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First Drive: 2014 Chevrolet SS

The performance sedan has returned to Chevrolet with the introduction of the all-new Chevrolet SS. This badass, rear-wheel drive sedan features a 6.2L V-8 engine rated at SAE-certified 415 horsepower and 415 lb.-ft. of torque with paddle-shift six-speed automatic transmission and joins the new Corvette and Camaro in Chevy’s impressive performance lineup. The SS was designed and built in Australia by the team responsible for the Commodore and benefits from the global rear-wheel drive architecture that is the foundation for Holden’s VF Commodore, the Camaro and the Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle. I had the opportunity to drive the new SS on some great roads around Palm Springs and I enjoyed pushing it to the limit.

Performance

I love sedans with power so I immediately felt comfortable in the SS. The sedan is big and powerful but also impressively nimble as well. It performed as expected on straightaways with the kind of responsiveness and acceleration that will bring a smile to your face. But it also handled the mountain curves with ease as well. It marries the power of traditional muscle cars with the handling one expects from modern vehicles. The SS is fun to drive and you’ll love the sound of this vehicle as well.

The 6.2L LS3 small-block V-8 is paired with the Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic with paddle-shift control. I was pleased to see the sport mode feature which is a necessary element in modern performance cars. It’s easy to slide into sport mode with the shifter on the floor and then drivers can also use paddle shifters or the floor shifter to manually control the gears. Some purists will lament the absence of a true manual option, and GM would not comment on future options, but there’s plenty here for performance enthusiasts to like.

The sport-tuned suspension gives you great handling when needed along with a very comfortable ride. The front suspension is a MacPherson-strut-based multi-link system with a direct-acting stabilizer bar, featuring a forward-mounted steering rack and dual lower links with individual ball joints at the outer ends. The rear suspension is a multi-link independent system with coil-over shock absorbers and decoupled stabilizer bar.

Exterior

The muscular but clean design of the SS perfectly matches the performance characteristics. The SS is sporty but also understated in its design without any unnecessary flair thrown in. I like the front grille and also the dual-exhaust tips in the rear. I also like the styling of the rims, but I would have preferred an aluminum option as opposed to the shiny chrome rims.

Interior

The interior design is luxurious but also understated in a manner that evokes a sports car interior. I liked the horizontal dashboard and the prominent use of the SS logo and the controls are laid out in a logical manner. The clean, functional approach trumps any urge to push the design envelope which works well with the exterior design and performance car attributes. The interior only comes in black and the sunroof is the only option available. That shouldn’t be a problem as everything you would want is standard, including leather, eight-way power adjustable front bucket seats, in-dashboard touch screen that supports Chevrolet MyLink, navigation system, SiriusXM radio, Bose 220-watt, nine-speaker premium sound system, six months of OnStar and much more.

Overview

The SS is exactly the type of performance car we should expect from Chevrolet. This is Chevrolet’s first V-8, rear-wheel-drive performance sedan since 1996 and signals that the brand is heading in the right direction. The overall package from performance to design works beautifully and Chevrolet should have a hit on its hands with the SS. Priced at around $45,000 this car offers an impressive amount of performance and luxury for the money. Guys in particular will be drawn to this car, and if you’re into performance sedans you have to put the SS on your test drive list.

  

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