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.
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.
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.
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.
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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First Drive: 2014 Nissan Rogue
I was on hand on a beautiful fall day in Nashville to drive the all-new 2014 Nissan Rogue. The Rogue is the latest in a series of redesigns from Nissan as the entire lineup has been revamped. With the Rogue we see many of the exterior and interior design improvements we’ve seen in other Nissan models we’ve tested.
The new Rogue has been completely redesigned with a more muscular look. The new vehicle is taller and wider than its predecessor with a longer wheelbase. All new headlamps and front grille replace the harder edges of the front facia of the current model. The high, muscular ridges along the wheel wells also enhance the styling of this compact CUV. The new model also incorporates new design elements like available LED headlights and standard LED signature daytime running lights. Check out the slideshow above and you’ll see how the vehicle looks great from every angle.
The Rogue interior was impressive and comfortable. Soft touch materials and premium trim accents were added in all the right places, and I liked the oversized center console that has room for a 10” tablet computer. Nissan emphasized the “Zero Gravity” seats developed from NASA research on natural-stress-free postures measured in zero gravity. They are designed to optimize comfort and reduce fatigue. I spent the good part of the day in the Rogue and can attest to the seat comfort.
For the first time, Rogue will offer optional 3-row/7-passenger seating. This isn’t intended to have this compact CUV compete with larger models, but it offers younger families some flexibility when needed. The cargo area was well put together with the Rogue’s Divide-‘N-Hide cargo system which helps keep wet/dirty items like muddy soccer gear separate from clean dry items with an easily cleaned lower level. The two-piece cargo organizer has 18 possible configurations, and combined with the back seat folding options offers plenty of flexibility.
I particularly liked the class-exclusive Around View Monitor available in the SL model. The ability to have a 360-view of the space around the vehicle along with the rear-view camera makes maneuvering in tight spaces a breeze. Other available features include Moving Object Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning.
The Rogue features a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 170-horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque along with the Xtronic CVT transmission with a sport mode option. The power was adequate for this class of vehicles though acceleration sometimes lagged. But drivers will get a best-in-class highway fuel economy of 33 MPG. The handling was more impressive as the Rogue easily zips around corners. Also, Nissan has added technology features which help to stabilize the vehicle around corners in slippery conditions. The Active Trace Control technology can automatically engage the inner and outer brakes to optimize the line through turns and I was impressed as we tested this on wet surfaces. Drivers can also decide to turn this off.
The compact CUV segment is growing but it’s also very competitive. With this redesign the Rogue will likely remain a popular choice among consumers and should be on consumers’ test drive list. Pricing for the 2014 Rogue starts out at $22,490 for the base S model with front-wheel drive, and then can go over $32,000 for the SL AWD with the premium option package. However, in order to attract buyers looking at lower pricing options, Nissan will continue to build the 2013 version of the Rogue as a 2014 model called Rogue Select. This vehicle will start at an MSRP below $20,000 and offers an option for customers who want a compact CUV at the lower price point.
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First Drive: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
Fans of the wildly popular Honda Accord now have another option with the all-new Accord Hybrid. Car buyers looking for hybrids and/or high gas mileage cars now have another excellent option as well. I traveled to central Ohio for the opportunity to drive this new vehicle and also for a tour of the Marysville, Ohio plant where the Accord Hybrid is built.
The styling for the Accord has remained elegant through this ninth generation without becoming boring. The vehicle has been a force in the midsized market for so long that the bar is set very high, and the current Accord upholds that standard. The Accord Hybrid has a number of design accents that set it apart from the gas version, including a blue-accented upper grille on the front end along with blue-accented headlights, blue-accented LED taillights and a trunk lid spoiler that helps reduce aerodynamic drag. Along with various hybrid badges it’s enough to give the Accord Hybrid a distinctive look. It also comes with 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels with a sharp design that’s unique to the Hybrid.
The Accord Hybrid interior is very similar to other Accord models with a level of comfort and upscale accents that will please most buyers in this segment. It’s roomy and comfortable and all of the instruments are laid out nicely for easy usage. The Hybrid’s interior is distinguished by a black steering wheel and the unique hybrid instrumentation and has features like dual-zone climate control.
When you drive the Accord Hybrid, it drives differently than the regular gas model, so there will be an adjustment period as drivers get used to it. It’s not really better or worse – it just feels different. For example, gas cars typically coast when you let up on the gas, while here with the Hybrid you’ll feel some drag as it’s designed to charge the battery in these instances. Also, drivers can monitor mileage and battery usage vs gas usage in real time, so driving efficiently becomes a game if you’re inclined to play. I suspect most buyers will embrace these differences.
Still, the acceleration is fine and the overall driving experience is excellent. I drove the Accord Hybrid on a wide variety of roads and found the vehicle to be very responsive. In one of the city setting we were challenged to try to get the highest gas mileage along a prepared route. Once you get the hang of how the Hybrid works you can achieve some very impressive mileage numbers in slow traffic areas.
The Accord Hybrid achieves impressive fuel economy ratings with 50 MPG city, 45 MPG highway and 47 MPG combined by using a two-motor hybrid system called Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) that continuously cycles between three different modes (EV drive, hybrid drive and engine drive) to maximize fuel efficiency. The gas engine powers a generator in most driving conditions which then provides energy to charge the hybrid battery and/or for the electric motor to power the wheels. The i-MMD can also operate on gasoline engine power only, usually during medium- to high-speed cruising.
Pricing for the Accord Hybrid ranges from $29,155 for the base Hybrid, $31,905 for the Hybrid EX-L and $34,905 for the Hybrid Touring. An Accord plug-in hybrid is also available which has a smaller battery. If you’re thinking about buying an Accord or if you’re in the market for a hybrid, I strongly recommend driving the new Accord Hybrid and having a sales representative spend some time with you explaining all the features.
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First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla
The Toyota Corolla has earned a reputation for reliability over the years, making it one of the most successful vehicles in Toyota’s lineup. But the Corolla was also known for pretty conservative styling, and in today’s competitive car market Toyota listened to its customers and made it a priority to improve the exterior and interior styling. The result is a radically different front end for the all-new 2014 Corolla that sets the tone for the new model. The Corolla lineup also features sport model (the S) that has an even more aggressive look.
Just take one look at the new front end of the Corolla and your impression of the vehicle will change immediately. It’s much more expressive with a large, trapezoidal grille under the LED headlights giving the Corolla a more memorable look (see first two images above). In the S model the grille shape is flipped to set it apart from the L, LE and LE Eco models, giving consumers an interesting set of choices (see images 3 and 4 above). The S model also has beautiful 17-inch alloy wheels that help the overall look of the car. The exterior dimensions have also changed a bit from the previous model as the new Corolla is a little longer and wider and also a little shorter.
The interior of the Corolla has also been revamped with a horizontal design across the dashboard. The seats and materials have been improved and the overall driving experience was very comfortable. It’s pretty amazing how far these compact cars have come over the years. The steering wheel had a sporty feel to it and the addition of more soft touch materials made a difference in overall comfort.
I had plenty of drive time with several of the Corolla models as Toyota prepared a number of routes in the Minneapolis area on a beautiful fall day. I started with the S as I wanted to see how the sportier model would drive and I came away impressed with the acceleration and handling. I’ve mentioned many times that I prefer vehicles that offer a separate sport mode and here drivers can choose between sport and eco settings. The Corolla felt more nimble and quick in sport mode which made it fun to drive, and still performed adequately in eco mode. Toyota offers a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that it calls the CVTi-S which has been designed to give a driving experience more similar to a traditional automatic transmission with the gear changes. The transmission has the feel of seven “gears” or shift points, and in the S model drivers can use paddle shifters to manually control the shift points. The S model does not offer a more powerful engine so buyers looking for small performance cars won’t be looking at this model, but the transmission and suspension changes improve the driving experience enough for many consumers.
The LE Eco model was a very pleasant surprise as it performed well in both eco and sport modes. The Corolla offers a 1.8 liter engine that is rated at 132 horsepower, but the LE Eco has a 1.8-liter engine with Toyota’s “Valvematic” system which produces 42 miles-per-gallon on the highway and 140 horsepower. At the moment Toyota is projecting roughly 10% product mix for the LE Eco with 40% for each the S and LE, and capacity restraints will prevent that from going much higher in the short term. Still, it will be interesting to see if demand for this 42 MPG option causes the company to adjust its plans over time.
The compact car segment has seen much more aggressive and interesting designs in recent years, so the new Corolla design should help get the attention of younger buyers. Overall this is an impressive vehicle. It’s always been a big seller, but the new design should attract plenty of new buyers considering the various options in this segment.
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First Drive: 2014 Corvette Stingray
The buzz around the 2014 Corvette Stingray has been intense since the all-new seventh generation (C7) was unveiled earlier this year in Detroit and I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel. I got my chance recently when Chevrolet invited me out to California to test drive this incredible new version of the iconic sports car. I drove the new Vette on long stretches of remote roads near Monterey and Carmel that offered winding paths, tight turns and inviting straightaways, and then we had the opportunity to push it even further on an autocross coarse set up for us by the Corvette team. The experience blew me away.
The executives at Chevrolet wanted to make a statement with the design of the new C7 and they obviously succeeded. The new design generated rave reviews from the moment is was unveiled as the designers created a completely new vehicle as opposed to the more incremental styling changes we saw with the C5 and C6. The Corvette team provided us with a Corvette from each of the previous six generations so we could see up close the design changes over the years.
The bold new design also moved the brand team to revive the iconic Stingray name with the new Corvette, and I certainly agree that this new model lives up to that legacy without relying on a retro design. The new design is stunning and the Corvette looks beautiful from all angles.
The most controversial design change involved the rear tail lights with a departure from the classic, rounded lights in favor of new angular lights. Some Corvette purists were disappointed, but the designers wanted a bold, new look and the result looks fantastic. The designers came up with a new look for the tail lights that work for this Corvette design, and that’s why the entire package looks so good.
The designers explained that function helped drive the design process and that the team was heavily inspired by the Corvette racing team. Every vent on the new Corvette has an important cooling function, and the beautiful curves of the new car serve important aerodynamic functions. The new Corvette Stingray shares only two parts with the previous-generation Corvette, incorporating an all-new frame structure and chassis and a new powertrain and supporting technologies.
The designers of the new Corvette made the interior a priority as well. The goal was to provide a more upscale interior to go with the bold exterior design and to enhance the driver’s connection to the Corvette. The result is a high-tech, cockpit feel coupled with a much more luxurious experience where every surface is covered with premium, soft-touch materials such as hand-wrapped leather with elegant stitching. Other highlights include carbon fiber and aluminum trim, two high-definition, configurable screens and a smaller steering wheel.
Buyers can also choose between two seating choices: a GT seat for all-around comfort and a Competition Sport seat with more aggressive side bolstering for more support on the track. By observing high-performance driving experiences, designers included a steel-reinforced grab bar on the center console for the passenger and soft-touch materials on the edge of the console where the driver naturally braces during high-load cornering.
I was in the Corvette practically all day and the level of comfort is impressive for a sports car, whether you’re cruising on the highway or powering through a tight corner. For the driver, everything is laid out nicely and the center console screen is angled towards the driver, and the driver displays vary depending on the driver mode selected.
For years the Corvette has set the standard for performance as it could stack up to exotic sports cars that cost much more. In its price range nothing has come close for years, and the new C7 continues that tradition by setting the bar even higher.
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