First Drive: 2014 Lexus IS

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We love the opportunity to test drive brand new car models, and we like it even more when the test involves a day at the track. So naturally we were happy to join Lexus at Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina (“The Rock”) to test drive the all-new 2014 Lexus IS. We tested the IS 250 and IS 350, along with the F Sport version of the IS 350.

There’s nothing like accelerating from a banked turn, flooring it once you hit the straightaway, and then slamming on the brakes just as you approach 100 MPH as you prepare to make a 90 degree turn. You definitely get the feeling of what a car can handle on a track like this, and each model of the IS was a blast to drive.

Exterior

Lexus is emphasizing its new “obsession with design” and we can see the results as the company has rolled out its aggressive spindle grille across its model lineup. The new front end gives Lexus a new, bold look that sets the tone for all of the design elements. I always liked the look of Lexus cars, but now I love them.

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First Drive: 2014 Acura MDX

Acura practically invented the segment for luxury CUVs with three rows with the introduction of the first MDX in 2001, and now Acura is introducing the third generation of this vehicle with the 2014 model year with significant upgrades over the previous model. The market for 7-passenger luxury CUVs in now crowded with very healthy competition from other luxury brands, but Acura will remain very competitive with this all-new MDX. I had the opportunity to drive the new model and I came away very impressed.

Exterior

The changes to the exterior design of the MDX aren’t dramatic, as Acura sticks with its wedge-shaped grille for the front end, but the Jewel Eye LED headlights give the vehicle a much more modern look and feel as you can see from the photos above. The new headlights also provide superior road light and visibility as well. Acura slightly altered the size of vehicle, making it slightly narrower and longer. The new MDX is two inches longer with a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase which helps to enhance ride quality. Meanwhile, the vehicle width was reduced by 1.3 inches. The frontal area of the vehicle is also 2-percent smaller which helped to provide for greater aerodynamic efficiency. While the vehicle looks more modern with a number of refinements to the design, it retains the sporty essence that makes it an attractive option in this segment.

Interior

Acura strived to make significant improvements to the interior of the MDX with the goal of creating “synergy between man and machine.” The result was a very luxurious and practical driving experience that will appeal to buyers in this segment. The overall feel is modern and sophisticated and I experienced a very comfortable drive that will meet the expectations of the target market.

I particularly liked the improvements to the center stack. The center console storage area is large and well thought out with a handy slot for mobile phone storage. The sliding lid above the storage area and below the leather-trimmed top is equipped with rubber strips which prevents items like phones from sliding around.

Another feature that stood out for me was the turn-by-turn navigation feature in the main dashboard which compliments the main navigation system in the center stack, letting drivers see instructions in their direct line of site without needing to turn their heads to the main display panel in the center stack. The MDX also features a new 7-inch color On Demand Multi-Use Display touchscreen with haptic feedback which helped to reduce the number of hard buttons in the center stack from 41 to 9.

For the third row seats, Acura wanted to make it easier to get in and out, so they added a very convenient “one push” button in two different places for second row seats. With the longer wheelbase, the new MDX now has 4.5-inch wider foot entry point for third-row passengers along with a 1.8-inch lower floor height for easier step-in. With the new
Extended Slide second-row seats the process of getting into the third row is now much easier.

Performance

The new MDX is powered by a direct-injected 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine, generating 290 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 267 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm and 267 lb.-ft. of peak torque. The aluminumV-6 engine is paired with a reengineered 6-speed automatic transmission that provides reduced friction and smoother gear changes. I drove the all-wheel drive model and was very impressed with the responsiveness and acceleration. I’m partial to vehicles that offer different driving modes so I was happy to see that the MDX offers Sport, Normal and Comfort modes. You can really have fun with the Sport mode option and the paddle shifters, and when you’re stuck in slower traffic you can save more fuel with the Comfort mode. Speaking of fuel, the 2014 MDX also achieves best-in-class fuel economy with 18/27/21 MPG city/highway/combined for the AWD package.

Overview

The MDX is a family-friendly vehicle that also meets the expectations of luxury buyers. It’s a beautiful vehicle, inside and out, and it’s loaded with all the luxuries and amenities you’d expect from today’s luxury vehicles. Buyers with families will also appreciate all of the safety features as well. Prices range from roughly $42,290 for the base 2-wheel drive model to $56,505 range for the fully loaded SH-AWD model. If you’re in the market for a luxury CUV the MDX should be on your list.

  

Car Review: 2013 Kia Rio5 SX

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We still don’t know just how good the B car segment can be, but we sure are getting close. This market is growing and automakers like Kia are serious about gaining market share with entries like the 2013 Kia Rio5 SX. We spent a week testing a signal red model and came away with plenty of impressions.

EXTERIOR

The Rio SX M/T is inspired by Kia’s championship-winning motorsports efforts and the recently-introduced Rio B-spec race car. Enthusiasts are snapping these up as a limited quantity of around 500 Rio SX M/Ts will be initially offered for sale during the 2013 model year. There is no shortage of style with the new Rio SX 5, which sports exterior colors Red and Electronic Blue and comes with LED taillights, front LED accent lights, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The LED accent lights look very upscale, and the sleek skin on this car with the 17-inch alloys really gives this modestly price car a very sporty look. The chilly weather in the Midwest this March made us appreciate the heated power folding mirrors morning, noon and night.

INTERIOR

Inside, the Rio SX M/T adds a 7-inch navigation touch screen with a Sirius XM Traffic system and push-button start with Smart Key. Other standard SX features include sport-tuned suspension, rear camera display, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, Bluetooth wireless technology, and an AM/FM/CD/ MP3 Sirius XM Satellite audio system. Our test model had black cloth seating and was very comfortable and smooth to the touch. The cabin design is modern and well planned with a balanced dashboard. Added features included air conditioning, power windows and door locks, USB and auxiliary input jacks, 60/40 split rear folding seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, steering wheel controls, tilt and telescopic steering column, supervision meter cluster and metal finish trim and metal pedals. I will say that the back seats don’t offer much legroom, so adults might be a tight fit.

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Smart living

There are many unique cars out there, but the Smart Car has always gotten plenty of attention. These cool videos are worth checking out to learn more about this innovative vehicle, including some safety stories that may surprise you!

  

Car Review: 2013 Lexus ES 300h Sedan

The all new 2013 Lexus ES 300h Sedan has the chance to lead Lexus into the future with amazing fuel efficiency and new styling. We had the opportunity drive this new offering from Lexus for a week and took away the following impressions.

EXTERIOR

The new ES features a lower, progressive profile and clean, continuous styling lines from front to rear. All four corners are pulled tightly inward to the wheel arches, creating distinctive proportions. The wheelbase of the new ES has been lengthened by 1.8 inches, while the overall length of the vehicle has grown by just one inch, resulting in a more spacious interior. The new ES unmistakably bears the new face of Lexus with its distinctive, spindle grille. The LED daytime running lights and combination rear lamps reflect the “L” design motif. The ES 300h hybrid features a distinctive rear design with hidden exhaust and an integrated spoiler. New exterior colors for the 2013 ES include Fire Agate Pearl and Silver Lining Metallic. Our test model was nebula gray pearl and the paint was as smooth as the sleek exterior. The auto on/off projector bulb headlamps with integrated LED fog lamps and daytime running lights stand out both during the day and in nighttime driving.

INTERIOR

The modern interior of the 2013 ES has been designed to provide a sense of openness and security. Sightlines and visibility are improved, controls are logically placed, and new cabin materials express a high level of craftsmanship. A newly sculptured seat enhances driver comfort. The steering wheel angle has been reduced from 24 degrees to 22 degrees for a more natural control position. Fluid-filled engine mounts, new sound absorbing materials and a tuned engine intake minimize the intrusion of outside noise.

Greater rear seat legroom and knee room are the hallmark of the redesigned, more spacious cabin. Knee room is increased by 2.8 inches and legroom is increased by 4.1 inches. The new design also offers additional foot room below the front seats. I was very impressed with the amount of room for the rear passengers and that is a major improvement over many competitors.

Available comfort and convenience features include manual door window shades, a power rear shade, and a one-touch power trunk closer. Optional ambient lighting, discretely placed under the wood trim, softly illuminates the surfaces of the instrument panel and all four doors. The new ES features enhanced NuLuxe seating surfaces, developed to reduce environmental impact. Genuine leather is also available, as is semi-aniline leather for an even more refined look and feel. Our heated seats and heated steering wheel warmed up in what seemed to be record time in some pretty cold weather. Interiors are available in Black, Light Gray and Parchment. Trim colors and materials include Piano Black, Espresso Bird’s-eye Maple and Bamboo.

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