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.

Exterior

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.

Interior

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.

Performance

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.

Overview

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.

Rogue in Nashville

  

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Track Day with Lexus F SPORT cars

Lexus is upping its game. The luxury brand has built a reputation over the years for elegant luxury vehicles, reliability and customer service. But now Lexus has made aggressive design and performance a priority and the changes are striking. The new design direction is most noticeable with the new spindle front grille that immediately grabs your attention and gives the vehicles a much sportier look. But buyers looking for even more aggressive design and performance packages will look to the Lexus F Sport lineup which now covers six of its vehicles. Buyers choosing the F SPORT packages will get increased handling along with unique design cues that set the vehicles apart.

I was on hand at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as Lexus took the opportunity to show off the F SPORT lineup with challenging autocross and track courses. The idea was to push each vehicle in standard drive mode and then run the same route again in sport mode. The cars handled fine in standard mode but then became very impressive in sport mode, gripping the corners as we powered through the turns. With its F SPORT lineup Lexus offers worthy competitors to the top sport sedans on the market, along with designs that will attract the attention of younger buyers (and those who are young at heart).

We had the entire F SPORT lineup on hand at the track, including the IS 250/350 sport sedan, the GS 350 luxury sedan, the LS 460 flagship luxury sedan, the CT 200h premium hybrid compact, the IS 250/350C hardtop convertible and the RX 350 luxury utility vehicle.

We also had the two stand-alone F performance vehicles – the LFA supercar and the IS F performance sedan. These are completely distinct models built for optimal track performance.

The day started for our group on the tight autocross course with four F SPORT models – the CT 200h, the IS 250, the IS 350 AWD, and the GS 350. The course had plenty of quick and tight turns, and with each model we drove it in standard drive mode for one lap and then switched to the Sport or Sport+ mode for the second lap with a very impressive improvement in handling and stability around the corners. We could push the cars even harder as we got accustomed to the course.

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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.

Exterior

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.

Interior

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.

Performance

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.

Overview

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.

  

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.

Exterior

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.

Interior

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.

Performance

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.

Overview

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.

  

Booth Babes at 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show

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We were back in Frankfurt this year on location for the motor show, and like before we have a great booth babe gallery for your viewing pleasure. As usual, the booths with the Italian cars had some of the most impressive eye candy with Lamborghini getting plenty of attention as usual, but there were great models at all the booths. The concept cars and new car models usually got the most attention in terms of beautiful women helping to show them off.

The 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show had some impressive new vehicles revealed like the Porsche 918 supercar and the Ferrari 458 Speciale, so check back for our coverage here and at Dashboard News.

  

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