First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

SAN DIEGO – The high-powered, low-volume 2015 Volkswagen Golf R could play a big role in getting the German automaker’s U.S. sales back on the good foot. That would mean more VWs rolling out of showroom doors.

Here’s the deal: the VW Golf recently was named Car of the Year by two very prestigious organizations. Now, the Volkswagen Golf R helps to fill out a lineup that includes the regular Golf, a performance version of that compact car, a diesel powered Golf and an electric Golf. A station wagon is on the way, but we came here to test drive the Golf R. It is the high-powered version of this car.

By the numbers, this Golf R has a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood that makes292 horsepower and 280 pound feet of torque. It’s mated to a direct sequential gearing, read six-speed dual clutch, automatic transmission branded (DSG). This version goes on sale in the spring. It will be joined by a six-speed manual Golf R this summer that will be sold as a 2016 model; it will about $1,000 less than the automatic.

With the fast-shifting DSG, the Golf R can get to 60 mph from a standing start in a blistering 4.9 seconds and it has a top track speed of 155 mph. Because of low sales for the two-door Golf R in the past, the 2015 version will only be sold in this market as a four-door. Mileage is expected to be 23 mpg in the city, more than 30 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined.

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Car Review: 2015 Honda Fit EX-L


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.


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.


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 Nissan Versa Note SV


The Nissan Versa has been on a sales bonanza, delivering big sales for their company, and with the all-new 2014 Versa Note, things can only get better. The second-generation hatchback went on sale at Nissan’s U.S. dealers in June 2013 and gives notice that in an era of changing consumer needs and expectations, Versa clearly want to be a leader of the entry-level pack. After spending a week driving this hip compact, we also found some pleasant surprises in the Versa.


The new sleek exterior of the 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV really elevates this car into new heights regarding design and appeal. The Versa Note’s sculpted modern styling accomplishes things like providing enhanced aerodynamics to help improve fuel economy and make it stand out from the crowd of entry-level competitors. Its dramatic shape and proportions provide an energetic look that reflects the active lives of its target buyers. Attention to aerodynamic detail helps the Versa Note achieve a coefficient of drag of 0.298 (CVT-equipped models) – a nine percent decrease over the 2012 Versa hatchback’s 0.31 Cd. The large front spoiler combines with a “kick up” roof shape and low aero-drag floor structure (including front and rear tire deflectors, rear suspension beam mounted flush with floor and fuel tank deflectors) to direct airflow over, under and around the body.

CVT-equipped Versa Note models include Nissan’s first-ever Active Grille Shutter, which limits the amount of air entering the engine compartment, reducing drag force by 0.01. The Active Grille Shutter is generally closed at speeds above 20 miles per hour. The iconic front grille and large multi-reflector headlights are paired with Note’s “boomerang” rear taillights, which are similar to those found on the Nissan 370Z and Nissan JUKE. The special “vented” taillight design includes special outlets and lip to help guide air away from the body for reduced air turbulence and improved rear lamp visibility in bad weather. Fog lights and heated sideview mirrors are also available. The Versa Note’s dynamic design also takes full advantage of Nissan’s global “V” platform. It features a long, 102.4-inch wheelbase that helps maximize interior roominess, while the six-inch shorter front and rear overhangs than the previous Versa hatchback help provide a sporty stance and parking maneuverability.


This is where the biggest surprise hit us with much more room than expected; the rear seating alone blew us away with crazy leg room. The roomy five-passenger Versa Note interior provides a spacious total interior volume of 112.9 cubic feet and ample cargo space of 18.8 cubic feet. Cargo area liftover height has been reduced by 1.7 inches (over previous generation Versa hatchback) for easier loading and unloading of heavy or bulky objects. Also leading the conversation is Note’s front headroom of 40.8 inches and rear legroom of 38.3 inches – which is nearly 3.7 inches longer than the nearest competitor (38.3 inches versus 34.6 inches) – making the Versa Note both kid-friendly and adult comfortable.

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Car Review: 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth


You know very quickly when you are driving something special, and the 500 Abarth is special. We drove the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth for a week and had about as much fun as any car we tested in recent months. There is no doubt that the Fiat 500 Abarth brought world-class performance and precision, purposeful and aggressive styling, high power-to-weight ratio and limited-production volume to the small-car segment in North America.


The Abarth badging on the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth has a tint of dare we say a Ferrari in just the slightest but most impressive way. The aggressive styling of the Fiat 500 Abarth embodies the Abarth brand tradition in full — purposeful and intentional details, all designed to improve the car’s performance, while enhancing the clean and simple design language of the Cinquecento. Our test model proudly boasted rosso (red) paint and sweet 17-inch x 7-inch forged aluminum hyper black wheels, which set the tone for this confident compact.

To improve aerodynamics and the necessary engine compartment space for the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine, the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio feature a more pronounced front fascia. For additional air intake, the signature “Abarth” shield floats on a finned surface and a larger intake below consists of three inlets with broader openings than the standard Cinquecento models. For a more aggressive look, twin “nostrils” are precisely positioned on the front fascia to maximize airflow in and out of the two engine intercoolers (both intercoolers are visible through the “nostril” inlets).

Abarth-designed side skirts give an athletic profile, while 16-inch or optional 17-inch (as tested) lightweight forged-aluminum wheels fill the flared wheel arches and provide ventilation for the performance brake system. From the rear, an aggressively-styled, Abarth-specific, cloth top-mounted spoiler extends the roofline and improves the Abarth Cabrio’s aerodynamic behavior by creating additional downforce. Below, the two-piece Abarth-styled rear fascia accentuates the road-holding stance and optimizes airflow with its rear diffuser. Integrated behind the diffuser, the low-restriction Abarth-tuned exhaust system features concentric “double tips” and the signature Abarth-tuned sound.


Quality, style and fun all come together to invigorate you in the cabin of the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth. The interior design theme of the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio is an artistic blend of clean lines and functional performance appointments. An Abarth-designed steering wheel features a thick rim, perforated leather and flat bottom to provide the look, feel and increased roominess desired during at-the-limit driving. A large concentric instrument cluster with 160-mph speedometer, tachometer and trip computer sits behind the steering wheel and features a leather-wrapped cluster brow wrapped in Nero leather with Rosso accent stitching. To the left, an analog turbo-boost gauge has an integrated LED shift light in the center that illuminates an instant before redline to optimize gear changes. Below the instrument panel, Abarth-designed aluminum pedal covers feature Nero rubber trim for a decidedly racing look, while the Nero leather shift knob with Rosso accent stitching provides a precise feel of the shifter.

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Car Review: 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge


Fiat has been steadily gaining back a foothold in the North American marketplace and now looks to continue that growth with the 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge. The all-new 2014 Fiat 500L expands the Cinquecento’s appeal by offering 42 percent extra interior space with comfortable seating for five. We drove a 500L Lounge for a one week test and came away with the following impressions.


According to Fiat, the 500L was designed with the active and thrill-seeking North American customer in mind, as the 2014 Fiat 500L Trekking expands the appeal and practicality of the Fiat 500L with distinct and rugged looks. We found the 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, white roof and bi-function halogen projector headlamps to be very stylish, but the overall design was not as sharp as competitors in our opinion. There is no question that the 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge has its own look, but that look can come off as somewhat quirky. A design that could build off the cool front fascia might be the way to go here!


When you enter the cabin of the 500L Lounge, there is no doubt that quality materials played a big role in the finished product. Fiat went for a “loft-like interior,” which will work for some car buyers, but there is also a feeling that you’re in a miniature school bus. With that feel comes way more room that the two-door 500, but without the sporty appeal that we loved about the 500. The power sunroof was large and the Beats premium audio system with six speakers was awesome. One thing that needs to be addressed is too much engine noise making it’s way into the 500L.

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