First Drive: 2013 Honda Accord

The Accord has always been an important vehicle to Honda. The Accord accounts for a huge chunk of production (and revenue) for the automotive giant. Because of this every introduction of a new generation of Accord is important in many ways.

2011 was a rough year for Japanese automakers in general. The Japan earthquake and the flood in Thailand seriously curtailed the number of vehicles produced for the model year. Suppliers had to rebuild, Honda scrambled to find alternative sources of parts and supplies.

Honda used this time to prepare for a ramp-up of output in the first quarter of the new year. Inventory increased 46,000 units and hasn’t looked back ever since. Accord sales alone are up nearly 28% since January, a huge turn-around from 2011.

The 2013 Accord represents the ninth generation of the famous brand, with its ancestry dating back to 1976. The Accord has a reputation for being a solid and reliable family car, able to haul a family and their gear throughout their day-to-day adventures. The sedan excels at fading into the background; becoming ubiquitous and unassuming. Not a bad thing for a people-hauler.

Lineup

The Accord comes in three body styles: the Sedan, the Coupe, and the Plug-in Hybrid Sedan. Each is based off the same chassis and shares a majority of components. The continuation of the Coupe is a bit of a surprise given that the segment seems to be shrinking.

There are a variety of engines available that also define the offerings. The base four-cylinder 2.4 liter i-VTEC DOHC engine is available in both the Coupe and the Sedan, while the more powerful 3.5 liter six-cylinder is an option. The Hybrid Accord comes equipped with a two-motor 2.0 liter powerplant, unique to that vehicle.

Interior

Honda has focused on designing their vehicles around the concept of maximizing space for the occupants while minimizing the overall size of the vehicle. To that end the car is developed from the inside out: the passenger cabin space is defined and the designers must create a body that fits around the occupants.

To that end the 2013 Accord Coupe, for example, has been shrunk by nearly two inches in overall length, while gaining about an inch of leg room and almost two cubic-feet of storage in the trunk.

Improved Materials

The interior of the new Accord is a great improvement over the outgoing model. Utilitarian plastic and vinyl have been replaced with higher quality materials. Brushed aluminum accent pieces on higher-end trim levels add to the feeling of an upscale vehicle.
Honda has replaced the multi-piece dash with a one-piece instrument panel designed in-house. The new dash reduces rattles and squeaks and feels very solid. The dash is the focus of the new car, with a split two-screen control system acting as navigation and stereo controls.

Rear-view cameras are now standard across all versions, which is a big selling point for those of us who fear backing over an errant tricycle. It worked well, as the screen is mounted high and centrally located, making it a snap to use.

The navigation system seemed adequate, as did the stereo. Honda is rolling out it’s HondaLink system with the new Accord, which offers smartphone app support through device tethering. We didn’t get to test the system ourselves, but after seeing a demo of it I’m looking forward to getting a better look.

Also available is a Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system that alerts you when you drift slightly while driving. By slightly I do mean slightly, as the system kept triggering at the slightest provocation. Simply merging from an off ramp into traffic would sometimes cause it to chirp. Half-way through the test drive we were looking for a way to disable it.

Exterior

As mentioned earlier, the new Accord is slightly smaller than the out-going model. But the change isn’t noticeable. The lines of the car feel more defined, more aggressive. Honda used a new and improved stamping process for the new car and it shows in the presence the car exudes.

An important feature of the new car is the addition of an external rear-facing camera mounted on the passenger side mirror. This camera aids the driver by showing in the center display an image of what’s in the car’s right-side blind spot. Flip on the right turn signal and get a bird’s eye view of what’s in the way. In practice this is an incredible feature. During our test drive it became an easy thing to grow accustomed to. It’s a serious tool for highway driving.

Performance

The 2.4L four-cylinder engine puts out 185 horsepower and 181 foot-pounds of torque. It’s peppy, but not exceptional. As with most entry-level engines the focus is on fuel economy, not performance. Still, it has enough oomph to get out of it’s own way

The 3.5L six-cylinder’s output is up 7 horsepower from last year’s engine, up to 278. It gives the Accord a more spirited drive, and actually wakes up the vehicle. The engine note on the sixer is raspier and more aggressive; stomp on the gas and you’ll hear it. For my money this is the engine of choice.

Overall

Pricing for the Accord ranges from $22,000 for an Accord LX to $33,000 for a well-optioned Touring model. Quite a range, but within the pricing horizon of its competitors.

The Accord Sedan will go on sale September 19 across the country, while the Coupe, which will start at $23,350, won’t be available until October 15.

The first impression of the 2013 Accord is one of a competent and solid car. Honda is a company led by engineers, and it shows. The amount of effort that has gone into refining this icon is impressive. I look forward to driving it long-term to see if that first impression holds up over time.

  

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First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

The folks at Hyundai are so proud of the new turbo engine in their all-new 2013 Santa Fe that they invited us to test drive the redesigned vehicle in the thin air around Park City Utah at 8,500 feet above sea level. The altitude provided a real test for the crossover’s performance and it passed with flying colors.

The third-generation Santa Fe comes in two versions, with a five-passenger Sport model that we tested along with a longer wheelbase seven-passenger model with three-rows. The Sport model arrives in showrooms in this month and the seven-passenger model will arrive in January 2013.

Exterior

Hyundai keeps putting out great-looking vehicles and the Santa Fe is no exception. With the new Santa Fe, Hyundai continues to implement its “Fluidic Sculpture” design principles that have given Hyundai vehicles a bold and distinctive look. Specifically, the Santa Fe features a new design concept called Storm Edge, which captures the strong and dynamic images created by nature during the formation of a storm. This design language works well on the new Santa Fe as you can see from the photos of the Sport model. The vehicle looks great from all angles. The seven-passenger version looks very similar, though some of the lines like the rear side windows are softened in the larger model.

Interior

The interior of the Santa Fe is very roomy and comfortable, and the model we drove was loaded with features, including a Panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and manual rear side window sunshades, power driver seat with four-way lumbar control and front passenger seats, and sliding and reclining second row seating with 40:20:40 folding seat back. All of the controls were conveniently positioned and were easy to use. On the safety front, the Santa Fe has seven standard airbags, including driver’s knee airbag. I sat in the back seat and there’s plenty of room.

You definitely feel like you’re driving a crossover as you’re sitting a little higher than a car but not as high as an SUV. The overall driving experience will likely appeal to both drivers in a family with a nice blend of comfort and handling.

Performance

We had the opportunity to drive the 2.0L Turbo AWD version of the five-passenger Sport model through the mountain roads surrounding Park City. Performance of any vehicle declines in high altitude settings, but the power and performance of the Santa Fe turbos were very impressive. The Santa Fe easily accelerated as we climbed the mountain roads and handled the curves nicely. The overall handling was fine given that we pushed the vehicle pretty hard, so family buyers will be more than happy with the overall performance.

The Santa Fe Sport has two four-cylinder options, with the Theta II 2.4-liter Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) engine that achieves 190 horsepower with an estimated 33 mpg EPA on the highway, which is the highest of any CUV/SUV equipped with an automatic transmission. We drove vehicles with the high-output Theta II 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI engine that achieves 264 horsepower with an estimated 31 mpg (FWD A/T) on the highway. A Lambda II 3.3-liter GDI V6 engine with 290 horsepower is available on the larger wheelbase Santa Fe.

Hyundai has emphasized weight savings across all of their new models in order to achieve the gas mileage numbers, and the new Santa Fe is 266 lbs. lighter than the 2012 model. The engineers accomplish this with the use of high tensile steel, as the new Santa Fe features a high tensile steel ratio of 37.7% vs. 7.8% for outgoing model along with improved torsional stiffness by 15.7%.

Overview

Like every automaker, Hyundai is eager to service the market of young families, and the Santa Fe is a huge key to their strategy of targeting what they call “core families.” Buyers in this segment are interest in practical vehicles but also want cool styling as well. Hyundai has achieved a nice mix of these aspects in the new Santa Fe with very competitive pricing, and we recommend adding this to your test drive list.

  

First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

When I tested the Veloster a last year I was very impressed with the styling and handling. Hyundai had created a truly unique coupe with a hidden third door that quickly became a hit. Now with the introduction of the 2013 Veloster Turbo, Hyundai now has a version where the performance is just as impressive as the styling. I had the opportunity to drive the new Veloster Turbo through the winding canyon roads surrounding San Diego, and frankly the car was a joy to drive.

Exterior

The Veloster is a great-looking vehicle. Hyundai developed an excellent design and they didn’t mess around with it. The 2013 Turbo version carries over the aggressive styling from the 2012 model. They’ll have no trouble attracting younger buyers with this car. For the turbo, LED accents have been added to the front and rear lights, and a panoramic sunroof and body color spoiler are also available. It also features 18-inch wheels with chrome accents.

One option available for the new Turbo Veloster is the matte gray paint. Usually we only see this type of paint option on far more expensive vehicles but Hyundai decided to offer it on the Veloster and it looks great. Hyundai officials stressed that owners of this color option need to take special care of the vehicle in order to preserve the matte finish.

Interior

The interior for the Turbo Veloster includes a number of standard upgrades, including, heated front seats, aluminum pedals, Blue Link, electroluminescent gauge cluster and push-button start. And this sporty vehicle is also practical with the third door and the hatch. Veloster Turbo has best-in-class cargo volume and more interior volume than Civic, Mini, Beetle and Fiat 500.

Performance

We were looking forward to this new Turbo and we included it on our list of 20 cars to look forward to in 2012. The results did not disappoint us. We had the perfect setting to test this car as Hyundai crafted some great driving routes through the SoCal canyon roads. I was able to push this car very hard through tight turns as we went up and down that various mountain roads. The power and acceleration was excellent and the 6-speed was very responsive. Anyone who likes to drive will have fun with this car. While we would definitely choose the manual transmission, we should note that the automatic transmission version comes with standard Sport mode.

This new Veloster is powered by a Hyundai-first 1.6L Turbo delivering 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque with regular fuel. The fuel economy remains excellent. The non-turbo model gets 40 MPG on the highway while the Turbo achieves 26/38 MPG for the manual and 25/34 for the automatic. The engineers at Hyundai have focused on reducing weight through high-strength steel which has helped them achieve their impressive fuel economy numbers across the lineup.

Overview

The pricing for the Veloster Turbo ranges from $21,950 to $25,450. That’s an impressive value for a car that looks this good and has the performance to go with it. You have to test drive this car to truly appreciate the value here. It’s fun as hell, and you certainly have to be a younger buyer to appreciate it. Just young at heart!

  

First Drive: 2013 Nissan Altima

The mid-sized sedan market is the most competitive segment in the auto industry with 2 million vehicles sold per year, and Nissan has ridden the popularity of the Altima to second place in the annual sales war. We were invited out to Nashville to test drive the next generation Altima that will go on sale this summer. With a fresh new look and 38 MPG on the highway, the new Altima should do just fine in this segment. This is the first of five all-new models that Nissan will be introducing in the next 15 month, representing 70% of the company’s sales.

Exterior

The new redesign is striking and will definitely grab your attention. Nissan is phasing in a new front grille that began last year with the new Versa, but the grille on the new Altima is much more stylish, with the curved edges that takes some cues from Nissan’s Infiniti line of luxury cars. With the wrap-around headlights and the new grille, the Altima features a more aggressive front end, which is then matched by an equally stylish rear end with its LED taillights. The new Altima looks great from all angles and should compete well with the flood of new vehicles in this segment.

Interior

Nissan’s designers worked on making the interior more comfortable, with more soft padding on the doors and the new NASA-inspired “zero gravity” seats. Research by NASA on a natural, stress-free posture measured in zero-gravity influenced the design of the new seats, with the goal being an increase in blood flow, decreased muscular load and lower fatigue. I can’t speak to those specifics but the seats were certainly comfortable during our drive. The overall feel of the interior was modern and comfortable.

If you choose a leather interior, you’ll find perforated leather and a woven headliner along with a leather steering wheel that feels very comfortable to the touch. It definitely creates the upscale feel Nissan was shooting for. It feels like you’re cruising in a luxury sedan when you try the decked out model with the V6. The new Altima is also very quiet with a significant noise reduction from the previous model.

The technology package offers some nice features including NissanConnect, 7” Touchscreen, Navigation, Google POI, Google Send-to-Car and Blind Spot Warning. It also includes two new firsts for this segment – Lane Departure Warning and Moving Object Detection.

Performance

I had the opportunity to drive both the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder version and 3.5-liter V6. The next generation CVT (continuously variable transmission) worked fine in both models. The CVT has been improved with 70% of its parts redesigned, an expanded gear ratio, 40% friction reduction and improved control logic. The result was seamless acceleration and a more natural feel in CVT mode. Still, I liked how the Sport mode simulated the gear shifting sensation we’re used to from traditional automatic transmissions, and naturally it also provided more acceleration. I also liked how the Sport mode option is conveniently placed right after the “Drive” slot on the center console. You don’t have to search around for it and shifting in and out of that mode is very easy. But acceleration is fine in the standard CVT mode as well and this is where you’ll get the best gas mileage.

The Altima boasts 38 MPG on the highway with the base 4-cylinder which is best in class and should be a big selling point. Weight reduction was an important factor with greater use of ultra high strength steel and aluminum. With a 79 lb weight reduction Altima has the lowest weight in the segment.

The overall driving experience was very impressive. I’m partial to cars with some power so I loved the V6, but the base model also performed well.

Overview

This is an excellent vehicle that should continue to be a hit in this segment. The styling is impressive and should appeal to both men and women, and both the base engine and the V6 offer solid performance. The base model starts at $21,500 with the excellent gas mileage, and 3.5SL with the v6 and all of the options tops out at over $31,500. With the decked out V6, you start to rival the perks of a luxury sedan for a much lower price, particularly with the new technology package.

  

First Drive: 2013 Infiniti JX

The crossover market is exploding, and CUVs with three rows are getting more popular as buyers with families look for options that can fit the kids and more adults.

We first saw Infiniti’s planned entry in this segment last year when they unveiled the all-new Infiniti JX concept at the Concours D’Elegance at Pebble Beach. We were impressed then with the look of this all-new vehicle, and last week we had the opportunity to drive it at the Infiniti drive event in picturesque Charleston, South Carolina.

The new JX is targeting buyers with kids who don’t want to sacrifice luxury and style, filling a gap in Infiniti’s crossover and SUV portfolio. The designers also emphasized space and flexibility in the interior along with cutting edge safety features.

Exterior

The exterior of the JX looks sleek and stylish and is consistent with the design language we’ve come to expect from Infiniti, including the distinctive LED tail lamps. It’s a far cry from some of the boxier or bulkier vehicles from competitors that sport three rows. One new feature that we’ll be seeing more of is the crescent shaped rear side window which adds a nice touch to the vehicle. Overall, the look is a real winner that should be a huge hit with the target market.

Interior

Infiniti engineers focused on space and flexibility with the interior, with particular emphasis on easy access to the third row seats. They created a mechanism that lets the second row seat tilt in a manner to provide the most space, and another to allow users to tilt the seat even when a car seat is strapped in (without the baby of course!). Not having to remove the car seat is a significant convenience for many parents, and adults can easily get in and out of the third row, so grandma will happily jump in the back with the kids. Third row air conditioning was also added, along with two DVD monitors for second row passengers. Throw in Bose technology with the speaker system and you have a luxurious experience for the entire family.

The technology packages are impressive, and the My Schedule feature lets you coordinate your Google Calendar with the map and other functions in the vehicle. So you can set an appointment on your PC calendar and then just instruct the vehicle to “map it” once you get inside. Very convenient! This should be even better once they come up with an app to coordinate all of this.

Performance

The new JX was not engineered to be a performance vehicle, but rather was built for the target market with sufficient and competitive horsepower. I had the chance to push the vehicle at higher speeds and it performed just fine with solid acceleration and solid handling. Moms and dads driving the car certainly won’t have any complaints.

It’s in the safety area where Infiniti has come up with some impressive innovations that will certainly please the target customers. The Backup Collision Intervention is something you’ll be seeing in the commercials for this vehicle. Basically, if you’re backing up at low speeds, the sensors will pick up something behind you or an approaching vehicle and stop the car for you even before you notice the hazard on you rear view camera. I had the opportunity to test it and it worked great. The key is that the driver is going no faster than five miles per hour backing up, but this should do if for most backup situation in the driveway or in a parking lot. Another helpful feature lets alerts the driver if someone or something is right next to the vehicle.

Overview

Infiniti has nailed this one and it should do very well in this segment. The JX is an impressive vehicle and it has all the luxuries buyers will want, and some they didn’t realize they need.

  

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