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Sedan, Wagon, Van
Meet the Forums Test Drive Team!
The Forums Test Drive Team members will bowl you over with with their reviews! This discussion is "read only," therefore, only the Team members may post reviews.
The founding members of the Forums Test Drive Team: varmint, ateixeira, backy, rsholland, paisan and blueguydotcom
#1 of 203 Town Hall Test Drive Team
Jun 19, 2003 (7:54 am)
Welcome to the first ever Town Hall Test Drive Team!
We have selected certain Town Hall members to 'join' the team. These members have provided everyone in Town Hall with a great deal of information over the years. They can frequently be found at dealerships checking out the new arrivals, taking them for a spin and then posting their driving experience in Town Hall.
The Town Hall Test Drive Team is simply a way to consolidate this great information in one area.
From time to time we may also add in "one-off" test drive posts found in other discussions from non-test drive team members.
#3 of 203 Mazda 6s Review
Jun 20, 2003 (5:55 am)
Went and drove one of these back in May. Very nice, I was impressed. Just a couple of nit-picks and one more serious complaint.
Drove a 6s 5 speed auto with sport shift. The auto tranny was among the best I've sampled. Good, close ratios, very smooth shifts. The sport shift response could be quicker, my only complaint with the tranny.
Engine was nice, thumbs up. Still made power high in the rpm range, though. That's OK, it was quick. Slower than the Altima but more refined, and definitely never felt underpowered at all. It rides much better, and it quieter on the road.
This had leather, moonroof, 17" alloys, it was loaded up for $26 and change. That's good because loaded Camrys and Altimas hit $30k.
Nit picks? The slow-shifting manual mode on the tranny. The rear seat is not as comfy as I remembered from the NY auto show last year. No toe room under the seats at all made it less comfy. The side mirrors were not break-aways, cost-cutting? Odd when you have lots of neat bonus features.
Nice features like multi-link hinges to open the huge trunk, 15 cubes! The 626 we used to own had just 11 or so IIRC. Very nice styling inside and out. Sporty suspension, just right, not too jittery like the Altima, but not too soft like almost every other sedan I've driven.
Red gauges and silver trim are a bit of a stretch, but link it to the RX8 and make the interior several steps above the Altima's. Tilt and power telescope wheel, wow. Rear armrest. Spring loaded back seat was choice. Dual tip exhaust. Side curtain bags offered. Perforated leather. 220hp. Lots to like.
But...I did not fall in love. From a dead stop, we were turning onto an on-ramp, uphill. Needed to accelerate uphill on a turn, and torque steer reared its ugly head. It nearly tugged the steering wheel nearly out of my hands, it was hard to aim the car properly. I was so distracted that I hit redline before shifting to 2nd, at least the tranny bounced off red line and didn't shift by itself, which gives the driver more control.
Note this was a broken in program car with 3000+ miles, so no harm driving it hard.
Bottom line? AWD would make this a real contender. Stand-out features like the 5 speed sport shift, the spring loaded back seats, the cool trunk hinges, and the availability of a manual with a V6 are very nice.
Among FWD sedans, I think I'd put it down as my favorite (that I've driven). Thumbs up.
Make it a wagon with AWD and I have to admit, I'd give it serious consideration.
#4 of 203 Forester XT, June 2003
Jun 20, 2003 (6:29 am)
I own a '98 Forester L, so right away I'll admit my personal bias: I love Subies. Japanese quality, but with plenty of character, the best of both worlds. They make AWD and a boxer growl affordable.
My expectations for the 2004 Forester XT turbo were very high. Would Subaru let me down?
No way. This is an impressive package, especially for the price. The one I drove was discounted to under $24 grand, and should outperform anything under $40 grand.
I like the Forester because it's boxy and roomy inside, but compact outside. It's light and agile, and therefore fun, but has enough room for my 2 kids and a lap dog. The style is function over form, but the 2003 face lift certainly made it look nicer. I particularly like the rear 3/4 view, and how the D-pillar echoes the rear window's lines.
What does the turbo bring? Well, I drove a 5 speed manual, and it brings serious thrust. Impressive, even at 2000rpm it would pull, and I mean hard. It took me all of 2 seconds to fall in love.
But is this really a turbo? It felt like a small V8, at the very minimum like the VQ series V6 in Nissans. Probably quicker. I took an entrance ramp to a highway in 3rd gear, starting at about 30mph, and hit the gas. Before I knew it I was doing 80 and had to let off. I'll estimate 0-60 in about 6 seconds, but passing acceleration is what really impressed me. Stab the throttle and pass anyone at your will.
What about ride and handling? Well, when pushed it understeers, but only slightly. Ride is very good, it's luxurious compared to a WRX or even an Altima. Handling is not as tight as those sporty sedans, but should still be best in class.
The brake pedal felt a little soft, but the twin piston front calipers bite hard and stop in no time. Subaru uses EBD, ABS, and rotors big enough that they were forced to move to 16" rims standard for 2003.
The interior is much improved. The outside arm rests are now padded, and the black fabric won't stain with time. Overhead you can store 2 sunglasses. Nice to have the outside temperature gauge and 2 trip odometers. Lots of storage cubbies, great side support from the seats. Auto climate control worked well for me.
The back seat could still use more knee room. At least there is good toe room under the seats. Headroom is abundant everywhere. The front seats have enough leg room that my 6' frame could not slide it all the way back. But the big windows and excellent visibility never let you feel claustrophobic.
Cargo room is improved from my '98, which was already good. What Subaru took away in rear leg room, they deliver in the cargo area. It's tall, wide, and fairly deep for a compact. Sturdy tie downs and latch anchors are nice features. Plus a roof rack comes standard, with cross bars.
Content is its strongest point, well, besides acceleration. AWD and ABS are standard on every Subie, but this XT gets much more: heated seats and mirrors, front/rear wiper de-icers, head/chest side air bags, unique 16" alloys, EBD with 4 disc brakes, rear LSD, climate control, keyless, and an in-dash CD changer.
Options include the auto tranny, plus the premium package, with an enormous moonroof I just loved, and also leather. The catch? You have to get an automatic to get the leather and moonroof. Why?
I'm just about ready to buy one, but I really want a 5 speed manual with the moonroof, leather or cloth, either way.
I did sample a 2nd XT, this one an automatic. I really felt that the manual spoiled me, it was so fun, quicker in every scenario, so I'd urge anyone to get the manual. It eliminates lag completely. The auto had a little hesitation and I felt some lag. Note that the tranny is adaptive and might perform better once it learns your (aggressive) driving style.
So, unless Subaru offers a Sport Shift feature, and maybe a 5th cog in that auto tranny, I'll wait for my 5 speed semi-convertible...um, with the moonroof I mean.
#5 of 203 Saturn Vue V6
Jun 20, 2003 (6:49 am)
I really wanted to sample a Vue Redline, the Saturn with the Honda 3.5l V6 engine (wasn't Saturn supposed to fight Honda? That's another story...)
No luck, next year they say. Spring, maybe. That's a long wait. So I try the current 181hp V6 instead.
I find the Vue cute, though it's styling may polarize some people. They had a banana yellow one on the lot that almost looked like a baby H2.
We drive off, and right away I notice the engine is a bit coarse and noisy. Punch it and power is decent, but not what I'd call fun. OK, this wasn't fair, I'd just driven the Forester XT, which blows this V6 away. Let's just say you should wait for the Redline if you're an enthusiast.
Handling was car-like, well, like a tall mid-size sedan. It didn't seem to like to be pushed, again this is something the Redline might address. Ride was good except for a bit of tire noise, and thumping over pot holes. Perhaps the folks that do the PDI did not air down the tires.
Braking is solid. Good feel and feedback from the pedal.
The interior shocked me a bit. It is impressively roomy, feeling more like a mid-size than a compact, but what's with the beige upper half and the gray lower half? Did they run out of gray fabric? It looks absurd, the two halves don't match at all. The salesman said that some colors come with all-beige interiors, make sure to choose one of those!
The seats were too soft and spongy. Good thing the front seat has built-in arm rests, else I might fall out of them. Use much more side bolstering in the Redline model, please. The rear seats were also spongy and the bench is too low.
Your cargo should fit nicely, thanks. They had an accessory cargo cover which slid from the left side to the right, first I've seen like that. It wasn't level, though, when closed. Oh well, it was roomy and looked like it could easily fit a small family's luggage.
The interior is mostly plasticky, or durable, depending on how you look at it. I have a 4 year old and a newborn, so that's a positive aspect to me. If you want luxury shop elsewhere.
I didn't try the 4 cylinder, and the CVT sounds interesting to say the least. Styling is unique so you won't mistake it for anything else. The plastic side panels and the lower cladding ought to make this a low-maintenance exterior, if you obsess about door dings. The one I drove was $26 grand, though they were offering $1000 cash back and 0% financing (both). I thought Saturn didn't play the rebate game. Oh well.
Some bonuses - side curtain air bags and OnStar are offered, if you're into those.
Verdict? A basic, utilitarian sport/cute that ought to keep a former SL owner happy. But I'll wait to try the Redline, hoping for a smoother and more powerful drivetrain and better seats.
Jun 20, 2003 (10:24 am)
I'm very impressed for the most part with this vehicle. I know a lot of people are turned off (or on) by the styling. I like it because it's different, but not just different to be different, but instead different to be better.
I do have one very serious complaint about the Element: The payload rating is flat out lousy, at 675 pounds. Put four 175 pound passengers in it, and you've already exceeded the payload rating by 25 pounds. You can bet that owners will be tempted to load this thing up, and will most likely be unaware that they've exceed the load limit.
Other than that, it's pure Honda, which can be good or bad depending on your perspective. I think it's good, very good.
Jun 20, 2003 (10:31 am)
Last summer(?) I had an opportunity to test drive a bunch of BMWs, at a BMW event. One of the features that impressed me was the heated steering wheel on the X-5. I'm sure other BMWs have this feature too.
I'd like to see this detail trickle down to more mainstream brands in the future.
#10 of 203 Something Different
Jun 23, 2003 (5:24 pm)
For my first test drives, I figured I'd start with something a little different. Mind you, I wasn't about to stray into the land of exotic sport cars, uber-luxury, or monster trucks. I just wanted a mass-market car with a twist.
I'll start off by saying that I went into this with a positive bias toward the Baja. I have a thing for unusual designs. The fact that the Baja has roots in the Subaru lineup is also something I can appreciate. The obvious connection with the Brat reminds me that the Subaru brand hasn't always stood for wagons. I also have a brother who needs to get rid of his rust bucket pick-up and buy something both safer and more fuel efficient. This could be the ideal vehicle for him. So I approached the Baja with an amused smirk and high hopes.
I was not let down. Or was I? Truth be told, I'm still not sure. This is a difficult vehicle to evaluate. I ended up testing it twice to make sure I had my own priorities straight. When I first tested the Baja, I was in the frame of mind that this was a family-friendly version of a crew cab pick-up truck. I'll start with that visit.
My first trip to the dealer started with good news. Subaru is apparently offering a cash-back incentive on the Baja, which effectively makes the leather upgrade a freebie. I did the question and answer thing with the salesman, kicked the tires, and began a mental checklist. That was as far as I got. I did not drive the car on this first test.
The interior of the car is small. Not at all cramped, but tight enough to keep me from flailing my arms at my fellow (insane) Boston drivers. On the plus side, all secondary controls are easily within reach. Even though some radio controls were a bit small, their close proximity made them easy to find. The shifter in this manual transmission model had nice short throws, though it didnít feel smooth at the end of each stroke. The cowl is fairly low, like the way Honda used to make them. All gauges were easy to read.
The front seats were a mixed bag. They were comfortable with a decent range of adjustments. The cloth seemed durable. The bolsters did not pinch my shoulders, nor were they too small to be effective. Headroom was not an issue. However, I found the knee-room under the wheel was inadequate for my 6'1" frame. Not a problem, I can use the tilt feature to... oh, wait. It's already adjusted as high as it will go. Legroom to the pedals was decent. It was just that the wheel was placed directly in the path of my knees. The go, stop, and clutch pedals were well placed, but the fact that I had to splay my legs out to the sides ruined any chance of sporty driving. By itself, this was not bad, but it was an accurate forecast of bigger problems to come.
Quality of the interior was good. Materials were up to typical Subaru standards, being both durable and pleasing to both the eye and fingers. The styling of the dash is simple and straight-forward. I, personally, have a beef with excessive use of faux brushed metal. It should be an accent, not the most common surface in the cabin. However, I understand that others might appreciate the look and it's not like the Baja was dressed in steel the way several Nissans are.
Most of the dash was well screwed together. The only exception was the storage bin under the radio. Both the top and bottom edges were bowed inward. I find this pretty common with open compartments. In this case, the bends were quite large, leaving gaps above and below the edges. The steering wheel has a nice meaty feel with intuitive cruise control buttons attached to one edge.
Before testing the rear seat, the salesman demonstrated how the second row tumbled and allowed for a pass-through to the bed in back. It was simple to arrange and the pass-through is a decent size. It cannot match the gaping hole created by doing a similar trick with the Avalanche, but I think it's big enough for this application. Skis, surf boards, lawn tools, and many other long items will easily fit. My only concern is with long planks or wide sheets of lumber. The rear bench folds up in one piece. Therefore, you cannot pass anything between the front seats. That's a niggle, not a deal-breaker.
Subaru cites the bed capacity as 1,000 lbs. That's probably plenty for a vehicle this size and more than most small SUVs can handle. The problem with the bed is, once again, the length. A bed extender is available as an option and will alleviate most problems. I do wonder that would do to the weight distribution were something heavy hauled that far back in the bed. The rating for towing was a familiar 2,000 lbs, though I believe the MT versions can handle another 400-500 lbs.
On the whole, the back end of the Baja is very functional. There are definite advantages to the pick-up bed on the Baja. However, you have to think hard to find them. The back end of an Outback or Legacy wagon probably offers similar utility in a different shape.
The Baja offers two rear seating positions separated by a covered storage compartment. Back here I was expecting tight quarters. I was not expecting to split the seams of my Levis. I could not fit in the back with the front seat all the way back. My legs were split so far apart, I literally ripped a few threads and my outboard knee prevented me from closing the door. That was when my salesperson pretty much figured I was a waste of time and began his wrap-up speech. Some might consider that rude, but I think we has feeling merciful. I left without driving the car.
My first impression was far from favorable, but I'm not so ego-centric to believe that just because I don't fit, no one will. The thing is... I'm not THAT big. I have plenty of friends and family who are bigger. There's also the fact that I do fit into several other Subarus. According to the specs, the Baja and Outback have similar legroom measures. I'm at a loss for why I fit in one, but not the other.
On the drive home, I reconsidered my initial approach to the Baja. Perhaps I was mistaken in thinking of this as a family-friendly vehicle. When I pulled into my driveway, I had myself believing that I had misread the intent of the Baja was focusing too much on family values. I toured the Baja's brochure and found pictures of people climbing cliffs, spraying mud with bike tires, and enjoying the outdoors. Maybe Subaru really meant it. Maybe this was more than just the same marketing ploy used by every SUV-wannabe in the dealer lots. I was now convinced that it was a sport truck, geared toward singles with the need to haul sporting equipment.