Last post on Jun 14, 2008 at 6:22 PM
You are in the Automotive News & Views-Archives
What is this discussion about?
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
#174 of 203 Does anybody on this team drive cars anymore?
Mar 29, 2006 (7:13 am)
I wasn't about to post another review until someone else did. Doesn't anyone else on this "test drive team" test drive cars anymore??
#175 of 203 Re: Does anybody on this team drive cars anymore? [backy]
Mar 29, 2006 (7:19 am)
Sure, post it up!
I actually wrote that post for another topic, but then decided to share it here as well.
#176 of 203 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT
Mar 29, 2006 (4:17 pm)
I know what you are saying. "Ugh! A minivan!?" After that, you are probably saying, "A Caravan?? Those are as old as the hills. They can't compete with the latest models: Sienna, Odyssey, Quest, even the new twins from Kia and Hyundai."
Well, not so fast. Guess which minivan sells more than any of them? The Caravan. And of course, we all know Dodge invented the minivan. And my wife really misses her Grand Caravan, which we gave up off lease two years ago to down-size to a hatchback. So I set out to see what Dodge has to offer in the ever-escalating minivan wars.
I drove a 2006 GC SXT in Butane Blue, no options, $27,830 sticker. Butane Blue is kind of a light icy blue, my favorite color for the DC vans except Inferno Red--but the blue doesn't require as much upkeep and the red is an additional charge.
The SXT is very well equipped out of the box. Features like dual power side doors, 3-zone HVAC, 6-speaker CD/cassette with steering wheel controls, ABS with traction, 5-spoke alloys, 8-way power driver's seat, Homelink, trip computer, and power rear vent windows (as well as the usual power options) are included. The interior decor is nothing to write home about, but the plastics (which abound) are sturdy, the controls are straightforward, and the cloth is grippy. The armrests are (padded) plastic and there is no fancy faux wood as on some competitors, but it's a clean, purposeful layout.
The best feature of the GC is of course the Stow-n-Go seating. In a few minutes, both the 2nd and 3rd row seats drop flat into the floor. When they are not stowed, there's large bins in the floor. I could imagine how wonderful it would be to have the two covered bins in the center for my kids to stow all of their "stuff". (Dodge sells accessory plastic bins that fit into these wells and make it easy to cart the stuff away when it's time to drop the seats.)
The amazing thing about these "magic seats" is that they are much more comfortable than you might think. The middle seats are on the smallish side compared to some other vans, but they use high-density foam and the seat bottom has good thigh support. I found them quite comfortable. They adjust fore-aft but not side-to-side as in some vans--the downside of hideaway seats. But I really like the rear seat. Most 3rd seats in minivans leave me flat--literally. The seat cushions are usually flat and too close to the floor--which may be fine for munchikins but not for teenagers or adults. The 3rd seat on the GC has great thigh support, so it is comfortable even for adults. Two adults would be very comfy in back, as they can spread their feet around the relatively small middle seats. Three--well, that's best left for kids. The 3rd seat is relatively narrow. It does flip over for tailgating, though. The rear seat is split 60/40 so it is easy to fold, and if you only have 5 people (like I do) you can fold most of the seat and haul a ton of stuff.
OK, it hauls, but how does it haul? Quite well thank you. The GC SXT has a relatively low powered V6 for minivans these days, just 205 hp. But it has 240 pounds of torque. I am of the opinion that in vehicles like minivans, torque is more useful than gobs of power. And the van acquitted itself very well on the streets, hills, and highways around the Dodge dealership. It pulled smoothly up hills and onto freeways, with no gear hunting that can occur with some of the 5-speed automatics on some competitive vans. I never felt a need for more power. And the van handled very well for a 4400-pound box--more like a much smaller sedan. It wasn't exactly nimble, but it took curves without much lean and smoothed over the bumps without being floaty. It was also pretty quiet inside. I thought there was a little bit too much wind noise, then we discovered halfway through the drive that the rear vent windows were open. It doesn't hurt too that IMO the GC SXT is the best looking minivan, despite the fact that its current style dates to 2001 with a minor freshening last year.
Now the best part: the selling price of this nearly $28,000 van is closer to $20,000--even under $20,000 if you lease it! Lease rates in my town are around $99/month with $3000 down, or around $219/month with 0 down, for 27 months. An incredible deal for a lot of van. It may not be the newest, trendiest van on the block, but it will beat any other van (except the T&C of course) for cargo versatility, drives competently and securely, and won't put a huge dent in your wallet doing it.
It will be interesting to see what Dodge comes up with for their all-new Caravan for 2008.
#177 of 203 Ford E350 15 Passenger Van
Mar 30, 2006 (6:36 am)
We rented a 15 passenger van, a Ford E-350, for a week's stay in Orlando with 3 families. 6 adults and 8 kids really filled that thing up, in fact I'd argue it was really only comfortable for about 13 people. One of us always had to squeeze in.
The thing was a behemoth that had all the straight-line stability of Courtney Love after a night on the town. That thing wandered so badly you had to move the steering wheel back and forth constantly to keep it straight. It didn't beep when you backed it up, but it should have!
I guess it's that recirculating ball steering. To top it off, the suspension was a bit stiff and if you sat over the rear axle you got some nice axle hop-induced motion sickness.
I guess it got the job done, but this is something that you have to drive, not something you want to drive.
I *really* prefer small vehicles.
#178 of 203 2006 Mercury Milan I-4 Premier
Apr 07, 2006 (9:13 am)
AMEX sent us a test drive offer, $50 to try out a new Milan, $500 if we buy one. Why not?
Outside the car looks elegant enough, though I like the Fusion even more. Mercury uses the "satin nickel" which looks like plastic painted in a gunmetal metallic color. The same stuff covers the center console, which brings us to...
The interior, which is surprisingly roomy, more so than the Mazda6 it shares a platform with. It felt wide, with good arm rests on both sides and good adjustability in the seats.
Only a moonroof was lacking, this model was very well equipped for about $21k on the sticker, minus a $1000 rebate plus that $500 bonus cash certificate brings it to $19.5k before negotiation. Not bad, figure $18k or so street price, very competitive.
Interior materials seemed mismatched. The leather did not feel or look like the vinyl that surrounded it, which really cheapened the interior. Plastics are also mixed, some nicely padded and others hard and very cheap feeling.
At least they provide grab handles for every door and lit vanity mirrors, plus a padded headliner and decent carpeting for the price class.
So, what's not to like?
The drive was, well, boring. Just not very compelling at all, I felt no desire whatsoever to own this car. OK, maybe I should have tested a V6, but the coupon was for the 4 banger only, and current gas prices mean that's the economical choice.
The steering is overboosted, and the ride is very soft, with lots of body roll. You could feel the transmission kick down, though it responded reasonbly quickly. It was the engine that screamed loudly in protest whenever you floored it, producing adequate acceleration, no more. That and the wind noise made it feel less refined than it is.
So I guess I would not stop my Aunt Edna from buying one of these if she wanted another Mercury, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend one, either.
#179 of 203 2006 Accent GLS vs. 2007 Yaris Sedan
Apr 08, 2006 (8:37 pm)
The small car field is bursting with new entries of late. Two of the new generation of little cars are the redesigned Hyundai Accent and the successor to the Toyota ECHO, the new-for-2007 Yaris. I tested the Accent GLS 4-door sedan back-to-back with the Yaris base 4-door sedan to see how these new entries from Korea and Japan stack up.
The Accent was fully loaded, with 4-speed automatic (no stick Accents or Yarii were available to drive), mats, and the Premium Sport Package (A/C, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, remote locking with alarm, 15" alloys); list price was $15,410 including destination. The Yaris came equipped with 4-speed automatic, Power Package w/Steel Wheels (power windows/locks, 15" steel wheels, 60/40 split rear seat, rear window defroster, ABS, tachometer, AM/FM/CD stereo with 4 speakers), Cold Weather package, and keyless entry; sticker was $15,215. Note that the Accent has ABS, 6 airbags, 60/40 folding rear seat, rear window defroster, tachometer, and 6-speaker 172-watt CD stereo standard. The Yaris had only 2 airbags (side bags and curtains are a $650 option) but had power mirrors standard.
I drove both cars over the same course, a combination of suburban streets, freeways, and some bumpy back roads with twisties that put the cars' suspensions to the test. Both cars were rock-solid and rattle-free, with a quality feel that belied their small size and price. But the ride quality was distinctly different. The Yaris had the firmer feel, and dealt with bumps with sharp but muted "thrums". The ride was not harsh, however. The Accent's softer suspension smoothed the bumps out, although they were still felt. It was more a "big car" ride than the Yaris.
In turns, there was little body lean in either car although I didn't press the limits of either car with the salesperson in the passenger seat (well, OK, I did once for each car). The Yaris seemed a bit more planted but driving the Accent was pleasant also. Both cars tracked straight on the expressway. The Accent was a little quieter, except when revving the engine and then the Yaris' 1.5L powerplant was smoother than the Accent's 1.6L motor. But the Accent made up for that with lower revs at cruise (2750 70 mph vs. 3000 for the Yaris) which helped make for a quieter cabin. Wind noise was also a bit less on the Accent; it was noticeable in both cars, perhaps because of their fairly large mirrors. Tire noise was more prevalent on the highway with the Yaris. The automatics in both cars shifted smoothly; acceleration was more than adequate although they must both be pushed to the floor if you need a quick start on the freeway.
So driving-wise, both cars acquitted themselves well. It was inside the cars where I felt the big differences. The Yaris had a black interior that, except for the silver-color center stack and high-tech audio controls, looked and felt cheap and not designed with ergonomics in mind. Some examples: the HVAC knobs were silver-colored plastic and did not have the typical Toyota silky smoothness. The black-with-color-specks fabric was monotonous mouse fur. The cupholders were oddly placed--the one for the driver was in front of the left air vent, and there was one that popped out of the center console for one back seat rider plus a square hole in the rear center armrest which I think was a cupholder but I'm not sure. There's no proper dead pedal as in the Accent (although at least there is a flat spot on the floor to rest your left foot). And there's those center-mounted gauges that seemed too far away, compounded by a light-colored speedo that was hard for me to read at a glance in the daylight. There were some quality touches in the cabin, for instance, a smoooth turn signal lever, damped oh-my-gosh handles above the doors, and chromed door pulls (OK, they were chromed plastic but chrome is chrome). But these were overcome by the biggest problem with the Yaris: its driving position. The Yaris sedan has a lever-type seat height adjuster. I tried for five minutes to find a comfortable driving position, and failed. Either the wheel was too far a reach, or I didn't have enough thigh support. I have the same problem with the Corolla (and some other cars too).
Note to Toyota: buy an Accent and reverse-engineer its driver's seat. The Accent has a dual-knob height adjuster that allowed me to dial in a perfect seating position. This one feature made driving the Accent much more pleasurable than driving the Yaris. But the Accent's interior advantages didn't stop there. The Accent had a much more upscale interior than the Yaris. The seat fabric was a durable grey tweed with accent stitching (literally, "Accent" was stitched in script into each front headrest). The two-tone dash, with four normal gauges where God intended them to be placed in front of the driver, was a study in hard plastic but had rich textures that were repeated on the door panels. The stereo looked like it could have come from a $25k car. There were 8 cup and bottle holders spread around the cabin, including 2 in the rear center armrest. The padded plastic 3-spoke steering wheel was fat and had a tacky grain that was fun to grip. The visor mirrors in front were lighted. And the turn-signal stalk was just as silky as the one in the Yaris.
If you are looking for lots of rear-seat room, these are not the cars for you. Two kids or small adults will be OK in the back for short trips. I am 5'10" and I had barely enough knee and head room in both cars. My head brushed the headliner in the Yaris; I had about 1" clearance in the Accent. My legs felt a little happier (more thigh support) in the Accent but not much. To its credit, the Yaris has a flat floor in back, so if someone is relegated to the rear center they will have more leg room than in the Accent, which has a short hump.
Trunk space is not bad in these cars considering their size and short rear decks. The trunks are boxy and not very deep, and the trunk hinges lurk to crush your property. But both trunks expand through 60/40 folding rear seats (optional on the Yaris).
Safety-wise, the Accent has an advantage because of its standard ABS and side bags/curtains. Both are available on the Yaris, but none of the 3 Yarii at this dealer had the side bags/curtains. My tester had ABS. I didn't brake hard enough to activate the ABS on the test drives; the brakes were smooth and strong on both cars. Both cars have 3 adjustable head restraints in back. Neither car has been crash-tested by the IIHS yet. Stability control is not available.
#180 of 203 2006 Accent GLS vs. 2007 Yaris Sedan - Wrapup
Apr 08, 2006 (8:38 pm)
Both cars as tested were priced within a couple hundred dollars of each other. The Accent was actually more expensive than the Yaris. But for my money, I would take the Accent over the Yaris for its superior driving comfort, smoother and quieter ride, standard safety features, and nicer interior. The longer warranty on the Accent is a plus also. The Yaris offers Toyota's historically strong resale value, a smoother-revving engine, and better fuel economy. That might be enough reason for some buyers to choose the Yaris. Also its styling is more daring than the Accent's. But consider that, comparably equipped, the Yaris lists for nearly $2000 more than the Accent (considering the $1000 rebate on the Accent). That difference helps balance the resale equation, and buys some gas along the way.
#181 of 203 2007 Honda Fit
May 05, 2006 (6:02 pm)
I attended a "Fit party" at my local dealer tonight and test drove both manual and automatic Base Fits in between chowing down on their Mexican buffet. If you are not aware, Honda has just introduced the Fit to the U.S. and Canada after selling it in Asia Pacific and Europe for a few years. It is a small 5-door hatchback, slotted under the Civic and starting at $14,400 (with destination charge) with a stick and $15,200 with a 5-speed automatic. (There is also a Sport model with 15" alloys, ground effects, rear spoiler, cruise, remote locking, high-zoot stereo with MP3/WMA, and paddle shifters on the automatic version.)
For a base model, the Fit is quite well equipped, with A/C, power windows/locks/mirrors, ABS with EBD, 4-speaker CD stereo, and six airbags. And the automatic is a 5-speed while its competitors make do with four. There are a few nods to cost control, such as no driver's seat height adjuster, dead pedal, center arm rests, or cruise or remote locking (even as options). Other notes that this is an economy car at the bottom of Honda's lineup are the old-fashioned manual HVAC controls, thin carpeting, cheap-looking wheel covers, and hard plastic everywhere inside the car. On the other hand, some details are befitting a more expensive car: the backlit gauges, which are lit at all times; the thick steering wheel with silver accents; and the paddle shifters on the Sport AT.
I had sat in a few Fits at auto shows so I knew already that the driving position would be an issue for me. I spent some time trying to find a comfortable position on both my test drives, but the best I could come up with was "tolerable." I felt that either my right leg was up in the air or my arms were too outstretched. Also, there is not a good place to plant the left foot, with no dead pedal and the curved wheel well intruding.
I drove the MT first (almost no wait--there were quite a few people at the open house). First, the bright spots: everything you may have heard about the crisp handling of the Fit is true. The electric power steering is a delight and it takes corners more like a sports car than an economy car, even with its 14" all-season tires. The clutch was light and smooth. The car is solid, although there was an annoying rattle in the driver's side dash (not present on the AT model). Now, the not-so-bright spots: the shifter was precise, but notchy. It was not as slick as other Hondas I have owned or driven. I did not enjoy using it. The ride was very firm. I would not go as far as punishing, but if you regularly drive over rough roads you should be sure to include roads like that in your test drive. Also keep in mind this was the Base model; the Sport has lower-profile tires. But the worst part of the test drive of the MT was that the engine revs quite high, e.g. 2400 at 40 mph cruise. For this open house, a pre-set course was laid out, with no highway driving. To simulate driving on a freeway, I put it into 2nd and got the revs up to about 4000 (at about 40 mph). It was really loud to my ears.
With the combination of the less-than-comfy driving position, the firm ride, and the noise, plus the notchy shifter, I came away from the drive depressed. Then I decided to take the AT for a spin. The same sales rep accompanied me (they assigned a sales rep to each test driver to make sure we stayed on the course.) The first thing I noticed was that the pickup was pretty good for a small (1.5L, 109 hp) engine with an automatic. The shifts were quiet and smooth. Also, the engine sounded noticeably quieter to me than with the MT--and not just because it was revving lower. The second thing I noticed was the revs. At 40 mpg cruise, they were only 1500 RPM, and I could barely hear the engine. Then the sales rep gave in. He suggested I deviate from the planned course so I could take it on the freeway. So I popped on the expressway for a few miles, being careful not to abuse the favor. At 60 mph (speed limit), the revs were only 2250 and the car cruised quietly enough for a small econobox. The ride was fine on the smooth freeway. I found that with the quieter AT, I was able to enjoy the handling of the car more because I was not distracted by the engine noise or notchy shifter. I was also happy thinking about the kind of fuel economy I could get by keeping the car in the 35-60 mph range, at 1500-2250 RPM, as that is what 90% of my driving is.
I did not check out the origami seats of the Fit because I have examined those during the auto shows. But if you have not seen them in action, they are sheer engineering genius. The rear seats can fold completely flat to make a huge, tall cargo area, or the rear seat cushions can flip up, or you-name-it. And the rear seat is surprisingly roomy for such a small car, with plenty of room for two good-sized adults (a middle passenger would feel a bit squeezed I think).
I came out of the test drives with considerable respect for what is essentially a six-year-old design. Despite its shortcomings, the Fit is a versatile, economical, and fun-to-drive little car. My biggest surprise was that I preferred the AT version, when I thought I'd like the MT better because of Honda's tradition for great stick shifts.
#182 of 203 2006 VW Rabbit
Jul 01, 2006 (1:12 pm)
I drove the new Rabbit 3-door hatchback, with the only options a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic and fabric floor mats, MSRP $16,805. It was Reflex Silver with gray bumper and side trim. The only other color available at this time on the 3-door is black.
The interior is businesslike but handsome, with high-grade plastics (many soft-touch), good-looking cloth seats, smooth switchgear, and a thick-rimmed 3-spoke steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. The dash is like that in the Jetta and has the red-hued information center dead-center in the instrument binnacle and a full set of gauges. The driver's seat adjusts manually for height (pump-type lever) and rake (knob) and was comfortable, although more lumbar support would be nice. There is a big and well-positioned dead pedal, and the accelerator position was comfortable. In the rear, there is adequate room for two averaged-sized adults, although they may find thigh support lacking. A third adult would be a squeeze, but there is a belt and headrest for them back there. Plenty of room for three kids, though.
Under way, the Rabbit's 2.5L I5 is quiet and powerful, with strong acceleration even with the transmission in normal mode (there's a sport mode if you want quicker upshifts, at the expense of more RPM at cruise, or you can row the Tiptronic shifter yourself). Cruising at 70 mph in normal mode, the engine was turning at a bit over 2000 RPM and the car was solid and quiet, with only a little wind noise from the A-pillars. With such low revs, it is curious that the Rabbit is EPA-rated only 30 mpg on the highway (22 city).
The Rabbit's handling is much like the Jetta's, meaning it is stable and flat around corners. The electric-assisted power steering provides no road feel, which imparts a feeling of solidity and doesn't detract from the handling too much. The Rabbit's ride is firm but not harsh. Unfortunately, every bump elicits a fairly loud "thrum" sound from the suspension. It makes bumps more pronounced than what you actually feel.
The Rabbit comes very well equipped even in its base 3-door form. A full complement of safety gear is standard, including six airbags, ABS with traction control and EBS, five headrests (with whiplash protection in the front), and much more. The only optional safety feature is stability control, a $450 add-on that is hard to find in this class of cars. There is also a 10-speaker CD system, semi-automatic climate control, and other touches like lighted vanity mirrors. A lift-up cover shields the fairly roomy rear hatch compartment from view. The rear seat folds down 60/40, but not quite flat.
The Rabbit offers a solid, attractive, and fun-to-drive package for a relatively low price. Its main competitor is the Mazda3s 5-door, which equipped with 5AT and 17" alloys lists for $18,880. A Rabbit 5-door with 6AT and 17" alloys lists for $20,045. So if you can make do with two less doors and VW's less-than-stellar reliability record doesn't bother you, the 3-door Rabbit at about $16.8k is a relative bargain compared to the Mazda yet offers a similar driving experience, although the Mazda has a more powerful engine with better fuel economy.
#183 of 203 Re: 2006 VW Rabbit [backy]
Jul 01, 2006 (3:37 pm)
Two corrections: EBD, not EBS; and the Rabbit has an 8-speaker CD/MP3 system standard, not 10.