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Car Talk Test Drive Notes

2016 Nissan Maxima SR

  • Unique styling. You’ll love it or hate it, but those who love it will find the sculptural styling one of the car’s top attributes.

  • Plenty of power. The Maxima has a 300 hp 3.5 liter V6 engine that will never leave your right foot wanting. It uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is completely unobtrusive around town, and which boosts mileage to an impressive, EPA-rated 25 mpg overall (22/30). We averaged 23 in city driving.

  • The eight-inch center touchscreen is clear, intuitive, and easy to use, as these things go.

  • Comes with a full slate of safety features, including blind spot warning, forward collision warming, automatic emergency braking, and more.

  • Comfortable, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel … lots of luxury amenities.

  • The car’s “sport mode,” which tightened up the suspension and tweaked the CVT, made it more fun to drive.

  • Unique styling. If you’re one of the people who finds it overdone or garish, we can’t come up with a compelling reason for you to consider the Maxima. Unfortunately, the styling is the primary reason people will buy this car.

  • Big outside, small inside. The interior is surprisingly cozy for what is a pretty large car. Head room is not great in front, and practically non-existent in back for six-footers.

  • Visibility is poor. The rear-view camera is a helpful necessity. Although it’s a cheap quality, rear-view camera that is particularly hard to use at night.

  • Ride quality is sometimes harsh.

  • Steering is heavy, but for no good reason. There’s no road feel associated with it.

  • Under heavy acceleration, the CVT is very loud, and under full acceleration, the Maxima produces torque steer.

  • Unless you love the styling, we find it hard to justify the nearly $40,000 price tag.

2015 Ford Escape

  • Very good power—Ford is getting a lot of punch out of its small, Eco-boost 4-cylinder engines. Ford has changed the gear ratios to give the Escape good acceleration, but it’s at the expense of fuel economy.

  • It’s fun…er to drive compared to its primary competition, which is the Honda CR-V. That’s not to say it’s exactly fun to drive, though. It’s still a crossover, and not a car.

  • Handles pretty well. While the CR-V is probably more comfortable, the Escape does steer and turn better than the CR-V.

  • People love the way it looks. It’s a cool looking little vehicle. It’s small, and easy to maneuver in the city, and in parking lots.

  • Very modern, up-to-date interior. Makes the CR-V’s interior seem pretty outdated.

  • The visibility out the front is great. In fact, the huge, sloping windshield made us feel like we were in a minivan rather than a crossover.

  • We were really disappointed with the ride quality, especially in the back, which is noisy and bumpy. It’s a stiff, harsh ride. If you have to ride in the back, you’ll hate this car.

  • Very disappointing mileage. We couldn’t get our average mileage up over 20.5 mpg, even with a fair amount of highway driving.

  • It’s a skinny car. You’re cheek-to-jowl with the person next to you. The CR-V, by comparison, feels wider and more spacious. There’s a little personal-space issue with the Escape.

  • At this point, we’d still pick a CR-V over the Escape. It’s a better value, quieter, rides better, gets much better fuel economy, and has a far better record of durability and reliability. Its looks are dowdy by comparison, and it's basically an appliance to drive, but it’s a damned good one.

  • The Escape had a large number of recalls, a number of which were related to the 1.6 liter engine. They’ve just announced a new, 2017 redesign that features a new, 1.5-liter engine, updated styling, and some additional features, including an update of the much-verbally abused sync entertainment interface. We’ll review that when it comes around. Ford is hoping the Escape’s reliability issues are behind them, but one never knows until you’re talking in the past tense. Stay tuned.

2015 Jaguar F-Type R Convertible

  • Looks.  This is an exotic, expensive-looking sports car.  It’s rare — they don’t sell very many of these.  So people will turn their heads when you drive by in one.  It’s wide and low and muscular and fast-looking.

  • Stupid fast.  This R version of the F-Type has something like 550 horsepower.  It has a supercharged 5-liter V8 engine.  If you’ve been lamenting that your 70 to110 mph times are a little unimpressive in your current ride, this could be the car for you.   

  • Excellent cornering.  As you would expect from a car this low and wide, there’s no body lean, almost no matter what the speed.  This rear-wheel-drive car has real sports car credentials.

  • Versatile, at least on paper.  It’s an exotic sports car.  It’s a convertible.  It’s all-wheel drive for the winter.  What can’t you do with this car?  (see column to the right)

  • Even though the convertible top is made of cloth, the top is not noisy or loose in any way.  

  • Comfortable seats, once you’ve lowered yourself into them.

  • This car is almost the definition of a phallus extension.  Driving it, we instantly felt like 55-year-old, just-divorced dentists, cruising for trophy second-wives.   By the way, we did meet a prospect or two.  Thanks, Jaguar!

  • Really, really, really showy.  If you don’t want a lot of attention, don’t go anywhere near the F-Type R.  It’s not just the looks, it’s the sound. The car is loud.  And whenever you start it up, the throttle automatically blips up to 4,000-5,000 rpm, before going to idle.  Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!    If you think your neighbors hate you now, wait 'til they think you’re doing that on purpose every morning at 7:30.  By the way, if that’s not enough exhaust noise for you, there’s a button on the console that makes the exhaust even louder.  

  • Not a comfortable car to get in and out of.  You fall into it and winch out of it.

  • You can’t see a blessed thing out of it, except what’s directly in front of you.  Seeing out the back is a joke.  The rear window is, literally, six inches high, and practically above your bald spot.  Backing up is solely done by using the optional(!), though very good rear-view camera (which, we’re guessing, warns you to look behind you and not rely on the camera).  But, when using the backup camera, you can’t see what’s coming at you from the side.   Maneuvering this car backwards, in parking situations, is disconcerting.    

  • Very little storage.  So, while versatile in terms of when it can be driven, and in what kind of weather, it’s limited in where it can be driven.  Of course, if you’re a 58-year-old dentist going away for the weekend with a 32-year-old hygienist, and you need to bring a couple of overnight bags, you can always take her 2001 Corolla.  

  • This is not the smooth, powerful, yet refined Jaguar that comes to mind when the brand is mentioned.  This is more the raw, harsh, very powerful Jaguar that will only appeal to a small subset of customers.  And almost certainly not as an everyday car.

  • It’s $120,000.  According to our calculations, that’s about three-and-a-half Miatas.  But it also has about the combined horsepower of three-and-a-half Miatas, so I guess it’s fairly priced!

2015 Mercedes GLA45 AMG

  • The GLA45 AMG is a sporty car that happens to be a practical hatchback with room in the back for passengers and some cargo, as well.

  • The GLA is a wonderful cruising car, with all kinds of power. It definitely does go. It has tremendous acceleration and stability from 60 MPH, on up. We got it up to 90 almost without noticing. (Note to law enforcement: This happened when we were very briefly rocking out to Sleepy LaBeef and not paying attention to our speed.)

  • Step on the gas, while you’re moving, and the dual-clutch automatic transmission shifts immediately to the correct gear.

  • It corners and handles very well.

  • It’s all-wheel drive, which makes the GLA a reasonable choice for anyone living in or near the snow belt.

  • While the lack of vibration makes the stop-start function one of the smoother we’ve ever experienced, the noise from the muffler is downright jarring every time the engine comes on.

  • The GLA45 AMG is in a class by itself, without any real direct competitors. At two thirds the price, and with half the prestige, the Subaru WRX and the VW Golf R could also be on your list.

  • The AMG designation means Mercedes has packed the most powerful possible engine into the GLA, making it essentially a factory “tuner” car. It comes with a two-liter, turbo-charged, 355 horsepower engine.

  • Ergonomics are good, steering wheel position is very comfortable, and the driving position is good. Seats are firm and very comfortable.

  • On the center console, you’ll find a handy volume button, several buttons for seat heat, eco-mode, and different audio options. There are knobs for dual temperature controls. Navigation is fine, and audio functions are reasonably intuitive.

  • It’s quick—except when it’s not. When it’s not is when you’re coming off the mark. It has a dual sequential clutch transmission, which seems to do a lot of things nicely, but one thing it doesn’t do well is get off the starting blocks. It sounds and feels like it needs to “spool up.” Or like you’re waiting for someone to slowly let the clutch out. It’s a little odd. It’s kind of similar to turbo lag (which, by the way, is something else you’ll experience in the GLA).

  • The interior is bathtub like, with a high-belt line. Visibility is not great, though we did get used to it. The back windows are small. To its credit, the backup camera comes on quickly, and there are plenty of other sensors to alert the driver. You’ll have to work hard to run someone over.

  • The GLA uses Mercedes’ “Comand” system for many functions. It’s not awful, but neither is it intuitive. We figured it out, though it’s not quite as elegant as BMW’s iDrive. The joystick, used to change station settings, is far too sensitive. It’s easy to accidently change stations, when you absentmindedly place your arm or hand onto the driver’s right-side armrest.

  • The placing of the cupholder is awkward. It’s slightly behind the driver. If you have a rotator cuff injury, get a long straw.

  • Cartoony-looking exterior design, that looks like it’s trying awfully hard. We didn’t see many souped-up, hatchback Mercedes in the back parking lot when we were in high school. But if we did, this is what they’d probably have looked like.

  • It’s noisy, with loud tires, and a raucous exhaust burble sound which has been designed-in by Mercedes. The GLA comes from the factory sounding like it needs a new muffler. If you can embrace that noise, then this is the car for you.

  • Interesting dashboard design looks a bit like Mercedes forgot to put a display in it, and then decided to slap an iPad on the front. The screen isn’t really integrated into the dash, but appears to us to be an afterthought. Some folks younger than us liked this, though, and thought it was cool.

  • The back seats are just okay. If we were passengers in a back seat for more than 100 miles, we’d be offering to drive every few minutes.

  • Adding those three letters, A-M-G, to your GLA will set you back an extra $10 grand.

  • The model we test drove had an MSRP of $60,705. However, the base price for the GLA45 starts at $48,300. That’s a lot for a small hatchback.

  • For $60,000, it feels like it’s missing a few things. For example, you still need to use a key to get in and start the car—remote access and push-button start being two items that are available on cars costing less than half as much.

2015 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD

  • Ride is quiet, and handling is quite good for a large vehicle.

  • Smooth eight-speed transmission that makes the power delivery very smooth.

  • The interior is actually pretty nice: simple, basic, not tacky. No faux wood, plaid, or other gaudy touches. It was pretty well appointed, unlike past Chryslers, which have often suffered from cheap plastic components as part of the interior trim.

  • A lot of room in the back, when you fold down the third row of seats.

  • U-Connect Infotainment system is easy to understand, navigate, and use.

  • High off the ground, the pro: great forward and side visibility. Poor rear visibility improved somewhat by standard backup camera on all but the base model.

  • Very good towing capacity.

  • The base price of just over $30,000 was a distant memory when we drove the top-of-the-line Citadel AWD edition, which rang the bell at $43,395.

  • If your other car is a Honda Civic, you’re going to hate driving this car. It’s big. Really big. Maneuverability is limited by the sheer size of the thing.

  • If you regularly have to use tight parking garages, narrow streets, congested city traffic, and mall parking lots, this is not the vehicle for you.

  • The Durango has Dodge’s gimmicky twist-shift. We couldn’t see any real advantage to it. It’s no easier than moving a shift lever, although it has the advantage of taking up a little less space on the center console.

  • The Durango is high off the ground, so it’s a seam-splitter to get into. Buy pants one size larger than you need.

  • Live rear axle, another relic of the Dakota platform. It’s hardly a leap forward in terms of suspension and handling.

  • Lousy mileage. We were getting 13 -14 MPG in mostly city driving. (EPA rated MPG is 17/24 for the V6 version.)

2015 BMW X4 28i

  • The X4 is a cool looking crossover. Mechanically, it’s BMW’s X3 crossover with a fastback roof design-- a sloping rear roof-line rather than the squared off roof of most SUVs and crossovers.

  • If you want the utility of an X3 but are willing to trade some usefulness (in the form of rear headroom and storage space) for design, the X4 is worth considering

  • We drove the X4 2.8i, which has a two-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that makes an impressive 240 horsepower. A 3-liter, 300 hp straight-six is optional. But the four-cylinder engine absolutely got the job done.

  • It accelerated well, cruised easily at high speed, and had enough power to pass at all speeds. The only time it strained a bit was when accelerating uphill.

  • Handling and cornering are excellent for an SUV. Far more BMW-like than SUV-like. Not a sports car, but it’s closer to one than any other SUV we can remember driving. It feels solid, and its handling is reassuring.

  • The X4 absorbs roadway imperfections nicely. It’s a “firm” kind of comfortable.

  • All X4s come with all-wheel drive. The nearly perfect, unobtrusive 8-speed automatic transmission includes paddle shifters, as well sport, eco, and normal modes. We liked Normal.

  • To improve fuel economy, the X4 includes an automatic engine start-stop function, which we found to be reasonably unobtrusive. It can be turned off, too, if you want, although as far as we could tell, you’d have to do it each time you drive.

  • The entry and exit height is lower than in the X3, and just right for us. We neither had to climb up, nor fall down to get in. Seating comfort was firm, but very good.

  • The X4 has most of the accoutrements you’d ever want, including automatic headlights, Bluetooth, color navigation with traffic information, dual heating and ventilation controls, heated seats and more.

  • iDrive is improved from years past. And there are now knobs and buttons for frequently used controls. Some controls are conveniently duplicated on the steering wheel.

  • Sound insulation is impressive, and you hear very little engine noise, especially when you consider that there’s a 2.0 liter engine pulling a large, 4,145-pound vehicle. Engine noise was only apparent when in “sport” mode, which raised the shift points—but that may be intentional, as drivers may want to hear the engine in sport mode.

  • There’s plenty of room in the backseat for two passengers, and decent headroom for under-six-footers. Taller folks may notice the sloping roof. In practical terms, the X4 is also, basically, a hatchback, with a large, opening tailgate, and fold down rear seats that provide good cargo capacity when needed.

  • The X4 isn’t the most practical design. If you want more practicality, get the X3 with a more squared off back. The X3 is a little taller, and doesn’t handle quite as well, but it provides more rear headroom and cargo capacity.

  • You also pay more for the better styling. The X3 2.8i starts a $38,500. The X4 2.8i starts at $45,250.

  • As with most BMWs, there are plenty of luxury options available, but the prices of accessories border on outrageous. While the base price of the X4 is $45,250, our well-optioned version listed for $56,240. That’s $10,990 in options.

  • It takes premium fuel, so budget accordingly.

  • While the iDrive control system is pretty good, there remain some little quirks. There were times when iDrive would get stubborn, and refuse to play the tune we asked for, or revert to something that was on before.

  • Mileage is not great—While we admittedly drove it with a “heavy foot,” because it was fun to drive, we averaged just 23 MPG despite a lot of high-speed, highway driving.

  • Despite its impressive handling and cornering, it’s not a sports car. This is no M235i. But, if you have to drive kids or “stuff” around or otherwise need a car with some flexibility, and want something with style, too, it’s more fun than most cars that meet that criteria.

2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe

  • BMW’s best looking sedan. It’s a slightly more stylish 3-series—a little lower, and little sleeker-- with the added practicality of a rear hatchback.

  • Overall, we liked this car a lot.

  • We loved the way it drives. It has a beautiful engine-transmission combination.

  • The four-cylinder turbo is very sweet. With 240hp, it has as much power as anyone could reasonably want. It pulls very nicely. It delivers an EPA rated 23/34, with an average mileage of 27 mpg. Not bad for a large, very sporty car.

  • The eight-speed manual transmission is great. Flawless. It always seems to be in the right gear without any hesitation. It includes a manual shift option with shifter paddles.

  • The 428i is basically a hatchback. Rather than having a regular trunk, the entire rear window lifts. We think this is a great advantage over the three series. You can fold down the rear seats, and carry a ton of stuff.

  • The car is beautiful. A lot of people commented on how beautiful it is. In fact, we think the 4 series is far better looking with four doors than two, because there's no long, flat space behind the two doors.

  • And from a practical point of view, four doors provide a great advantage over the regular, two-door four series coupe.

  • The ride is surprisingly good for a low, sporty car. Cars like this used to be harsher. But, the suspension does everything well – ride and handling.

  • The steering has a nice feel. It’s on the lighter side for BMW, but we liked it.

  • The one thing we don’t like, which might even keep us from buying it, is that it’s low. It’s noticeably lower than the three series BMWs. You need to fall down into the car. It’s lower than a regular sedan. The seating position is lower to the floor, to maintain the coupe’s low profile.

  • We had some smaller issues, such as the back seat, which is lacking in knee, and, to some extent, head room.

  • It has an automatic stop-start that turns the engine off at a stop light. We think BMW has improved the smoothness recently, but it would nice if they worked on it a little bit more. You do notice it, when the engine starts or stops. It’s not as nearly as smooth as Toyota’s stop-start, or nearly as bad as Volvo’s start-stop technology.

  • The iDrive control system has been improved. BMW has added buttons for everything except the radio tuning. There are knobs and buttons for the radio presets, volume, temperature controls, so it’s not necessary to go into the iDrive, except to tune the radio and change audio sources.

  • As with any BMW, the options are very expensive. You can start out with a base price in the low 40’s and easily end up paying well over $50K for the car you want, with options that come standard on other vehicles. We have to assume it’s a way to entice people into the showroom with a very reasonable base price, even though they really don’t sell cars at that price.

2015 Subary Legacy Sedan

  • Subaru has a well-deserved reputation for building practical, pretty reliable, all-wheel-drive cars that are durable, and get around well in lousy weather. The Legacy sedan should do all that.

  • Impressive safety features for our test car, which listed for about 25 grand. Not only can you get all-wheel-drive, but you get a rear view camera, blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, and Subaru’s EyeSight system, which is an automatic emergency braking system. That’s unusual on a car that costs as little as this one does.

  • Combined 30MPG is impressive for an all-wheel-drive car. EPA says 26 city, 36 highway.

  • The tuning of the CVT (continuously variable transmission) makes the gas pedal very touchy when starting off. Subaru obviously wants to emphasize that the car is plenty quick, but instead it comes off as annoying, as it’s hard to start off from a stop without jolting the car and its passengers.

  • The manual shift mode in this car is not even worth playing with.

  • Now that the Camry has updated, modern styling for 2015, the Legacy sedan takes over the top spot as the industry’s most nondescript car.

  • Funny, but from the driver’s seat, the way the hood is shaped, with pointy ridges at both edges, is reminiscent of the old Dodge Dart. And that’s an apt comparison for the Legacy sedan: Practical, reliable, and homely.

  • It’s hard to come up with a really good reason why someone would buy this car, among all of the options available today. It’s perfectly adequate. Good, even. But unless you’re a Subaru fan who wants a sedan instead of a more useful wagon or hatchback, why would you buy a Legacy sedan? Not for the looks. Not for luxury. Not for sporty handling. Perhaps because of the value of the all-wheel-drive and optional safety equipment. But if you’re that driven by practicality, why wouldn’t you buy the wagon version?

2015 Ford Transit 150 XLT

  • Finally, an update for the age-old “Econoline” van that brings it into the 21st century.

  • Far more comfortable, airy, and spacious than the old Ford van. A pleasant place to be for a short or long ride.

  • Highly configurable. Three roof heights (the tallest of which can accommodate a 6’5” human standing up inside), three different lengths, and three different engine options. We drove the XLT low roof, the shortest version, which is still living-room-esque.

  • Our test model had comfortable seating for eight, with a huge amount of room behind the last row of seats for cargo. This thing could carry a small marching band and several backup tubas.

  • Entry and exit is easier than in the old Ford van. A built-in step allows driver and front passenger to easily climb in. Rear passenger entry is also easier than in vans past.

  • Seats are far more comfortable, and headroom eliminates the claustrophobia of the old van. It’s also easy to move inside the van, from front to back or seat to seat.

  • Huge windshield and cut-outs in the two front doors provide excellent forward visibility. Visibility is more limited out the sides and to the back.

  • Far more maneuverable than the old, full-size van. While it’s definitely a large vehicle, it operates like a car. Steering is easy. Controls are predictable.

  • Impressive turning circle. We were surprised by how few times we had to go back and forth to turn around. This thing is capable of a three-point turn in a city. So, you no longer have to take out three parked Hyundais when you pull a u-ey.

  • It’s still huge. For the love of everything holy, do not buy one of these unless you need one. It’s still an enormous vehicle that’s too tall to fit in many parking garages and too long to fit into many a city parking space.

  • Visibility out the sides is very limited, making changing lanes on the highway a “signal, pause, and pray” maneuver. Blind spot monitoring should be standard on this van for that reason. It’s not. And our test car didn’t even have it as optional equipment. You need it.

  • The rear visibility is also poor, in part due to a larger structural beam between the two rear windows. Fortunately, the optional back up camera works well, and quickly. You’ll need that, too.

  • The 3.7 liter V6 engine is adequate the vast majority of the time, but not over powered. It gets a little loud and strain-y when pushed, but it does the job. EPA rates it at 16 mpg overall (14 city, 19 highway) which is up from 13 to 14 overall in the old van—a 15- to 20-percent improvement.

  • It has stability control, so we don’t expect to see a lot of these tipping over. But it is a tall vehicle, and you do feel the body sway on turns.

2015 Ford Edge

  • Ford’s best crossover, in our humble opinion. 

  • Excellent, refined suspension system. This car has a fantastic combination of comfort and handling that really surprised us. It’s easily comparable to European luxury crossovers. The handling is not at all floaty, like the larger Explorer. It’s precise and agile for a large vehicle, with surprisingly flat cornering, little body lean, and good road holding. Yet the Edge gives up very little in comfort to get its Euro-style handling. The ride is comfortable, with bumps and road irregularities well absorbed.  

  • Smooth power from the four-cylinder, “Ecoboost” engine. The 2.0-liter, four cylinder engine produces 245 horsepower and accelerates the pretty heavy Edge easily, without any turbo lag. The six-speed automatic transmission is more or less unnoticeable, which is exactly what you want from an automatic transmission. You won’t miss a V6 at all.

  • Roomy. Unlike the narrow-feeling Escape, the Edge feels spacious inside. Seats are comfortable and supportive, and even rear seat passengers have lots of leg, head, and knee room.

  • Getting in and out of the Edge is also easy, front and rear, due to ample door openings. There is also a generous amount of cargo room behind the rear seats.  

  • Quiet inside.  

  • Simple, clean design. Both inside and out, the Edge is pretty straightforward. Some may consider this a drawback. But others will like the lack of flash and twisty sheet metal. It has a boxy, tank-like exterior, and simple, but high quality interior.  

  • Speaking of tank-like, there’s something about the position of the driver’s seat and the large, flat hood that makes the front of the Edge look massive when you’re driving it. It’s not, but the flat hood gives the impression of greater bulk than actually exists.  

  • Offers a good array of optional safety equipment on the higher trim variants.  We’d highly recommend the blind spot monitoring, even though it comes as part of an expensive luxury package.  And we’d recommend the automatic emergency braking, for $1,300.  All dressed up, our Edge Titanium all-wheel drive, even without the emergency braking, was tagged at $43,585.  

  • Our fuel mileage is mediocre. Even with the four-cylinder engine, we got an average of only 19 mpg in our more-city-than-highway testing.  EPA says 20 to 28 with a 23 MPG average.  

  • Visibility is limited. There’s virtually no visibility to the rear sides, due to very thick C pillars. That makes the optional blind spot monitoring an absolute necessity, and makes the standard rear view camera an important tool.   

  • The deep dashboard reflected in the windshield and created glare at times.  

  • The Ford Sync system requires you to touch the screen for various functions. And the screen is enough of a reach to make that inconvenient while driving. Other manufacturers have opted for a mouse-like controller to deal with that issue. Ford has not. A newer, updated Sync system is due next year.   


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I bought a brand new e-Golf, Nov 2015. Drove it 4 days and broke! It's been 1 month in the shop and still not repaired.

Volkswagen America answer (3rd week) - We will never give you a new car, that's why it has a warranty. - We will not give your money back. - We don't have to provide you a loaner nor pay for your transportation while your car is being repaired. - You will not get compensated for anything. - You owe us this month lease payment, btw!

Volkswagen America answer (4th week): We are not allowed to talk you. Get an attorney to reach out to us.

Still considering to buy an e-Golf?? Good luck!

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