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Car Talk Test Drive Notes

Nissan Pathfinder (2014)

  • The new Pathfinder is much more comfortable than the previous edition. It’s a good choice if you’re looking for an SUV with an extremely comfortable ride.
  • They've gone in a different direction.  Pathfinder used to be a kind of "off road" SUV, with a firm ride, a pickup truck chassis, and rugged looks.  Now, it's more of a luxury on-road SUV or a minivan alternative that husbands are willing to be seen in.
  • Can be done up in full luxurious Platinum trim with all of today's required luxury amenities, including heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, remote engine start, rear sonar, power lift gate, and more.
  • Roomy front seats, and a reasonably roomy second row of seats.  The third row is usable for kids, and folds flat for more cargo room when not in use.  
  • The ride is very smooth and isolated.  Engine is plenty powerful.  Continuously variable transmission works mostly unobtrusively and provides slightly better gas mileage than a 4,000 pound beast like this would normally get. We got 17-18 MPG.
  • The Pathfinder has a tried and true V6 engine that’s been shown to be extremely reliable over many years.
  • Nissan/Infinity's Birds Eye View back up camera is still the best in the business. It shows you the car from top view via four-cameras when you're backing up or parking.  
  • No gauge needed to fill tires.  Nissan's "Easy Fill" system is another nice innovation; car uses tire pressure monitor system while you're adding air, and honks when the correct pressure is reached.  It’s a small advance, but it’s nice thinking.

  • Soft, comfortable ride comes at the expense of jello-like cornering.  On twisty roads, the Pathfinder cornered a little bit like a Lincoln Town Car.  This is Pathfinder’s greatest shortfall. This is a vehicle that could really benefit from a sport suspension setting.
  • Rear visibility is impeded significantly by rear seat head rests, and even more if the third row of seats is in use, with its head rests.  
  • Mileage, while decent for this class in all-wheel-drive form, is not great (however, if you really do carry seven people on a regular basis, you can make a good case for this being environmentally friendly).
  • With third row of seats in use, rear cargo room is extremely limited.  

Kia Soul (2014)

  • A practical alternative to a small SUV. Versatile, with good passenger space for a small vehicle, and decent cargo room with the rear seats folded.
  • Good, upright driving position.
  • This is a vastly more refined Kia Soul than the previous iteration.
  • While the old one felt like a tin can, this redesigned Soul has far more solidity. Upgraded materials and sound insulation make this a vehicle you can easily live with.
  • The ride was on the stiff side, but handling was predictable and fairly refined for a small car.
  • Use of space is very good, with the squared-off hatchback providing maximum cargo room for its size.
  • Easy to get in and out of. It’s just the right height for many people.
  • It can be had with all the bells and whistles you’d want. Our loaded test car came with very comfortable, heated and cooled leather seats.
  • Surprisingly quiet and stable on the highway.
  • Very good visibility front and side. Big screen back-up camera is a nice touch.
  • Available, huge sunroof.

  • Decent, but not great mileage. EPA rated at 26 overall.
  • No all-wheel-drive option, for those who need it.
  • Backup camera (pretty much required due to large rear pillars) is an extra cost option.
  • Because of the short length of the Soul, cargo space in the rear is quite limited unless you fold down a rear seat or two.
  • LED disco “party lights” around the stereo speakers are a very high-school, tacky touch (fortunately, can be turned off). We wonder if this car will be like the old, boxy Scion xB: Designed to be cool and appeal to young buyers, but ends up attracting older buyers despite its looks, for its practicality.
  • Polarizing looks. Some people love it. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead in it. We find it kind of ugly. But then again, we’re kind of ugly and people still talk to us. For those who like the looks, or can get past the looks, there’s a lot to like here.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel (2014)

  • Improved mileage. Mostly noticeable to us in highway driving, where the Grand Cherokee got high twenties. We still got lousy city mileage during our winter test, no better than 14-15 mpg. But the EPA rates the Cherokee Diesel at 21/28 with 24 combined, which is a big improvement over the other Grand Cherokee engine options.
  • Diesel noise and vibration are non-existent once you’re cruising at speed.
  • Plenty of power, and even more torque.
  • Solid, tight-feeling handling. Grand Cherokee’s previous problem with lateral motion is much improved.
  • Seats and the ride are both very comfortable.
  • Nice, upscale exterior appearance.
  • Upscale interior. Appears to be well made.
  • Very good U-connect Infotainment system, easy to understand and operate.
  • Lots of convenient controls for all kinds of things.
  • Additional controls for radio volume and tuning are located on the backside of the steering wheel. We find that to be a perfect place for them…exactly where your fingers rest. However, there’s a rocker switch that’s easy to hit. If that happens, you’ll accidentally change radio bands.
  • The higher-end model includes adaptive cruise control, which adjusts your speed to maintain a safe distance between with the car in front of you. It’s a very nice feature. We used it for several hours, and it worked well.

  • Diesel engine is a $5,000 option. It’ll take many years to recoup that in improved gas mileage, unless you do 40,000 miles a year of highway driving.
  • Diesel engine is noisy on start-up, at idle, and whenever you step on the gas. Once you’re cruising, you won’t notice it. But around town, every time you punch the gas pedal, it sounds like a Mack truck.
  • We only got 14-15 MPG in winter stop-and-go city traffic—admittedly, the worst kind of driving for mileage. But if that’s the kind of driving you do, don’t expect the EPA rated 24 MPG.
  • While handling was generally good, the new electric power steering was both light and a bit sensitive. As a result, we found ourselves making frequent adjustments while driving to keep it pointed where we wanted it – especially on windy roads.
  • No third row of seats, which is not an issue unless you’re often toting around a posse of kids.

Honda Accord Hybrid TRG (2014)

  • High mileage, hybrid version of an already great, mid-sized sedan.
  • Fun to drive. This is the sportiest practical hybrid sedan we’ve tested.
  • Like the gasoline-powered Accord, the Accord Hybrid handles well, and feels planted. It stakes out a different turf than the comfort oriented, more floaty Camry and Camry Hybrid.
  • Vastly improved over the old Accord Hybrid. Much smoother transitions between electric and gasoline power, and greatly improved mileage.
  • Plenty fast. Good acceleration.
  • Comfortable seats and an upscale, calm, well-thought-out interior.
  • Great driving position, and good visibility.
  • Nice and quiet inside, except when it’s not (see below).
  • Right blinker-activated “Lane Watch” camera gives a great view of the entire right side of the car and adjacent areas when you’re changing lanes or turning right.

  • We didn’t get the mileage Honda claims (45 city, 50 highway.) We got around 40 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg around town, with an average in the low 30’s—and these numbers were with the “Eco” button on.
  • There are other reviewers we respect who got closer to 40 mpg overall. Weather and driving conditions affect mileage. (Accord Hybrid Owners! Tell us what real-world mileage you’re getting.
  • The engine is a bit noisy, since it has a baseline of what sounds to be about 2000 RPM. At slow speeds, you’ll hear the engine revving, as it charges the batteries. It’s odd and distracting.
  • We also heard a fair bit of noise from the engine compartment when we placed a heavy load on the electric motor, such as when driving up a steep hill. Honda says this is normal, and told us the sound is the engine/generator operating under its maximum load, charging the batteries as quickly as it can.
  • The engine, by the way, only powers the wheels directly when you’re cruising at highway speeds. The rest of the time, the engine acts as a generator, charging the batteries. The batteries, in turn, drive an electric motor that sends powers directly to the wheels.
  • The hybrid version of the Accord feels heavier and a little less nimble than other Accords, probably due to the weight of the batteries. The ride is also feels a little bit firmer and less comfortable.
  • Hybrid battery eats up some trunk space.
  • When the headlights are on, the Accord assumes it’s nighttime, and the dashboard lighting can be hard to see.

Honda CR-V AWD TRG (2015)

  • Roomy, functional, practical, competitively priced, and very reliable.
  • This is America’s top selling compact SUV for good reason. There’s very little that’s wrong with it.
  • Maneuverable, and easy to park.
  • Good back seat room, and cargo room.
  • Its interior feeling of airiness and spaciousness makes it pleasant to be in.
  • Major changes are a new engine and transmission. Honda added a direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) to boost mileage. The all-wheel-drive CR-V’s mileage is 26/33 (city/highway) and 28 MPG combined according to EPA. We got about 25 overall.
  • Suspension tweaks make the handling a little better, and the ride a little stiffer.
  • Unlike some CVT transmissions that “whine” under even moderate acceleration, this one was largely unobtrusive. It functioned well.
  • Advanced safety features, like forward-collision warning and autonomous braking, are available on the top trim models.
  • Honda’s “LaneWatch” passenger-side camera is a major plus. Activate the right directional, and the camera turns on automatically. The camera can also be turned on manually, with a button on the directional stalk. It provides the driver a great view of the right side of the vehicle, and anything that might be in your blind spot—say, a cyclist, for example. Hash marks indicate the distances, which is a nice touch. We think every car should have this feature!
  • The standard backup camera is great. It comes on instantaneously, and the screen is easy to view.
  • We’d expect the usual impressive Honda reliability. If you want to drive this car for 250,000 miles, you can. That’s 100k more than we’d count on from competitors in this class, like the Subaru Forrester.

  • We hate the elimination of the volume and tuning knobs in the Infotainment system. Almost a deal breaker on a bunch of Hondas these days. The touch screen switch for radio volume is detestable.
  • There are two buttons for the temperature, and nothing for the volume. That’s poor design, and a surprising Honda lapse.
  • Also no knob available to change climate mode settings— for when you want to switch from heat to defrost, or make other climate changes.
  • Most automakers have already gone through this stupidity and learned from their mistakes, adding back buttons and knobs for the most commonly used vehicle controls. Let’s hope it doesn’t take Honda too long to wake up and fix this.
  • The CR-V has a tiny, vestigial window in the rear quarter of the car that, when combined with the small rear window, can make changing lanes a challenge. Of course, the standard backup camera helps with parking. And the LaneWatch camera to see what’s coming up on your right side. But a blind spot warning system would be a great addition to this car.

Lexus CT 200H F Sport Edition (2014)

  • This is a car for people who want the smug feeling that comes with driving a Prius, but want to be coddled in a little more luxury.   It’s a good alternative to the Prius if you’re willing to give up some practicality, interior space, and ease of entry and exit.  
  • We averaged 43-44 in combined highway and city driving. 
  • The Lexus CT 200H is about the size of the smallest Prius, the Prius C, but quieter than a Prius C, thanks to very heavy insulation and padding. 
  • Leather and other upscale interior materials give the CT 200H a luxurious feel.  Our loaded CT 200H came with every amenity a luxury buyer could possibly want, too, including heated seats, telescoping steering wheel, heating side mirrors, navigation, and more. 
  • There are knobs and buttons for commonly-used controls, such as radio tuning and volume, and climate controls.  Everything else is operated through a touch screen. 
  • The CT 200H has plenty of power, between the engine and the electric motor.  When you need to stomp on the accelerator and pass someone, it gets loud, but the powertrain does the job nicely. 
  • The transition between electric mode and gasoline engine is very nearly undetectable.  It’s very smooth, especially at higher speeds.  
  • The CT 200H is very stable on the highway, despite being a reasonably small car.  It feels very planted and didn’t get buffeted around, like other small cars we’ve driven.  Handling was predictable and confident, if not sporty or spectacular.  
  • Overall, this is a nice, livable car.  It’s not really a luxury car, due to its low ride height, tight interior, and small car ride.  But it is comfortable and well appointed.  If you want a small hybrid, but you don’t want to rough it, the CT 200H is a good choice.   

  • It feels like an economy car that has been dressed up to feel like a luxury car.  It does have a luxury car interior, but the ride and noise level don’t compare with other cars in the entry luxury segment.  Including those made by Lexus.  
  • Not a lot of room inside.   Interior feels small.  
  • Even with added sound insulations, it’s still not “Lexus Quiet” inside.  
  • Low roof-line, limits ease of entry. 
  • The front-end feels very heavy, which adds to the feeling that the CT 200H is based on an economy car.   While handling is good, the ride is firm, and not luxurious.   
  • Visibility out the back is really marginal, mitigated partly by an optional (and necessary) back-up camera. 
  • Back seating space is tight.  The seats themselves are comfortable, but knee room is an issue.  
  • The CT 200H has only a marginal amount of cargo room. However, the rear seats fold down to increase capacity.  
  • Loaded up, the tested CT 200H F Sport edition will cost you about $40,000. The base model starts at $32,945.  The F Sport model adds a “sport tuned suspension,” a bunch of aesthetic upgrades, like a rear spoiler and black trim on the headliner. 

Toyota RAV4 (2014)

  • Practical, versatile, fuel efficient, and fun to drive, the redesigned RAV4 is a good alternative to the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forrester.  
  • Toyota reliability is excellent, and we’d expect the RAV4 to be highly reliable.  
  • Smooth engine/transmission combination. 
  • Four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmission provide very respectable fuel economy, 22/29 with an EPA rate 25 mpg overall. Note, a hybrid version will be available soon. 
  • Sporty handling, for a tall vehicle.  
  • Good all-wheel-drive system makes RAV4 a great option in the snow belt.  
  • It’s quiet on the road at lower speeds, though there’s noticeable engine noise with the four-cylinder engine when passing, and road noise at highway speed. 
  • Great visibility all around. 
  • Plenty of storage room inside the cabin.
  • Lift gate now, instead of side-opening design, which is a big improvement.  
  • Standard backup camera. 
Simple, straight-forward volume and tuning knobs. 
  • The optional navigation can’t be programmed while driving, keeping RAV owners alive.

  • Ride is firm, and may not appeal to those who like their butts softly coddled. 
  • Infotainment system is very slow to respond to inputs. 
  • Wide turning circle for a small-ish vehicle. 
  • While the RAV is rated “Good” in a number of crash test categories by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it got a “Poor” rating in the important front overlap test. Toyota immediately addressed this result in the 2015 model, by the way, which landed them in the IIHS’ “Top Safety Pick” category. 

Honda Fit LX (2015)

  • Extremely practical, versatile, reliable, well-equipped, and fuel-efficient.
  • The Fit is a very practical compact car, with a wonderfully flexible interior. It’s very well thought out in terms of space utilization. The rear seats fold in an ingenious way that makes the cargo loading floor very low and flat, allowing you to carry far more stuff in the Fit than you would guess from its size.
  • It feels roomier inside than its size would suggest. Lots of glass, which makes for an airy feel and great visibility. And it has a standard backup camera.
  • We’d expect the usual great Honda reliability.
  • Excellent fuel economy. EPA says 32 mpg combined for the manual transmission model we tested, 35 mpg overall for the CVT automatic.
  • A very useable rear seat that’s adequate for two adults.
  • Handling is pretty good. Not sporty, but quick, confident, and reasonably fun to drive for a subcompact car. Handles far better than, say, the similarly sized, softer riding Nissan Versa hatchback. It tracks well on the highway, where it feels solid, and doesn’t seem to get blown around particularly easily.
  • The ride quality is quite good (again, for a car its size). When we were test-driving the Fit, the streets in Our Fair City were either pothole-ridden or in the midst of being reconstructed. In those conditions, the Fit’s suspension did a good job of absorbing imperfections in the road without punishing the driver.
  • The Fit is fairly high off the ground, with a high entry point and high seat height. That makes it easy to get in and out. You don’t feel like you have to fall into the driver’s seat.
  • The Fit has Honda’s typically light steering touch, which makes it very easy to steer, maneuver, and park.
  • We like Honda’s LaneWatch system, which shows a camera view of the right side of the car when you engage your right turn signal.
  • Climate controls are very easy to operate with three large knobs for temperature, fan and air direction.
  • There are USB and 12-volt power outlets available, and lots of Honda-style nooks and crannies for your spare change and cell phone. And, of course, there are plenty of well-designed cup holders.
  • At $17,270 MSRP, decently equipped, we think the Fit is a pretty good deal.

  • Touch screen with the execrable “touch” volume controls require you to take your eyes off the road to aim your finger precisely at the right spot on the screen. And still, you have to futz with it to get it to work correctly. A real step backward from the good old volume knob, and is annoying enough to be a deal breaker for some people. It’s truly a lousy design and we can’t wait for Honda to correct it.
  • To make matters worse, we found the far edge of the touch screen to be a bit challenging to reach. Fortunately, there are radio controls on the steering wheel. If you have your presets programmed, and you’re not using the wheel to, say, turn, you can use the steering wheel control to change stations. Still, please, bring back the volume and tuning knobs.
  • Driving a car this size on a busy highway, next to trucks and SUVs can be a little nerve wracking. It’s a small car. So while it inspires confidence around town, you are aware of your vulnerability when behemoths are passing you at 80.
  • Road and engine noise were quite noticeable, especially at highways speed. The revs at 70 mph were well over 3,000, even in 6th gear, and the car is not well sound insulated.
  • “Rubbery” feeling shifter made clear the Fit is not a sports car.
  • It could be that our test car needed an adjustment, or just due to the small engine, but when starting from a full stop, the clutch required more gas than one might expect to keep the Fit from stalling.

Toyota Camry XSE V6 (2015)

  • Still the reliability king.
  • Great practicality. Combines reasonable comfort, roomy, thoughtful interior, improved handling, nice style, smooth engine and transmission, decent mileage, good resale value, and superb reliability.
  • It’s been largely de-geezered for 2015. The previous version of the Camry should have come pre-installed with a bumper sticker that said “Follow Me to the Early Bird Special.” It was a working definition of dowdy, from the exterior styling, to the paint colors, to the optional plaid seats. Plaid seats!! The new, 2015 Camry is much more up to date, with a wedge shape, more aggressive grille and lights, and overall, younger-looking style.
  • Handling is improved. While not sporty, it feels a bit tighter and less floaty, and offers nothing to complain about. Nice, firm steering feel at highway speeds. We drove both the XSE (S presumably for Sport) and the XLE (L presumably for luxury) and definitely preferred the XLE. The handling in the XLE was very good, the ride comfort was better, and noise levels were lower. The XSE’s slightly more aggressive look may help some wives convince their wavering husbands that it’s OK to be seen in a Camry. But in our experience, the marginally better handling didn’t outweigh the increased road noise.
  • Interior definitely feels more upscale.
  • Touchscreen and dashboard controls improve usability over 2014 Camry, especially with optional, larger screen. Navigation is easier than most to program in destinations.
  • Visibility, while compromised out the back like all wedge-shaped cars these days, is better than most. It’s very good up front and to the sides.
  • Decent gas mileage for a very strong V6. 25 mpg overall. 21 city, 31 highway. Four-cylinder versions get about 3 mpg more overall. A hybrid version offers fuel economy approaching 40 mpg.

  • In the XSE trim, the 18-inch, low-profile tires are probably responsible for the loud road noise at highway speeds. The XLE version, with 17-inch, higher profile tires are noticeably quieter, and more comfortable around town.
  • The seats are nice, but lack some thigh support.
  • Visibility out the back is terrible.
  • While there are nice, large knobs for volume and tuning, the touchscreen also controls the navigation system and Bluetooth phone connections. So if you’re using more than one thing — saying using the map for directions, while taking a phone call, you have to touch the screen to switch back and forth to use the controls, which feels unsafe and distracting. A navigation button would be nice to quickly return to the full screen navigation. A mute button for the phone on the steering wheel would be a welcome addition, especially given the road noise in the XSE at highway speed.

Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium

  • This vehicle has long been the official vehicle of Vermont. It’s practical, reasonably sized, reasonably priced, reliable, and secure in handling. And for eons, it has offered all-wheel drive to get Vermonters through those little winters they have—from September to June.
  • The Outback has evolved in recent iterations to appeal to more then just the thrifty-frozen-people of New England. It’s a lot more refined than it used to be, while maintaining its practicality.
  • If you need cargo room, and all-wheel drive, and don’t want to drive an SUV, this is a great choice. It’s got everything a mid-size SUV has, except the poorer gas mileage, and heavy towing capacity.
  • There’s plenty of room inside. The Outback is officially big, now. It’s as long as a Volvo Cross Country, and has more cargo area than a Honda CR-V.
  • Mileage is improved, thanks to a new CVT transmission, which operates with little of the rubber-band whine you sometimes get with CVTs. We got about 23 MPG overall. EPA claims 28 combined.
  • The new Outback is quieter, overall, with added sound insulation.
  • It has newly available safety features, a package dubbed “Eye Sight,” by Subaru, which includes pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning.
  • Rear leg room has been improved.
  • Very comfortable ride.
  • Good solid handling, with a lower center of gravity than SUVs.
  • Good visibility. And a standard back up camera that comes on immediately.
  • Excellent cargo room in back.
  • Controls are pretty straightforward, with knobs for tuning and volume, and a set of controls on the steering wheel, too.
  • One nice feature: when you’re stuck in traffic and the car in front of you starts to move, the Outback will alert you with an audible tone. It’s a nice feature if you’re bored in traffic, texting with your mistress.

  • Cornering, while good compared to SUVs, is not a good as a sedan’s. We noticed some body lean on hard turns. If you the sporty version of this car, you’ll need an Audi Allroad. And another 20 grand.
  • We found the Outback to be a bit noisy on acceleration, especially compared with other cars in its class. Ours had a bit of a rattling sound that seems to be typical of Subaru engines. You won’t find it as sewing-machine smooth as a Honda.
  • Price-wise, it’s roughly comparable to the Honda CR-V. While the Outback has its advantages, and has proven durable, Subaru reliability has not been quite as good as Honda’s. So don’t expect it to go 200,000 miles, without a major repair.


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