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Car Talk Test Drive Notes

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport HRE

  • The next-step-up from entry-level luxury Evoque SUV, the Discovery Sport is designed to compete with the likes of Audi’s Q5 and the Lexus RX350. It’s nicely designed and looks good, both inside and out.
  • The ride is nicely balanced. The Discovery Sport holds the road well. It feels well planted to the ground, and corners well for an SUV. The ride is on the firm side, but at the same time, it was reasonably comfortable on the highway. It handled rough sections of road pretty well, with an occasional shudder on some bumps.
  • The 9-speed transmission is smooth and quiet.
  • The steering feels excellent. Very well weighted—not to light, not too heavy.
  • The interior is upscale and classy. It’s clean-looking, with good quality materials, and with looks appropriate to a luxury car.
  • There are knobs and buttons on the dash for the most frequently-used settings, including the ventilation and entertainment options. We did miss a radio tuning knob, though. Maybe we’re holdouts.
  • There’s a video screen that’s large enough to view easily, with a pretty straightforward touch-screen interface that defaults to a “home” with four squares—media, phone, navigation, and climate. We found it clear, if a little slow.
  • The excellent backup camera is quick to activate, with plenty of useful information.
  • There’s room in the back seat for passengers to travel comfortably, and a modest amount of cargo room in the back, too.
  • Automatic stop-start was very smooth.
  • There’s a large shade covering a moonroof that, when slid back, brings in plenty of natural light.
  • Who would want a Discovery Sport? Someone who would like a Q5 or RX-300, but wants something none of his neighbors have. Someone who wants to say “I’m outdoorsy, but I shower very frequently.”

  • Our major dislike for this car is with the Landrover Discovery Sport’s 2-liter, turbo-charged, 4-cylinder engine. There’s an old-style turbo-lag-like hesitation in acceleration, which makes it hard to drive smoothly. You step on the gas, and get modest power, and then the turbo kicks in and the Discovery Sport takes off on you, and you have to back off the gas.
  • Your passengers will notice your less-than-smooth driving. As will you when they start turning green.
  • Jaguar Land Rover is coming out with a new engine in late 2016, which we hope will alleviate this problem.
  • Some of us found the seats uncomfortable on long drives, though around town we found them to be perfectly adequate. The seats are bolstered on the side, which makes for a sporty look, but bothered the larger-of-ass tester in our group, whose name we won’t mention, even though it’s Ray.
  • The ride is on the stiff side, which won’t suit all luxury car buyers.
  • The Discovery Sport has what must be the slowest power windows on the planet.
  • While we appreciated not having to dig down into multiple menus to operate the basic controls, the Land Rover alternative is lots of buttons on the dashboard, which can be confusing.
  • Expect the usual Rover reliability. Meaning…. not great. To add insult to injury, expect parts to be expensive. This would be a great vehicle to lease.

2015 Jeep Patriot

  • When the Patriot first came out, it was the cheapest, most plastic-y car imaginable. To their credit, Jeep has upgraded the Patriot a bit, and the 2015 edition is better than prior models. Some of the rough edges have been smoothed out. You no longer see visible, cheap plastic pieces that don’t fit together in the cabin.
  • The six-speed automatic worked well, and operated unobtrusively.
  • It’s four-wheel drive, and will get you through snow, mud, or molasses.
  • Feels pretty steady in highway driving.
  • Ride is not terribly harsh or uncomfortable.
  • The design is old on the inside, too—but every now and then that’s a good thing, such as the three large knobs for the ventilation system. There are heated seats, too, which are a nice touch.
  • There’s adequate space in the back seating area.
  • If you miss your old Jeep Cherokee from the 1980’s, this is your car!

  • Some Jeeps, like the Wrangler, grow old and manage to be cool. Other Jeeps, like the Patriot, grow old and just get old.
  • This is an old Jeep design, and it’s on the cheap side, too. It’s simply not a modern vehicle, and it shows. The cabin feels narrow and from another era.
  • The body leans in turns. Steering doesn’t feel terribly precise. Brakes can be grabby.
  • The engine is a bit harsh and is certainly harsh-sounding, and it’s not hard to notice the engine straining a bit on the highway.
  • Get onto any rough or rutted roads, and the Patriot’s ride seems to get thrown off.
  • The rear seats feel a bit cheap, and they’re positioned low.
  • The front of the car is ugly. The grille looks weak, and if there’s one thing a Jeep shouldn’t be, it’s weak-looking.
  • The entertainment system looks like it’s ten years old—several lifetimes in the electronics industry these days. There’s no rearview camera, which it really should have.
  • Fuel economy was average, but there’s no easy way to determine MPG on the dash. Maybe best not to know? Actually, we got about 20 MPG, which is not awful, but not great.
  • The Patriot has an old-fashioned feel… and not in a good way. For $26,000, you’re in the ballpark of the nicely-equipped and much more modern Honda CRV-V, Toyota RAV4, or a Subaru Forester. And unless you’re looking for nostalgia or off-roading, the Patriot can’t compete with those vehicles.
  • It’s not particularly expensive-- but it’s not very refined, either.

2015 Kia Soul EV

  • We really liked the EV version of the Kia Soul! It’s the best fully electric car we’ve driven.
  • Thanks in part to the shape and style of the car, the batteries are not at all obtrusive. They’re down low, which actually help the car, lowering the center of gravity, and making the electric Soul handle even better and feel more solid than the gasoline-powered Soul.
  • Like the gas-powered Kia Soul, it’s quiet, rides well, and handles nicely.
  • Because it’s a crossover design, it’s easy to get in and out of, and has great visibility.
  • Good interior room for passengers.
  • The Soul EV is rated for 89 miles on a charge, and it’s got plenty of power. In our experience, that number was pretty accurate. We mostly drove in the car’s “Eco” mode, which moderates acceleration and increases regenerative breaking, and it didn’t feel much different from the “normal” mode, so we left it in Eco.
  • It’s a very useful car to make electric, with a hatch in the back. There’s not a lot of room for cargo behind the seats, however.
  • The Soul has a very clean, airy-feeling interior design, with some nice accoutrements, including heated and ventilated seats, and a heated steering wheel--if you don’t mind using your electrons that way.

  • The single biggest drawback is the same issue we have with every electric vehicle: the range. An 89-mile range isn’t enough for anything other than modest commutes and around town jaunts. Unfortunately, range-induced anxiety remains an issue for EV drivers, for the Soul and all other electric cars, for the time being.
  • There’s no doubt about it, the Soul is odd looking-- which is either a pro or a con, depending upon your own take. But as we’re seeing more of them on the road, the space alien factor is diminishing, allowing the practicality to shine through.
  • That said, some people definitely would not be caught dead in this car. But if you were caught dead in the Soul, you could fold down the back seats, and you’d probably have enough room to lay the body out back there.
  • A minor complaint: The charging point is in the very front, on the grille. To operate it, you need to press a button inside to unlock it. Why? Who’s going to break into your car and give you electricity?
  • The MSRP starts at $33,700, to which you can subtract a $7,500 federal rebate. Fully loaded, you’ll pay $36,500, or about $29,000 after the federal rebate. That’s about $5,000 more than a comparably equipped, gas-powered Soul. So… will you make up the extra cost over the life of the vehicle? Doubtful. If you drive 10,000 miles a year, you’ll save about $350 in fuel. And that’s assuming that you don’t get stranded and eaten by wolves when the batteries go belly up on I-90 outside Yellowstone, on your three-month-long cross-country EV road trip.
  • But you are saving the planet! And if you bought one of these, we’d be among those grateful for your contribution to mankind.
  • We’re eagerly awaiting the development of better battery technology. When a car like this can go 200 or 250 miles on a charge, then it will be a real alternative for a much larger swath of the population. But the Soul shows how pleasant and practical an electric car can be.

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. 


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