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Car Talk Test Drive Notes

Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4x4 Diesel (2014)


  • We got a remarkable (for a full size pick up truck) 28 MPG on the highway while cruising along at 75 mph. We got 20 MPG in the city—phenomenally good MPG for a behemoth, thanks to a modern diesel engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
  • This truck is decked out! The top of the line model we drove had heated front and rear leather seats, comfortable enough for the most sensitive backside, a file holder to hold the gouging-estimates for your jobs (so you can afford this truck), a knock-out Sirius/XM/ everything else stereo system, and a gigantic storage console—and many other luxury touches.
  • The Laramie rides like a luxury car. When you’re inside the truck, with the windows closed, the diesel noise is remarkably diminished. It’s very well insulated. (Though, on the outside, or with a window or door open, it’s still plenty noisy.)
  • Very smooth at idle—a trait not normally associated with diesels.
  • The transmission offered on the Laramie includes a transfer case that allows the driver to select between two wheel drive, four wheel drive automatic (which kicks in when you need it), and both high and low, traditional locked four-wheel drive.
  • Excellent acceleration, thanks to the diesel engine’s low end torque and the turbo.
  • You can change lanes with impunity. This truck has size and presence. No one, short of tractor trailers, will give you any grief when they see you easing into another lane in front of them. Expect plenty of leeway from Camry’s and Focuses.
  • The Laramie has a great suspension system for pick up truck. And despite its size and load capability, it handles well on turns. Better than other pickups we’ve driven recently.
  • Surprisingly good turning radius for a vehicle of this size.
  • The “Ram Box” is a great idea. Lockable storage built into the sides of the cargo bed walls, each of the two boxes locks when you lock the vehicle.


  • It’s just plain huge. Want to get in? You’ll need the running board. And maybe a running start. On the upside, when leaving, the smooth leather seats act as an evacuation slide.
  • The Laramie is very hard to park in a tight space, such as a parking garage. If you’re driving regularly includes urban areas or parking garages, think more than once before plunking down for a Laramie. While you’re unlikely to drive into another vehicle when parking, thanks to the sensors and camera, it will take you four or five tries to successfully dock the Laramie.
  • The model we drove did have helpful proximity sensors at each of the four corners, and an excellent back up camera. Dodge calls these features are “Park Sense” and “Park View.” They’re required equipment, in our opinion, given the vehicle’s size and poor visibility, side and rear. But they’re only available on the higher-end model.
  • And ergonomically-speaking, the “Park View” viewing screen, which gives you a visual image of which corner of the truck is about to mutilate a Corolla, is in a terrible location--often blocked by the steering wheel.
  • Diesel fuel is not as widely available as gasoline. So be sure it’s readily available at service stations on your route to and from work.
  • There are a lot of buttons on the center console, many of them towards the bottom. Dodge clearly wants the Laramie to be regarded as a high-tech machine. The downside is that we often found it very hard to find the small button we were looking for while driving.
  • The “dial” style automatic transmission selector is kind of gimmicky.
  • The MSRP for the fully-loaded version we drove was a whopping $55,000. Be sure you have the spec home you’re building under contract, before you put a down payment on this rig.


Kia Forte EX (2014)


  • This car competes against other cheap little cars: the Corolla, Civic, Fiesta. And it competes well. When loaded up, as in our EX trim tester, it’s a pretty nice car to drive, and is comparable to similarly equipped Corollas and Civics at $19,500.
  • For a car of its size, it’s got a very comfortable ride. You don’t feel like you’re being thrashed around. It doesn’t feel like you’ve made a huge compromise in comfort just to drive a smaller car. It helps that the front seats offer a good range of adjustment.
  • In EX trim, it has a lot of the luxuries you might expect to get with a larger, more expensive car, including navigation, heated seats, heated steering wheel, and keyless entry. These are great convenience features that, at one time, you had to forego if you wanted a smaller car.
  • We expected the Forte to be noisier. In fact, it’s comparable and perhaps a bit quieter than the Toyota Corolla, one of its direct competitors.
  • It’s a decent handling car, and we found it fun to drive.
  • The Forte has extraordinarily good power for a car of its size. The EX comes with a 2.0 liter, 173 hp GDI, “direct injection” engine, which injects the fuel at very high pressure into the cylinder, allowing for more power and efficiency out of a smaller engine. The result is an EPA rated 24 city/36 highway*
  • *Your mileage will suck more than that, as with any EPA rating.
  • Comes with Kia’s standard 100k drive train warranty—a better warranty than many competitors, including Toyota.
  • More modern looking than even the new, 2014 Corolla.
  • We hated parting with it!


  • Thanks to the modern look, don’t expect to see out the rear. There is a backup camera, however. Unfortunately, you’ll quickly start to hate the delay of several excruciating seconds, from when you shift into Reverse until the screen shows the view behind the car.
  • Overall, we found the Forte to be a little small, in terms of interior room. The back seat is not particularly roomy, either, and lacks good headroom for taller people (aka adults).
  • It’s still a small car, with a small wheelbase, which means the ride will never be like that of a larger car. And despite the fact that it was surprisingly quiet for a small car, you will hear engine noise from the smaller engine.
  • We never got close to their claimed fuel economy of 24 city/36 highway in our real world testing.
  • Navigation system is a little less user-friendly than some.


Toyota Camry LE (2014)


  • It’s a Camry. It remains great, basic transportation, that’s among the 2 or 3 most reliable vehicles ever built.
  • Perfectly adequate. What do we mean by that? It’s got reasonably comfortable seats, good visibility, good shoulder and headroom, decent legroom in the back, a comfortable back seat, and a spacious trunk. It’s a good family car, and very practical.
  • The transmission-engine combination is smooth as silk.
  • You can reasonably expect this car to run for 200,000 miles without a big repair. You’ll drive it until you really wish it would finally die.


  • It’s a Camry. It’s image neutral-- at best. You’re not buying it for its looks.
  • It’s noisy. There’s a fair bit of road noise.Is it excessively noisy? Almost.
  • It needs a backup camera.
  • It uses a key. Quaint!
  • One of the big complaints against Toyota is that they “de-content” their models over the years to save money. The same accusation could be leveled against the 2014 Camry. It’s feels a little less solid, a little cheaper than it has in the past. Is it excessive? No. But it is notable. And as a result, the 2014 Camry is noisier than comparable Camry from seven or 8 years ago.


Nissan Juke SL AWD (2013)


  • Unusual, fun appearance. Makes a statement that you’re not ready to drive a Camry, move to the suburbs, and have your 2.5 kids.
  • It’s got love-it-or-hate-it styling. Some of us at Car Talk loved it. Some of thought it was the ugliest thing seen here since my brother walked into the office around noon. We think risky styling is a plus these days.
  • Small, economical, and all-wheel drive. Less fun to drive but more practical than a Mini Cooper.
  • Nissan makes reliable cars that are affordable to maintain.
  • The Juke has a decent back seat that’s surprisingly roomy.
  • The continuously variable transmission is quiet in normal driving. However, it does rev noticeably when climbing hills and under load, but that’s something we’ve noted on a number of CVTs with small engines.


  • If you hate the styling, that can be a deal breaker.
  • This is not a car for the 45-year-old-plus buyer. It has that “feel the road” kind of ride. A daily commuter might tire of the ride quickly. Then again, if you’re trying to make a statement, ride comfort is not your top priority. Remember, lots of people buy Jeep Wranglers!
  • The Juke is noisy. But Juke buyers will forgive that.
  • Poor visibility out the back window and the rear side windows. A backup cam helps alleviate that problem.
  • TomTom navigation system is included in the base price. It’s a nice touch having it included. Unfortunately, it’s a cheap, frustrating navigation system.
  • With a base MSRP of $26k, this is an awful lot of money to spend on a small car. It’s not the most practical use for your money—for the same price you can get a Honda CRV or a Subaru Forester. But you don’t get to stand out in one of those cars.


Subaru Forester (2014)


  • The triumph of function over design.
  • Large doors provide easy access, and large windows provide good visibility, especially out the back.
  • Good, simple, affordable, basic transportation with the added safety of all-wheel drive. Base Forester available in the low 20s—pretty affordable for a car with all-wheel drive.
  • Very good fuel economy for its class. We got mid 25-27 MPG in mixed driving.
  • The 2014 felt a bit less tinny than the previous Forrester, with a bit less road noise that we’re used to in this model.
  • Good, firm handling.
  • Latest electronic safety features are at least available, even if it’s as an option.
  • The usual Subaru all-wheel drive is time-tested and reliable. In many other respects, this is a tried and true design. You should expect to get 150k miles out of a new Forester—with a repair caveat, noted below.
  • Great car for the person who swears by Consumer Reports and couldn’t care less about image. The ultimate in practical, economical cars for people in snowy climates. Subaru checked all the boxes with this car: decent fuel mileage, not too big, not too small, all-wheel drive, room in the back… what else do you want?


  • A triumph of function over design. Not a looker.
  • Ride is on the firm side.
  • As good as they are, Subarus are not quite as reliable as Toyotas and Hondas. We see a number of Subarus in our shop with 100,000 miles or even sometimes a bit less, having expensive issues with oil leaks or head gaskets. Until we see evidence to the contrary, we’d expect this level of reliability with the 2014 model. For this reason alone, we’d be hard pressed to take a Forester over a Honda CRV.
  • There are no knobs for the radio controls. If you’re traveling out of your home area and your existing presets aren’t useful, you need to turn to the screen—which is both annoying and dangerous.
  • All gussied up, the Forester can cost as much as $33k. In our opinion, that’s no longer a bargain for what you’re getting. The Honda CRV would be a much better option, if you’re looking at the higher-end Forester. It’s more reliable, better put together, better looking, and can probably be had for less.


Lexus GS 450H (2013)


  • This is a sweet car. It’s luxurious, comfortable and very quiet—at least for the driver and his or her passenger.
  • Good mileage results—we were getting around 35 MPG, even with the car tuned for performance rather than maximum fuel economy.
  • If you’re into luxury and want to send a message that you care about the environment, but don’t want to give up a damned thing, well then…. this is the car for you.
  • Hybrid technology is always a pro in our opinion, but the implementation in this case is a bit of a con. (Details below.) Engine start/stop technology is probably the most useful aspect of the hybrid engine, and definitely improves the MPG in city driving.
  • Handling, suspension are perfect. Nonpareil--and for that kind of money, you should expect nothing less.


  • The $69,000 price tag. We figure $55,000 for the basic GS, and another $14,000 so you can park in the Whole Foods lot without having to hide your face when you walk by the Prius owners.
  • The hybrid is tuned to provide greater performance at the expense of fuel economy. We prefer greater fuel economy along with acceptable acceleration, rather than ridiculous acceleration and only good fuel economy.
  • Back seat room was not given high priority. It can seat three, but not particularly comfortably. We’d consider this car a four-seater, rather than a five-seater, for any trips more than a few miles.


Hyundai Sonata Limited (2013 )


  • It's a really nice car. Its highest level trim, which we test drove, came with a price tag of $27,595—about on par for vehicles in this class. We found it to be a cut above the Toyota Camry in terms of luxury and very comfortable.
  • It comes with a modern, efficient 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, direct injection engine and a six-speed automatic transmission that delivers a healthy amount of power in a small package.
  • Pretty good fuel mileage. We got 27 MPG in mixed driving--not bad for a car that can carry four people very comfortably.
  • One result of a smaller engine is that there’s lots of room under the hood, which we like to see. Why? Simple. Eventually, every car is going to need repairs. And, the more space there is to maneuver under the hood, the easier and more affordable the repair will be.
  • Like all Hyundais, the Sonata comes with a great warranty: Six years or 60k miles on everything, and 10 years/ 100k miles on the powertrain.
  • Surprisingly decent rear seat room and comfort for a car with a swoopy design.
  • Hyundai offers a hybrid edition of the Sonata, which claims to add an additional 12-14 MPG in the city, and 5-6 MPG on the highway for about $3,000 more.


  • Rear visibility is compromised by swooping rear end, although it’s better than some.
  • Entry through rear doors requires some careful head movement due to shape of roof.
  • Reliability isn’t quite up to the Toyota/Honda level, although not bad.


Ford C-Max Hybrid (2013)


  • Handles very well.
  • A quiet and surprisingly comfortable ride.
  • Plenty of power.
  • Practical design, good use of space.
  • Quite good mileage, though not as good as claimed.


  • The screen controls stink. Ford calls its new system "MyTouch.” Should be MyAccidentWaitingtoHappen. To change any of a number of settings requires touching a screen, which demands that you take your eyes off the road—often several times for each adjustment. It’s even more difficult if you happen to find yourself on a bumpy road. Finally, if you're wearing gloves, the screen won't function properly.
  • There's a veritable “Great Wall of China” section of the dashboard that's in the way, between the driver and the touch screen, making it hard to reach the screen to change settings. That’ll be an ergonomic annoyance as long as you own the car.
  • Small temperature knobs and fan buttons are hard to grab, if you have fat fingers or are wearing gloves.
  • Overall, the controls are too busy and distracting, and require you to take your eyes off the road.
  • Regenerative braking makes the brakes somewhat grabby.
  • Our mileage was not close to the advertised fuel economy. EPA claims 47 mpg, whether city or highway. The best we got was 35 MPG. Other C-Max drivers with whom we spoke report a similarly disappointing experience.


Mustang GT Convertible Premium (2014)


  • On a summer night, with the top down, it’s a great car.
  • Very smooth clutch (with manual transmission).
  • Silly amount of power.
  • Immensely popular -- among people of a certain age who probably pined for one in high school and never got one but now have the $44,000 to pick one up.
  • Front seats are low, but comfortable enough.
  • If you get one in a bright color, you’d might as well slap a label on your forehead that says, “Just Divorced.”


  • Car is ready for a serious update. Been improved over the years, but still based on a very old design.
  • Gas mileage is poor.
  • The day-glo, lime-green colored Mustang we drove was, in a word, garish. It’s a color Ford calls, “Gotta Have It Green.” It screams “Look at me!” Add in the fact that it’s convertible and rumbles loudly, the Mustang GT in that color can be downright embarrassing.
  • We’ve always found the GT to be a testosterone-poisoned beast, and this edition is no exception. It’s not a car we’d want to drive every day.
  • With the top up, the visibility out the back and the rear sides is awful. Visibility is much improved, though, with both the headrests and top down.
  • The automatic top doesn’t return elegantly, and requires a bit of wrangling to get it into its proper location so it can be secured. In this day and age, that’s not acceptable.
  • Rear seats are watermelon holders, not suitable for anyone we know.
  • The regular Mustang might be a much more reasonable car for most people. It’s an updated nostalgia vehicle without the huge engine and really poor mileage of the GT.


Honda Accord Coupe (2013)


  • Fun to drive.
  • Sporty responsive handling.
  • Powerful engine, optional manual transmission.
  • Honda reliability.
  • Taut suspension, but reasonably comfortable ride.
  • Not luxurious, but nice, tasteful interior.
  • "LaneWatch" camera. Ingenious. When you turn on your right turn signal, a high quality image of the lane to your right appears on the dashboard video screen (from a camera hidden in the right, side-view mirror). That should save many a bicyclist a trip to the ER. The image disappears as soon as you complete your turn, but can be turned on manually at any time. Like if you pass a bicyclist who looks cute from behind and you want to see what he or she looks like from the front. Not that we’ve ever used it for that, but, just sayin'….
  • Excellent cabin controls. All automakers are struggling over how many controls to assign to the car’s “touch screen,” and how many to assign their own “hard” buttons on the dashboard or console.
  • Honda may be on its way to the best solution to date. Honda has the typical, large video display on the center stack. But right below it is a smaller touch screen, oriented horizontally. Options to be “touched” show up as large icons on this smaller screen. As a result, we found our eyes were off the road for much less time.
  • In other words, if you want to choose an audio source, you press the source button. Four large icons for sources come up on this second screen (FM Radio, AM Radio, Satellite, USB/iPod, for example). They’re all very quickly understandable with a glance. And since the screen is smaller and oriented horizontally, you can reach for the button you want without having to look several times to see where you finger is landing. It works.
  • One improvement Honda could make is a swipe screen, so you can see the next set of choices (e.g., CD Player, Auxiliary) without having to look -- and take your eyes off the road -- to press the next screen button.


  • Sporty handling and performance are more fun for the driver than for a passenger. So those who are not in control of the car may find the responsive acceleration “jerky,” and quick turning “jarring.”
  • It’s a two-door car, which… well… sucks. Putting passengers in the back seat is a bit of a chore, as you would expect. If you’re used to a four-door car, you probably don’t even realize how often you use the back seat for packages, backpacks, and other stuff. Access is compromised.
  • Rear visibility, as it is in many cars these days -- especially sporty cars, is limited.


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