by Bob Plunkett
Streaking along serpentine Skyline Drive, the ridge route high above Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a powerful MKS EcoBoost -- elegant flagship sedan for the 2013 fleet of Lincoln -- tracks in a predictable line through so many chicanes.
MKS's all-aluminum 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine sends turbo-charged muscle to all four of the 20-inch 245/45R20 V-rated tires with big treads clawing for traction on blacktop around every bend.
Rumples in the erosive pavement don't upset this car's smooth suspension due to new Continuously Controlled Damping, a sophisticated device which regulates actions for the shock absorber at every wheel through electronic damping. It changes as much as 20 times every second, switching from soft to hard to soft again in an effort to isolates the movement of each tire for less bounce, vibration and noise, and producing more controlled handling with a smoother ride quality.
The 2013 issues of MKS score multiple enhancements including styling revisions to the body and cabin, upgrades to suspension and powertrain, plus improvements in fuel economy figures.
Lincoln's flagship sedan looks elegant and classy in a bold design for the body which focuses on a double-wing grille that's a contemporary homage to the classic 1941 Lincoln Continental. For 2013 issues the grille tips rearward in a sleeker pose as the prow adds horizontal louvers in a new fascia to underscore the grille with piercing optics of projector-type HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamps wrapping around front corners. To continue the review, click here.
by Bob Plunkett
We're cinched firm against the leather seat of Buick's 2013 Verano Turbo compact luxury sedan with hands locked on the heated steering wheel, feet dancing across sport pedals on the floor but eyes fixed squarely on the next bend of Oklahoma 1, squiggly blacktop draped over the pine-studded Ouachita Mountains.
Actually, we're romping along this ridgeback road, which follows contours of the slopes on undulating asphalt with whoop-de-do dips and rises and incessant sharp esses and broad sweepers.
And the newest Buick, projecting a coupe-like silhouette with glitzy waterfall grille crowning the prow, reveals stunning performance from a decidedly sporty vehicle that maneuvers around curlicue mountain traces with the dexterity of a mechanical athlete.
Cast on a rigid unibody structure with pliable independent suspension components pinned above each wheel, the test car carries a goosy turbochargedengine which translates all of its considerable torque through a malleable but definitely un-Buick-like six-speed manual shifter and sends it to the two front wheels which also steer in a predictable and controllable front-engine/front-wheel-drive arrangement. To continue thereview, click here.
by Courtney Caldwell
Road & Travel Magazine Names Kia Optima
2013 International Car of the Year
I’ve never fancied myself much of a sedan girl. More like a speedy sports car siren or a mother trucker… the latter of which was my first priority for many years when rearing rugrats and camping out by babbling brooks in the back woods of New England. But this week, priorities changed when the new 2013 Kia Optima SX sedan was delivered as our test car. What a looker!
“Is that the new Jaguar,” one man shouted from across the parking lot. “No, it’s the new 2013 Kia Optima,” I yelled back. “Wow, woulda' never guessed,” he said shaking his head with surprise.
And that’s the reaction the Snow White Pearl Optima received all week long. Driving this car was like having a new puppy. Everyone wanted to stop and pet it, stoop down and take a closer look, inspiring miles of smiles and constant curiosity. I found one woman peering into the windows with her hands cupped around her eyes to get a better look inside. Approaching the car, I asked, “What do you think of it?” Startled and somewhat embarrassed she was caught, she replied, “Oh, so sorry, I wasn’t being nosy but this car is just so gorgeous. I had to get a closer look. I can’t believe this is a Kia!” To continue the review, click here.
The Cadillac ATS is being touted as the luxury brand's best chance at making serious inroads in the performance luxury market currently dominated by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. It also represents the latest evolution in Cadillac's "Art and Science" design philosophy, part of General Motor's strategy to bring the brand—which has a seemingly unshakeable reputation as a stuffy, old person's brand—into the 21st Century.In both of these aspects, Cadillac is setting the bar very high. So high that it becomes tempting to praise is asking for the ATS to be judged against some very stiff competition, that's the standard against which it must be evaluated.On the RoadIn terms of performance, the ATS is definitely good enough to take on all comers. A look at the numbers confirms that the ATS is the equal of the BMW 3-Series, the Mercedes C350, and the Audi A4 in terms of horsepower, torque, 0-60 speed, and price. And behind the wheel of this rear-drive powerhouse, the car definitely feels Autobahn-worthy. Steering, handling, and cornering are as precise and confident as any Bavarian or German wündercar. The ATS's suspension settings allow the driver to enjoy their ride smooth or sporty, but the growl from the performance package's dual exhaust is fairly harsh—a muscle car yawp sounds ridiculous from inside a luxury car's cabin, especially one that is otherwise so nicely insulated against road noise. To continue the review, click here.
by Bob Plunkett
A corkscrew road ripping over Appalachian foothills in Pennsylvania works like a Formula One course to challenge both driver and car in tests we devised to sample the aggressive character of a sporty new sedan by Acura, the line of performance and luxury vehicles derived from Honda of Japan.
A trunk tag labels the new car as the ILX and Acura describes it as a new gateway vehicle to the brand offering sporty handling traits plus premium features and value on a luxury scale.
Cast on a rigid chassis with a four-cylinder engine directing all torque to the two front wheels which also steer, the ILX stocks all of the hardware components to make a responsive sports sedan.
Apply a tape measure to the ILX and the numbers reveal a package size fitting in the compact class with a wheelbase of 105.1 inches and wheel track width of 59.4 inches front and 60.3 inches rear, the car body stretching to 179.1 inches long, a body width of 70.6 inches and the roofline rising to 55.6 inches.
Acura offers only one style for the ILX package -- a shapely 4-door notchback sedan -- but delivers three powertrain choices including the brand's first high-mileage gasoline-electric hybrid. To continue the review, click here.
Sedate. Soft. Boring
These are adjectives often lobbied Lexus’ way, and the company has tried to deflect them with cars like the IS and GS series, and more recently, the IS F.
While the IS and GS have certainly added some fun quotient to the lineup, they’ve been perceived as disappointing by the enthusiast crowd, and they haven’t quite hit the balance of sport and luxury that Lexus is looking for. Not to mention that they’ve been tight on interior space.
Lexus is looking to change things up with the next GS line, which launched in February as a 2013 model. While the V-6 carries over (more on that later) and the styling seems more evolutionary than revolutionary—although it’s still quite different—this new GS 350 is indeed a different ride than what it replaces.
Let’s start with said V-6. It only gains a handful of ponies—up three to 306—and torque similarly rises by three on the 3.5-liter unit to 277 lb-ft. There’s no V-8 (at least for now. Maybe Lexus will release a GS-F at some point in the future. Pretty please?) but those who hunger for more power will like the 338-horsepower GS 450h. The hybrid gets a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) while the 350 has a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available on the 350 (rear-wheel drive is standard) while the hybrid is rear-drive only. To continue the review,click here.
Coupe style but bears 4 doors of a sedan
By Bob Plunkett
We're whipping along the two-lane Empire Grade that slithers down slopes of California's Coastal Range to Santa Cruz on the Pacific Ocean in a test car with dramatic package styling and power to spare: It's the Volkswagen's 2013 CC.
The CC slots into the mid-size class in configuration with a 5-seat cockpit and four doors for passengers plus a tail-side trunk bin.
With its low roofline and integrated rear doors, the CC looks sleek like a curve-craving coupe that slinks snug against asphalt, yet it provides a pair of doors on each side like a family-friendly sedan with two rows of seats in the posh cabin and easy entry/exit for every passenger.
It's as if designers for the German automaker Volkswagen tossed a coupe and sedan into a gigantic car blender and mixed ingredients until the sleek CC emerged.
VW laces the CC with serious mechanical hardware which includes a strong engine (with options for a turbo four-pack or zipper V6), and electronics governing the vehicle's dynamic movements as well as communications, navigation, comfort, even on-board entertainment gear. To continue the review, click here.
If you've ever been a bit late to catch on to a current fashion trend, you'll know how Nissan likely feels about the 2013 Pathfinder. Nissan is moving the Pathfinder from truck-type body-on-frame construction to a more car-like unibody crossover platform for 2013, following in the footsteps of its rivals such as the Ford Explorer, which underwent the same transformation for the 2011 model year.
Oddly enough, Nissan was once actually ahead of the curve. This isn't the first time the Pathfinder has gone unibody--it did the same from the 1996-2004 model years. This time, though, the change seems likely to stick. Unibody construction offers a more car-like ride and better fuel economy than body-on-frame construction, and shifting consumer tastes (buyers are trending toward car-like ride/handling over boulder-bashing toughness) and rising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards mean that crossover construction is likely to takeover the segment.
Nissan may have joined the party late, but that doesn't mean the Pathfinder isn't trying to be fashionable.
On the Road
If you remember the Pathfinder fondly as a rock-crushing SUV with serious off-road chops, Nissan salespeople will gladly sell you an Xterra. The new Pathfinder is meant to be a family hauler (hence the seven-seat configuration), and it shows. To continue the review, click here.
By Bob Plunkett
The steep slope on a rough trace cut across Oregon's rugged Coast Ranges presents a challenge for a four-wheeling test drive through tall timber in a new2013 Ford Explorer Sport crossover utility vehicle.
Loose dirt and chat on the trail often causes even nubby tires like Explorer Sport's 20-inch P255/50R20 rollers to slip and skid on a steep descent, which in turn may propel the vehicle faster than prudent to maintain steady control for safe passage down the grade.
No way that runaway momentum will occur with the new Explorer Sport, however, because it stocks sophisticated electronic controls linked to the all-wheel-drive (AWD) system as well as the anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic skid control (ESC) device with traction control and roll stability control (RSC), which measures vehicle motion on both the yaw and roll axes.
And a new electronic safety device aboard is dubbed Curve Control -- it can detect when the driver runs too fast into a turn, then automatically deploy the brakes to slow and stabilize the wagon.
But there's more: Explorer Sport totes a serious power package. It incorporates a unique direct-injection and twin-turbocharged V6 -- promising the fuel economy of a V6 but the power and torque of a big V8 -- labeled by Ford as the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. To continue the review, click here.
Infiniti JX stylish new 7-seat CUV steps up to luxe mode
By Bob Plunkett
Our first encounter with the 2013 Infiniti JX, a stylish luxury crossover utility vehicle with seats for seven riders, occurs on a parking pad in front of the USA headquarters of Infiniti/Nissan in Franklin, Tenn.
Stretching over 16 feet long and decorated with a raked face flashing a chrome-finned double-arch grille and speed-strafed bi-functional xenon headlamps on front corners plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over the optional 20-inch silver-finish alloy wheels, Infiniti's newest wagon looks and functions like a sport utility vehicle but it drives and handles more like a pavement-hugging sporty car.
The lower body seems substantial and strong like a SUV yet the upper section including a narrow wrap of windows with a broad windshield cocked back at an extreme angle and the trailing tapered roofline seems more akin to a rakish GT-style sports coupe.
Size-wise, the body of JX measures up to the mid-size CUV class. Wheelbase runs to 114.2 inches long, with front and rear wheel track widths coming to 65.7 inches. In Infiniti's line of wagons the JX slots between the smaller five-seat FX CUV and a larger eight-seat QX SUV.
The expansive structure of JX creates a passenger compartment comprising 149.8 cubic feet over a flat platform floor and housing three rows of seats for seven passengers. To continue the review, click here.