Monthly Archives: September 2012

First Drive: 2013 Scion FR-S

After four years of concept revisions, hype and only about a gazillion times you’ve gazed in awe from all those tease photos, Toyota has finally debuted the FR-S production sports car that everyone has been patiently waiting for.  But first, let’s step back and ask – why the hype?  Apart from its supermodel looks, the Scion FR-S was promised to be cornering-obedient and overall, fun to drive.

The development of the FR-S is a joint venture between Toyota and Subaru.  The exact details are of white noise, but word of mouth is: Toyota provided the overall architect, styling and specifications while Subaru performed the engineering, integration and manufacturing in its own plant.

Modern sports cars have a balance scale effect between weighing performance vs overall fun factor.   With sophisticated lap time machines such as the Nissan GTR, on-board computer nannies are required to aid the driver in controlling excess of 500 horsepower .   Rather than providing the roller-coaster death-defying thrill factor, the Scion FR-S is a light-weight 200 horsepower sports car focusing on only raw driver input analogous to the bumper car joy ride.

Under the hood lies the heart and soul of the Scion FR-S, the 2.0 liter flat four-cylinder Boxer engine produces 200 horsepower, and 151 ft-lbs of torque.  These numbers are not staggering when compared to your 250 horsepower soccer mom minivan, but that’s all it really takes to build a fun and easy to drive sports car.  The unorthodox boxer engine design propels its pistons horizontally, rather than vertically.  This allows a more compact engine design to be mounted lower in the vehicle chassis, greatly improving the center of gravity with the extra benefit of smoother power output since the pistons don’t oppose gravity like a vertical displacement engine.

Punching in the Konami code by holding down the “VSC Off” button down for 3 seconds unleashes the FR-S.  Weighing at only 1,220kg, the car is extremely nimble and predictable as well.  The car is in proximity of perfect weight balance with minimal body roll.  Simply, there is no adaptive dampening, dynamic torque vectoring, or any form of black magic to help the car cling around a corner faster.  The car just goes where you want it to go, and when the rear tires break lose, it gives you plenty of warning.  The electric power steering gives infinite positive feedback, allowing the driver to feel every intricate details of the road surface.

The 2.0 liter flat four red-lines at 7,400 rpm with the majority of its torque power band in the 4,500 to 6,6000 rpm range.  Power begins to attenuate when dipping into the mid-range power band, so keeping the revs up is necessary to pack the punch.

Stepping into the cockpit, you’ll notice the seating is low with minimalistic interior detailing to allow the driver to focus on driving the car.  The dash control board is a basic three floor welfare apartment with triple dial climate control knobs on ground level, a digital clock stripped from a Zellar’s Timex watch, and a 7″ LCD touchscreen for audio and smartphone control on the top floor.    The seats are made of clothe, but are of durable quality and soft to the touch.  The steering wheel is best part of the interior.  The leather wrapping makes the steering wheel feel  light weight and soft to the touch.   All buttons are completely stripped from the steering wheel to again, allow the driver to focus on driving.  The grip on the steering wheel is also perfectly contoured so that the palms on your hands completely wrap around the steering wheel.

The interior does let in a lot of wind noise, but is overall, dominated by the engine sound.  The exhaust note is candy to the ears and the pitch gives clear indication of when to up or down shift.  The seats are comfortable and provide excellent lateral support when corning, but can be uncomfortable during long journeys.

The Scion FR-S can be purchased off the lot for $26,030.  With the fine tuned suspension and stiff brakes, the FR-S can be readily taken onto the track on a weekend.  Toyota and Subaru have done an excellent job in stepping back from powertrain technology and bringing out all the old school elements that make driving a car fun.  It will definitely be an exciting future for FR-S fans to see what Toyota and Subaru will release in the upcoming years.

 

 

First Drive: 2012 Toyota RAV4

The  Toyota RAV4 was one of the first large family cross-over SUV’s to enter the automotive market.   The RAV4 has been refined with significant improvements, making it more and more competitive over each year of release.  This earns the RAV4 a reputation for both reliability and versatility.

Toyota has decided to retain the same body styling as the previous year’s model.  The stale looks leaves the RAV4 behind other cross-over SUV’s  in its class such as the Honda CR-V or the Korean rival, Kia Sorento.  The V6 model would have been an interesting endeavor to drive, but the performance of the V4 model reviewed is sub-par with little benefits in fuel efficiency.  The interior cabin space is also outdated compared to other cross-over SUV competitors.

Despite the expiration tag in the styling department, the Toyota RAV4 is still one of the best choices for accommodating consumers with sufficient passenger room and cargo space for large families or the weekend adventure go getters.  The equipped Toyota Entune in-car technology also helps bring the RAV4 up a few advantage points.

Buyers can select between two engine sizes, the standard 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine producing 179hp and 172 ft-lbs of torque, or the upgraded 3.5 liter six-cylinder engine with 269hp and 249 ft-lbs of torque.  The four-cylinder engine is mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission while the 6-cylinder engine transmission is 5 speed.  Squinting closer at the numbers, we much prefer the six-cylinder model as it offers a significant increase in power with little compromise in fuel efficiency.    Each engine size model also has an additional 2wd or 4wd drive-train options to select from.

The RAV4 is offered in three trim levels: Base, Sport and Limited.  All models come standard with air conditioning, six-speaker AM/FM, CD, and MP3 stereo with USB connectivity as well as hands free smartphone connectivity via bluetoothe.  All three trim levels also include a comprehensive set of safety features such as driver and passenger seat-mounted side airbags, traction control and ABS.

The base model comes standard with 16″ alloy wheels, cruise control, power accessories and stability control.  The sports model offers enhanced body styling, sport-tuned suspensions and and larger 17″ alloy wheels.  The Limited edition model comes equipped with dual zone climate control, upgraded stereo and keyless entry.  A backup camera displayed on the rear view mirror is also an option.  Other key features that can be purchased as options include powered sunroof, leather seats, and Toyota’s Entune smart phone connectivity software.

The RAV4 excels in versatility and cargo space.  The RAV4 can comfortably fit four passengers with sufficient headroom.   Carrying three passengers in the back is a little tight, but still adequate in terms of comfort and space, especially for its size.  The trunk space is very generous and can fit additional cargo when folding the rear seats down by a simple pull of a lever.

The refined Mcpherson strut suspensions make the RAV4 very stable and easy to drive.  The steering is responsive in low and mid-speed range.  The overall ride is also very forgiving, especially when driving over bumps and ruts on the road.  Power delivery on the V6 model is a significant gain over the v4 model, but comes at a heavier price tag.  The four cylinder model may be preferred by consumers who simply want a daily commuter with adequate power.  With our tested 4 cylinder model, we found the power to be sufficient for daily commutes in the city; but often times, a heavy foot on the pedal was necessary for passing and merging lanes on the freeway.

Although the styling on the Toyota RAV4 falls behind in both the interior and exterior compared to its rivals, it still retains all the goodies that make the RAV4 a great choice for consumers looking into buying a small-sized SUV.  The refine-tuned suspension and electronic power-assisted steering make the RAV4 very easy and comfortable to drive, even on long commutes. Extra large cargo area and passenger space also makes the RAV4 very versatile for day to day commutes or weekend adventures.  We find that the power delivery in the 4 cylinder engine model was adequate with mostly city driving, but boring in terms of acceleration and performance.  Fuel savings is also a disappointment compared to the six-cylinder engine with an increase of 33% more horsepower at a loss of only 2mpg in fuel effiency.  We highly recommend test-driving both engine models of the Toyota RAV4 to determine which model best suit your needs and preferences.

  • Vehicle: 2012 RAV4
  • Model: Limited Edition 4WD
  • Price as tested: $37,897.58
  • Engine: 2.5 Litre, 4-Cylinder (179 hp, 172 ft-lbs)
  • Transmission: 4-speed Automatic with Gate Type Shifter
  • Features:
    • Dual Zone Climate Control
    • 17″ Aluminum Alloy Wheels
    • Push Button Start
    • Blutooth Controls, Steering wheel Controls
    • Integrated XM Satellite Radio
    • Dual Stage Driver & Passenger Airbag

 

2013 Ford Taurus SHO

The dawn of ever-rising fuel costs and imposed vehicle safety emissions controls and regulations had resulted in the tragic cease of muscle-car development during the 1970′s.  Only about a decade later did Ford finally pull off the blankets and resurrected their muscle car development team.   The department was entitled “Special Vehicle Operations Department” and was purely focused on delivering limited-edition high performance and street legal muscle cars to compete with entry level European cars in 1982.  The hugely successful campaign led to the Ford Tuarus SHO series model in 1989 and would go into production for the next 10 years before its popularity faded away.

Although the initial exciting coke bottle fizz effect had died off after ten years, Ford decided to re-claim automotive appraisal by re-designing the 2010 Taurus SHO and made sure its guts had what it took to deserve its badge with Ford’s 3.5 litre twin-turbo direct fuel-injected ecoboost engine.

The 2013 Ford Taurus SHO shares most of the same interior and exterior characteristics as its old per-predecessors between 2010 – 2012, but much else has changed.  At a first glance, it’s hard to ignore the mean and aggressive looks.  The front nose is aggressive complemented by a massive mesh patterned front grill.  The front horizontal LED strips hints the technology and blend of form and factor engraved into the vehicle.  It’s also difficult to ignore the 19″ wheels, giving any bystanders confidence to suggest the car’s got power.  Run around back and you’ll notice the rear LED tail lights follow the aggressive contours on the sides with a standard spoiler.

Sitting in the driver’s seat reminds the driver that it is indeed a serious machine.  Once seated, you are submerged with all vehicle controls, making you feel very integrated, depicting the man and machine statement and mimicking the feel of sitting in a cockpit of a fighter pilot.  The seats are very adjustable and even has a massaging feature for the driver and front passenger.  The infotainment system is very thorough and comprehensive in terms of features.  It is a pleasant surprise to see that Ford used Sony’s audio and climate control interface module rather than relying solely on Ford MyTouch Sync system, which is very sluggish, and in some cases, frustrating to use, mostly due to the slow response time on their touch screen and steering wheel tactile button controls.

The handling and performance is where the Taurus excels.  The twin-turbo 3.5 litre twin-turbo direct fuel injected engine propels the car from 0- 60 in just under 5.5 seconds.  The engine is mated to Ford’s 6-speed automatic select-shift transmission and its power is delivered to all 4 wheels via standard AWD system.  Ford’s onboard “Curve Control” and “Torque Vectoring Control” actively compensates the power delivered to each wheel ensuring the car never dives into a corner too fast by either slowing the overall vehicle down, or dynamically applying brakes onto individual wheels to optimize vehicle trajectory through a turn.

Regardless of the power and handling capability, the added weight and size of the vehicle is not a car that you can just throw in a corner and expect awesome handling – buy a Ford Fiesta for that.  There is also the lack of positive steering feedback, keeping the driver oblivious of the road surface, which declines the overall driving experience.  But the sports-calibrated steering wheel does help in steering precision and accuracy.

It’s exciting to see Ford has brought back a piece of its collective antique and modernized it.  We love the aggressive looks and the plethora of  technology and safety features incorporated into the Taurus SHO, but with an MSRP of our tested model at 54,000$, it’s difficult to ignore other competitors such as the 3.6 litre Subaru Legacy, or Infiniti G37 series.  The Ford Taurus was once a reign of supreme back in the 90′s, but with so much advancement and technology built into cars and put onto the road every year, we feel that the Ford Taurus SHO may be in a highly competitive arena with other automotive manufacturers.

2013 Infiniti JX35

Room for more?  The Inifiniti JX35 is a slimmed down 7-seater brother of the QX56 with more refined and conscious styling.  Rather than waiting for other competitors such as Ford, Acura and Buick to step in line with their 7-seater lineup, Infiniti has decided to take matters into their own hands with the JX35 offering elegant styling, comfort and versatility.

The JX35 space is very generous – easily seating 7-passengers with adjustable front sliding rails in the 2nd row seats for additional legroom.  Folding the 3rd row seats make the trunk space appear unlimited.  The interior material used is of top quality.  The Infiniti JX35 also features many advanced safety features such as blind-spot detection, lane departure, a rear-view camera and front distance sensors.

In a respectable attempt to improve fuel efficiency, The JX35 is equipped with a 3.5 liter 6-speed automatic transmission.  Power is nothing amazing, but is more than adequate for providing plenty of comfort for the daily commute.

The styling of the JX35 is elegant and pleasing.  Exterior features that come standard on the Infiniti JX35 include, LED taillights,18″ alloy rims,  automatic bi-xenon headlights, fog lights, sunroof, heated side mirrors, powered sunroof,  keyless entry/ignition. As for standard interior, features include leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, a six-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel,  tri-zone automatic climate control, a central front LCD display screen, Bluetooth, a rear-view camera and a six-speaker sound system with AM/FM, CD/MP3, satellite radio and iPod/USB interface.

The drivetrain of the Infinit JX35 is powered by Nissan’s 3.5 liter six cylinder engine delivering 265 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque.  The engine is mated to a continuous-variable-transmission (CVT).  The powertrain can be switched into “Sport mode” which replicates a 6-speed transmission, but serves very little purpose and minimal performance gain.  The power performance numbers are not great, especially when comparing to other 7-seater SUV’s such as the similarly priced Ford Flex Titanium capable of delivering 365 horsepower with its renowned ecoboost engine.  The Infiniti JX35′s fuel efficiency is adequate for its size and weight with 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

The Infiniti JX35 is a departure from Infiniti’s well known trend of power and performance.  The power and handling is not great, especially when trying to throw the JX35 into a corner, Results in mush steering and excessive body roll

The 2013 Infiniti JX35 safety features comes standard with antilock disc brakes, front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, and traction control and stability control. A lane-departure warning and prevention system, blind spot detection, a 360-degree camera view and intelligent brake assist can be purchased as options.

The 360 panoramic camera is helpful for parking the JX35 in tighter areas as it gives the driver a top view of the entire wheel as well as the directions of the wheels turned to avoid colliding with the sidewalk curb.

Although the JX35 comes with great safety features, they are not the best in execution.  The rear blind spot indicators are located inside the door cabin wall rather than on the side mirrors and creates a dim tangent glow light when illuminated, making it easy to visually miss, but the audio alert does kick in when the system is active.  The rear view camera is also not of great video quality and the video is skewed due to the fish eye lens used without software auto-skew correction.

The interior of the Infiniti JX35 offers a space of tranquility and comfort.  The interior is wrapped around soft quilted leather accented with soft aluminum and polished wooden trims.  The 2nd row rear seats have the unique ability to slide forward for allowing easy access to additional 3rd row passengers, or creating extra cargo space.  The interior passenger seats are very roomy and comfortable.  The driver’s seat is especially comfortable and offer a plethora of adjustability with 2- memory position settings.

Instead of sacrificing fashion over function like the Infiniti FX35, the JX35 is simply comfortable and versatile.  The interior and exterior styling is both minimalistic and elegant.  The enhanced safety features on the JX35 gives more confidence to the driver with the blind spot detection, panoramic camera and intelligent brake assist.  Although lacking in acceleration and handling, the comfort and functional aspects of the JX35 makes it an excellent addition into the 7-seater SUV arena.

2013 Lincoln MKS

Revision or old fashioned?  Maybe it’s a heavy dosage of both.  Lincoln has made a refreshing overlook on the MKS in performance and technology.  The all new 2013 Lincoln MKS offers more power, larger brakes, better fuel economy and a plethora of safety features.

Ford uses its renowned ecoboost engine in many of its flagship vehicles mainly in the high-end consumer range simply… because its good.  The 3.5 liter twin turbo direct fuel injection engine produces a staggering 365 hp and 350- ft-lbs of torque.  Fuel efficiency is not the greatest with a city rating of 17 mpg, and 25 on the highway; but nevertheless, performance does not come free without compromise.   The engine in the Lincoln MKS is mated to a 6 speed automatic select-shift transmission and only comes in AWD.

The Lincoln MKS power delivery is accompanied by improved handling through continuous damper controlled suspensions as well as Lincoln’s electronically adjustable drive control system allowing the user to select either Comfort, Normal, or Sport mode.  Fiddling around between different modes under various conditions result little to no notable differences even during select-shift mode.  Making matters less intriguing, users have to navigate through a maze of on-screen menus to select a ride mode.

What we can give Lincoln credit for is the electronic power-assisted steering.  Replacing traditionally hydraulic power steering pumps with a software controlled electric motor, the system can dynamically control the amount of power assist required under low or high speed conditions.  The system also incorporates active nimble compensation to filter out unwanted vibration as well as dynamically compensate steering control in the presence of crowned road surfaces, or cross-winds.  All in all, it is easy to notice the increases responsiveness and  precision of the steering control on the Lincoln MKS.

The Lincoln is a large and heavy sedan.  It drives very solid and responsive on the freeway.  However, it lacks the refinement silky smooth acceleration when compared to other luxury sedans such as the Lexus RX series drive train.  The 20″ wheels adds bold styling on the Lincoln MKS, but the side effect decreases ride comfort when driving road expansion joints or bumps on the road.

Lincoln’s interior is a very calm and collective environment.  Lincoln has made extra effort in ensuring the cabin space remains quiet by dampening out unwanted sound by intelligently placing sound absorbers and noise barriers throughout the interior.  Underneath the leather quilted seats lies seven adjustable air bladders to maximize comfort and adjustability.  Our particular model was equipped with an awesome THX audio system blasting out through 16 speakers with a 10″ sub.  The MyLincoln touch also makes the system very accessible through smart phone wireless connectivity to stay in touch with friends and family on the road.

Safety was an integral part of the Lincoln MKS design.   The robust blind-spot detector located on each side mirror helps drivers induce much better judgement and confidence in merging lanes.  Hidden behind the rear-view mirror  lies an intelligent camera that actively detects if the vehicle is swerving out of its lane on highways.  Once detected, the steering wheel will gently vibrate and nudge the vehicle back into its lane.  The 2013 Lincoln MKS comes standard with traction control,  front seat and side curtain airbags,  antil-ock brakes and roll-stability control. Adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support is available.   As an option, as are blind-spot and cross-traffic warning systems, lane-departure and lane-keeping assist, and a rear-view camera.

As much as we can appreciate the amount of technology and upgrades Lincoln has made in its MKS model, it still faces an uphill battle in the luxury brand competition arena, mainly with luxury vehicles such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The Lincoln is at least cheaper when comparing price tags, but there is still the less appealing factor when considering a luxury brand American name tag.  There is also the well raved Kia Optima and slimmed down Ford Taurus to consider when looking into the luxury sedan circle. We recommend taking a thorough look around before deciding whether the Lincoln MKS deserves a valuable spot in your parking garage.

 

Specifications:

  • 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine
  • 6-speed Automatic transmission
  • Up to 18 cty/27 hwy mpg
  • All-wheel drive
  • Navigation System
  • Bluetooth
  • iPod input
  • Satellite radio
  • Side/Curtain Airbags
  • Stability Control
  • Traction Control
  • DVD player (Optional)