Reviewed: 2011 Cadillac CTS Sedan


Having previously tested and really enjoyed the Cadillac CTS SportWagon, we wanted to sample the CTS that 90% of people will purchase: the Sedan.  We will say till we are blue in the face that people are missing out if they don’t sample the wagon, as it’s a brilliant package.

So how is the Sedan different than the SportWagon?  Very little, and that’s a very good thing.  The original CTS was the official reboot of the Cadillac brand and with this latest generation of the CTS a car that has pulled even with the best in the world.

Many of the opinions that we had with the Wagon remain with the Sedan.  The Art & Science design was controversial when it appeared almost a decade ago, but today, it’s almost mainstream with many other companies having taken elements of that design language, sharp edges, compound surfaces and tight packaging.  With its deep front end and prominent grill the CTS has a very aggressive look from the front, it looks as if it’s eager to eat up the miles on the road.

The side profile of the car is less radical, though it has a number of lines that sweep upwards towards the rear to give the car a wedge look which continues the theme of forward motion.  The rear view again is a study in angles giving the car texture from the rear.

The interior of the car is made up of quality materials and soft touch surfaces.  There are a few bits of hard plastic material in the car, but for the most part they are in places where you wouldn’t notice, or wouldn’t care.  The Wagon that we tested had the pop-up screen that had navigation, DVD and other touch screen functions. Our sedan was not so equipped.  While we didn’t miss the nav system, the big screen did make working through the bevy of menus somewhat easier. If you would like it, it’s a $2,145 option.

One item we would like to see as an option that comes standard on the Premium Collection model would be a heated steering wheel.  Come the winter months in many parts of the country, grabbing a cold leather wrapped wheel with bare hands can be uncomfortable.  There are cars in GM’s product line that cost less money than the CTS like the Buick LaCrosse, which have the heated wheel as standard equipment, and you never knew how much you’d love this feature until you use it the first time.

The driver’s seat is a nice place to do business.  It doesn’t matter if you are stuck in traffic commuting to work, piling up the miles on the highway, or out on a two lane road for a Sunday drive.  Our CTS was equipped with the optional 3.6-liter direct injection V6 which has 304 horsepower.  The standard engine is a direct injection 3.0 liter with 274 horsepower, but this 3.6-liter unit is the one to have.  While the horsepower numbers aren’t that different, torque numbers tell the story.  The 3.0 V6 only produces 223 lb/ft while the 3.6 has 273.  The CTS is no lightweight at 3,900 so that extra torque is helpful in getting the car moving quickly.  The 3.6 likes to rev and does so willingly.  When you put your foot down, the car gets up to speed quickly, but it’s not a kick you in the pants kind of power.  It’s smooth, almost turbine-like, and before you know it, you are approaching triple digit speeds.

There are a very vocal minority of people who think that Cadillac needs to slot a 6.2 liter LS3 engine from the Camaro and Corvette into the engine bay of the Caddy to have something in-between the V6 and the Supercharged CTS-V, but it’s our opinion that it’s unnecessary and few people would pick that option, the 3.6 has enough power that will keep an enthusiast happy, and the rest of the world more than satisfied.

For those that might be considering an Audi A4 or A6 the CTS does have an AWD option although our test unit did not come equipped with it. As a bonus, there is no fuel mileage penalty for choosing the AWD either.

One of the intriguing things about our time with the CTS SportWagon and now again with the Sedan is how it really grows on you.  First impressions of the car are good, you think it’s a nice car, but it doesn’t knock you out.  After four or five days of driving the CTS a light bulb goes off and you realize just how special the CTS is.  While this is great for long-term ownership, we wonder how this effects impressions with the typical 20-30 minute drive potential buyers have at a dealership.

Pricing is reasonable for the CTS as well. Our Performance Collection RWD edition stickers at $41,565; the only option our test unit was equipped with was the compact spare tire, so our as delivered price was $42,740.  Looking over the options list, the only thing we might consider choosing is the optional $2,400 Recaro seats that are both heated and cooled.

The Cadillac CTS is certainly a car that can go up against the worlds best, and anytime Cadillac wants to send one over for us to drive we will be happy to do so.  If you go buy one, or just drive one, you won’t be let down.

First Drive 2012 Ford Focus

We had the chance to head out to Los Angeles to drive the new 2012 Ford Focus in this hills and canyons of Malibu and the surrounding area.  Ford is looking to completely take over the c-segment section of the market from Honda, Toyota and others.  Chevy and Hyundai have new competitors in this market as well with the new Cruze and the Elantra which should keep everyone on their toes.

Have a look at our first impressions of the Focus and some pictures as well.  Provided the Snowmageden coming later in the week doesn’t postpone it, we shoud be getting a chance to drive the Elantra later in this week as well, should make for a nice back to back comparison.



Reviewed: 2010 Cadillac SRX 2.8 Turbo AWD

Journalists the world over scratch their head in wonderment as to why the public continues to gobble up crossovers and SUVs, while ignoring wagons/estates/avants.  Yes, even in Europe the trend is more towards CUVs and away from wagons.

Several months ago we tested the Cadillac CTS SportWagon, and declared it fabulous.  In the interim, Cadillac has gone and one upped itself with a CTS-V version of the SportWagon, and while we haven’t had a chance to drive that one yet, we could imagine it taking care of 99% of all of our vehicle needs going forward.  The thing is, Cadillac will sell maybe 500 of the CTS-V wagons and not more than 5000 of the standard SportWagon over the course of a year.  So, the question is, what does the SRX crossover do, that the SportWagon cannot?  Why does the public prefer the CUV to the wagon?  That’s what we planned to find out.

From the exterior, the SRX carries the Cadillac design language nicely.  The “art and science” theme is the grill, the side window lines, and the multiple angles in the bodywork break up the profile of this CUV nicely.

The grill is unmistakable Cadillac.  Where Lincoln has tended to make its signature grill much larger on its CUVs like the MKX and the MKT, Cadillac has made the grill on the SRX less prominent than on the CTS.  The breakup of the grill area by the front fascia keeps the front end from looking massive.  The headlight lenses are quite detailed. There are angles within the lens that are strictly for cosmetic purposes, but are designed to keep with the angular theme that modern Cadillacs are know for.  They have even worked the Cadillac crest into the lens.  It’s something few people will see or pay attention to, but it’s a great detail.

The side profile of the SRX is very much like the SportWagon with similar rooflines and DLO, just taller.  That styling does create an issue with blind spots though, as we will touch on a little latter.  There are multiple bodylines from the bottom of the vehicle to the one on the top which follows the top of the window opening further back into the D pillar and into the rear tail lens that give the SRX a nice texture.

If there is an angle that doesn’t quite work with the SRX, it is the straight rear view.  It appears that the back is bulky and it carries that bulk a little high.  Perhaps if the rear window was a little larger and came further down into the hatch, it would break up the sheet-metal enough to alleviate that.

Once inside, you are greeted with a cabin that has a very open feel thanks in part to the huge panoramic sunroof.  The materials are of a high quality and immediately feel good to the touch, both from the feel of the texture and a lushness that tells you they didn’t try to save costs in that area.  Where in the past, GM cars that cost north of $40,000 had interior materials more suited for a $25,000 car, in the SRX it more than fits in this $53,000 vehicle.

The gauge cluster is well laid out, though the tachometer seems to hide somewhat behind and to the left of the speedometer.  In the middle of the speedometer is a sizable LCD display that can be rotated between a digital mph gauge, distance to empty, average fuel mileage, instant fuel mileage, among others.  We did find the digital mph readout to be useful as the numbers on the analog gage are small and mashed together, even though it has a wide sweep across.

The center stack is very comprehensive, if a little busy with buttons. After driving a number of GM vehicles in the last year, we are finally getting used to the central door locks being high on the center stack, rather than on the doors.  We aren’t fans of this layout but we’re sure this placement probably saves $15 in wiring and switches over putting them on the doors where they traditionally are located.

In the toys department, the SRX has them in spades.  It has the popup LCD screen for navigation, the back up camera, audio, phone controls and more. While our SRX did have the built in hard drive, we didn’t use that, but rather our iPod touch.  Perhaps it’s just our particular iPod touch, but the SRX has issues syncing with it and controlling it with the SRX’s interface.  We say it might be our iPod because this isn’t the first time we’ve had issues and it’s been across all brands.


Audio quality through the Bose sound system is good.  In some ways it’s a bit too good because it’s very easy to hear the compression and lower bit rates on some of the XM music channels.  We listened to songs on XM on 1st Wave, Lithium, Chill and Real Jazz and compared then to the same songs are similar songs on our iPod that are ripped at very high quality and the difference was substantial.  We’re picky about the sound quality of music but most people probably wouldn’t notice.

The rear seat of our test unit was equipped with a dual rear seat entertainment system with wireless headphones and remote control.  At $1,295 it was the only option on our test unit and for families with young children, we’ll guess that it’s an option the parents would gladly pay double for.  While we wouldn’t call the rear seats abundant in room they are certainly roomy enough for two well-sized adults to spend multiple hours in while getting three adults in the back might be a bit tight.


With the back seat up, the rear cargo area had more than enough room for our bi-weekly run to Costco, Trader Joe’s and Meijer’s.  With the seat folded flat, our English Mastiff had more than enough room to fit comfortably and be able to stand up; she just had to duck her head a bit once inside.


Now we come to the part most people care about: how does it drive?  If you were to remove or cover all of the Cadillac badging, and tell people it was an Audi, BMW or Mercedes, no one would argue with you.  The Cadillac SRX strikes that difficult balance of being firm, fun, but yet maintaining a compliant ride.  South of Ann Arbor, MI there is a road called Plank Road.  The last time it was paved, was more than likely the first time it was paved and that must have been back in the early 60’s.  When you drive down the road, you tend to drive in the middle of it because where your right tire would go, it’s worn down in a groove from the traffic and has a pothole every three feet, if that far.  In driving the Caddy down that road, we could stay in the lane and the suspension would absorb the undulations without transferring to the vehicle, yet felt calm and planted, steady as she goes down the road.  It’s not something you’d expect from an American crossover!  Throw it into some twisty bits, or what passes for them in South East Michigan, and again, the SRX feels planted and willing, with good feedback through the wheel.  In many ways the Cadillac is more German than the Germans! 


The motor in our AWD Premium unit was the 2.8 liter V-6 turbo, last seen in the SAAB 9-3X.  The motor does feel like it came from a mid 90s SAAB in that there is some very notable turbo lag, much more than you would expect in a modern power-plant.  Once above 2,000 rpms, the power comes on in a rush and if you keep the motor above that figure, it’s very spirited.  If you are trying to get away quickly from a stop light or are in the toll booth drag race, the SRX will move okay on initial throttle tip in but, about thirty feet out, once the turbo has built some boost, you feel a pretty strong kick in the pants.


We have two thoughts on the engine choice here.  Number one is that this motor calls out for some re-tuning or a twin-scroll turbo to come in with more boost sooner. The other thought, and we are going to guess the reason is either CAFE or maxed out capacity at the engine plant, but rather than the 2.8 turbo, we’d love to see the 3.6 direct injection V-6 in here.  Normally we like turbo motors and some tweaking here might solve our issues, but given the rest of the chassis dynamics, the turbo lag is a pretty glaring oversight.

If you are going to be changing lanes in the SRX, it’s a good idea to be up in the boost because the styling that looks good outside and the lines to the thick D pillar make a pretty large blind spot when you turn your head to do a lane check.  It’s nowhere near as bad as the Camaro and few things are, short of a Lotus Exige, but you can hide some large vehicles in it if you’re not careful.

While some are measuring how the Cadillac SRX stacks up to the Lexus RX 350, the CUV/SUV’s the Caddy is really measuring itself against are the Audi Q5 and Q7, the BMW X3 and X5 and the Mercedes GLK.  Audis tend to have the best interiors, BMWs are the sporty brand and the Merc would bring the luxury The 2010 Cadillac SRX can drop the gloves and go toe to toe with any of the German cars and the worst it would come out is a split decision.

Much like our experience with the CTS SportWagon, the more we drove the SRX, the more we enjoyed it.  There is some additional cabin space over the wagon and the taller height of the vehicle makes for more cargo room as well.  Also, people enjoy sitting a bit higher in a car so as to see traffic and feel more in command of the road.  Whereas the SportWagon could make you think you were driving a coupe or sedan, the SRX feels like a crossover, but it’s among the best we’ve driven to date.

Reviewed: 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid

When we had the Ford Escape Hybrid in for review a bit back, it held a lot of interest for us.  We personally own a 2005 V6 Limited Escape and we wanted to see how the vehicle had evolved, both from an interior refresh and with the hybrid drivetrain.  Making this comparison easier was that we received a loaded Limited model, though this was all wheel drive where ours is a front driver. 

Lets first take a look at the interior.  Interestingly, getting into the 2010 Escape was a lower ride height than in our personal ‘05 model.  We say interesting because again, ours is a front driver and 2010 model was all wheel drive.  At just shy of 5’10” and a 33” inseam, our personal Escape is not a step up to get into, but it does require an upward movement to get into.  In the 2010 model you actually sat down into the vehicle. 

Once inside, the updates are immediately noticeable.  The combination of contrasting colors and textures gives it a nice feel.  The material choices give the appearance of a higher quality than they actually are.  We are not saying that the materials used are cheap; it’s just that we’ve seen higher quality materials used in vehicles the Escape competes with head to head.

With the lighter colors used here, along with the large sunroof, our review unit had a very open and airy feel to it.  The shiny black around the touch screen audio/navigation unit and center consoled, was a nice contrast to the tan and grey but, as with just about every use we have ever seen of the material, it is a magnate for fingerprints. 


The touch screen unit is a generation behind in size: Ford has moved to a much larger size in it’s more recent models. The unit is the same as the one in the Lincoln MKX we reviewed last year and while in the MKX, the unit seemed too small, here it was okay.  Sure, it would have been nicer to have the additional real estate of a larger screen, but this one worked just fine. 

The Microsoft SYNC system works as advertised and is the best in the business although it still has some issues with the iPod Touch.  Looking through several forums, others have had similar issues and, that said, since we tested the Escape, Ford has issued a couple updates to the SYNC firmware to address the issue. 

One of the reasons you buy a hybrid, obviously, is to get a bump in fuel mileage but one of the questions is, can that premium you pay for the hybrid pay for itself in improved fuel mileage.  If you go on the premise that figures lie and liars figure, it all depends on how you count. 

The EPA rates the all wheel drive Escape Hybrid at 30 city/27 highway, the four cylinder all wheel drive Escape is 20/26 and the V6 is 18/23.  If you go front drive, it sorts out as 34/31 for the hybrid, 21/28 for the four cylinder and 19/25 for the V6.  We got mid 27’s in mixed driving and we tried to drive the Escape like a “normal” car, rather than a hybrid for most of our time with it. 

If we look at our personal ‘05 Escape with a V6, it returns 22-23 MPG in mixed driving and has been pretty consistent with that number since we’ve owned it.  One point to make is in the interim Ford has upgraded the transmission for the four-speed automatic on ours to a six-speed auto across the line in the Escapes.  If we take a guess, 30MPG would be realistic from the front drive model in combined real world mileage. A 7-8 mile per gallon change in fuel economy is significant.  Now, factor in abut a $4500 premium for the hybrid option, trying as much as we can to outfit the vehicles as similarly as possible, go with 15,000 miles a year for an average driver and you get a 167 gallon difference in fuel used.  Right now, 87 octane gas around Metro Detroit is $2.75/gallon, so that is $459.25 a year difference in your fuel bill.  Depending on how much you financed to purchase the vehicle, that may not even be one month’s payment.  With those numbers, if you are buying a hybrid only on the idea of better fuel mileage, then it’s not really a winning proposition.  If your issues are more with your personal carbon footprint or the usage of foreign oil in our economy, then you have to ask yourself how much extra “voluntary tax” you are willing to pay. 

Even though on straight horsepower and torque numbers the Hybrid Escape is way down on the V6 model, the driving experience isn’t all that different.  That, in part, goes to the electric motor that is part of the hybrid system.  It can, when needed, help boost performance by supplying extra power.  The electric motor proves an additional 94 horsepower when called for to make up the difference between the four and six cylinder in total power.  The Atkinson Cycle 2.5 inline four isn’t the snappiest power plant, but it’s okay.  Passing situations and merging onto the highway, you notice the power deficit somewhat but it wasn’t by a large measure. 

As for the actual driving experience day to day, it proved to be just as competent as our ‘05 model and with some of the updates Ford has made, it rides a little quieter.  The hardest part we found was trying to maximize the hybrid part of the drivetrain. 

We’ve driven the Fusion Hybrid on multiple occasions and driving on just the electrics and batteries isn’t too difficult once you get the hang of it.  The pulse and glide method worked best rather than just accelerating using the electric motor.  This was also the case with the Escape Hybrid, but it seemed that once you were in the glide mode, it took a very, very light pedal not to have the gas motor kick back in.  It, in fact, required a lot of effort to do so.  The difference between the Fusion experience and the Escape experience probably come down to weight, aerodynamics and the Escape being all wheel drive, with a greater drivetrain loss through frictions.

Yes, you have to retrain yourself how you drive to maximize any hybrid experience but with the Escape, it seemed even more so.  We also wonder if the typical consumer who buys it will take the time and effort to do so.  Yes, some will but we are talking about the 60-80% in the middle of that bell curve who think that having a hybrid just nets you more mileage with no change in driving behavior.  We also wonder what their thoughts are two, three or four years in to the buying experience.

I let my wife drive the Escape since the ‘05 is her primary vehicle and while she thought the changes to the interior were nice and that it drove fine, she didn’t get the hybrid system to engage even though we had gone out before and I had instructed her on how to use it.  I bring this point up just to drive home the point about the average driver, because I think she typifies that.

In the end we can look at the Escape Hybrid as a competent vehicle that stands up well to others in it’s category, hybrid system aside.  The Escape, in its current form, is at the end of it’s life cycle and it’s been a good ten year run for it.  The decision to go with the hybrid system will not be one of dollars and cents we think, but rather one of personal conscience.  On straight money, the hybrid system doesn’t really pay for it’s self, at least in the current environment where gas is sub $3/gallon.  It would have to be more than $5/gallon for it to make economic sense.  The real question then is, can we recommend the Escape Hybrid?  The answer is, it depends on what your goals are in owning the Escape.  If you have the extra money to spend and you just want a vehicle that gets good mileage, but you aren’t worried about a pay back period, then the Escape works.  If you are concerned with the environment or the geo-political issues associated with the amount of oil we import, then the Escape could work for you.  If you are interested in a hybrid that makes financial sense then, while a good effort, this, like every hybrid at this moment in time, is a pass.

Quick Take: 2010 Triumph Street Triple R

Thanks to the Autoline crew we were able to put this video together of the Triumph Street Triple R.  We only had it for a few hours, and we did this in the style of John McElroy’s Instant Impressions on the site.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to leave your feedback.

Reviewed: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

April 15th is usual a day that most American’s look on with dread.  I believe the number is something like 65% of people in the US wait till the last day they can, to file their income taxes.

Rather than have any worries about that, we had filed ours over a month before the date, we were invited out to Hyundai’s Technical Center in Ypsilanti Michigan for a briefing on the new 2011 Sonata, and then a chance to drive the car over a 70 mile loop.

The big news for the all new Sonata, other than the killer styling of the car, was that there would be no V6 option for the it.  Because of this decision the engineers were able to make some basic changes to the architecture of the frame, and save a significant amount of weight without compromising the structure. 

In previous generations of Sonata’s less than 20% of the cars were ordered with V6’s, yet the car had to be designed with the V6 in mind for structure and crash standards.  By making the decision to go with a four cylinder only philosophy, Hyundai were able to bring the car in at 3199lbs, which is a couple hundred pounds less than some of their competition.  With a 198 horsepower engine that gives a power to weight ratio of 16.2 pounds per horsepower, which the best in class for four cylinders in a C segment car.

The “fluidic sculpture” design works really well on the Sonata.  In a segment where design is not the strongest attribute of any of the cars in the North American market, there are a few that are good, but nothing that is a George Foreman like haymaker, the Hyundai comes close to being that knockout. 

While the overall profile of the car is quite organic, there are character lines throughout, such as on the body side, the grill, and trim elements that carry seamlessly from nose to tail.  The “jewelry” in the headlights and taillights is something you normally associate with a car costing twice as much.

On the inside the material quality is good.  In Limited trim the leather is quite nice, and the touch panel control with sat nav was nice.  If were to pick nits the screen could be a bit larger, but it never feels small.  With the GLS and SE trim models we also had a chance to sample, the cloth interior was nice, nicer than what we’ve sampled in the Ford Fusion, but, given how good the rest of the car is, you would have hoped it could be just a tick or two better.  It’s nice, don’t get us wrong, we just didn’t come away thinking, this is nice cloth, like say Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe we currently have in for review.

Transmission choices are a dual clutch automatic, what Hyundai calls the SHIFTRONIC (A6MF2), or a 6 speed manual for the 37 people that will order a manual in the car.  We aren’t joking about that number of people ordering manuals.  At our briefing, 37 was the number of orders, year to date, for manuals in the Sonata.  The manual will be in the order of 1-2% of all Sonata’s sold in the US.

On the road the 2.4l inline four has adequate power.  We say adequate as enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the 276 horsepower turbo version coming later this year.  For 95% of the people who buy the Sonata the power is fine.  Being a four cylinder the horsepower and torque numbers are higher in the range than we like for every day driving, and probably higher than most American’s are used to as well.  Horsepower peaks at 6300 rpm and peak torque isn’t till 4250 RPM’s.  Mileage for the car is 22 city 35 highway for the automatic, we got around 32mpg in our spirited driving on some two lane backroads west of Ann Arbor.

The overall driving dynamics for the car are solid.  It’s no sports car, and even in the sport “SE” trim, which has a 10% stiffer ride calibration, it’s not going to wow you.  But, for a family car it does have some connective feel to the road, and that’s not often found in this segment.

Hyundai continue to provide great value for money across their range.  With a starting price of $19,915 including freight charges for the GLS with the manual and $21,915 with the automatic, to a loaded up Limited with sat nav, premium audio and XM for $28,115, it’s no wonder that Hyundai’s market share has jumped to almost 4.5%, with a forward trajectory that looks like a hockey stick.

Given the malaise going on at Toyota and Honda these days, it’s little wonder that Hyundai has “the big MO” (momentum) carrying it forward.  If they continue to execute as they have, try to grow to fast, or become to arrogant, then their future will continue to be very bright.

Reviewed: 2010 Chevy Traverse

It’s taken us quite a while to get around to writing up the review for the Chevy Traverse, not because it was a bad, not at all, it was really competent, which we will talk about shortly here, it’s just that we had this over Christmas and, well, it got shuffled around with other “things” going on.

The Traverse slots in nicely within “The New GM” because with one model it really takes the place of two outgoing models, and can almost displace a third.  Outgoing at Chevrolet are the minivan and the Trailblazer, and in slots the Traverse.  The third slot it almost takes is Tahoe.  I know that comment borders on heresy but hear me out. 

With three rows of seats, all with good leg room, this vehicle has the people hauling capacity of the minivan.  It has more interior room than the Trailblazer, and with a towing capacity of 5200 pounds it can take the lighter towing duties of the Tahoe.  Some will say, that nothing can replace the solidity of a full frame, rear drive SUV like the Tahoe for towing, and, for larger objects they are correct.  But if what all you are doing is hauling jetski’s, small boats, motorcycles, and even small campers, the Traverse is more than capable of getting that job done, without the penalties of size and fuel mileage of the Tahoe.

If there was one thing that really stood out to us about the Traverse was just how cavernous the interior was.  The overall size of the vehicle was not small, but by no means did it appear, from the outside, close to the size of a traditional full sized SUV.  Once inside, however, that all changes.  Much like the Ford Flex, once you are sitting in the drivers seat, the third row may as well be in another zip code!  To demonstrate just how large the interor is, lets take a look at some video we shot when we picked up our English Mastiff from the kennel.  Just to give you some scale Lola is 32” tall at the sholders and weighs about 135 pounds.  The third row seats are folded down here, but the second row seats are up.

As you can see she has a tremendous amount of room back there.  There was enough room that if we had another English Mastiff, both could have fit back there with room to spare.  This may be a bit of an extreme example but the point is, for the rest of the world, there should be no space issues if you have to take a couple of the kids with you shopping at your favorite big box retailer.  You can fit them, their “stuff”, all your shopping, and probably have room left over.

Being that we had this over Christmas, and we had to go out of town to visit relatives, we had plenty of opportunity to experience how this Crossover eats up highway miles.  We put well over 500 highway miles on the review unit and never had any complaints as to the quality of the ride, handling or the interior noise.  It may not be tomb like quite in the interior, but we had no objectionable wind or road noise and you could carry on a converation in a normal tone of voice.

EPA mileage estimates for the Traverse are 17 city and 24 highway.  We got about 23 on the highway, which given that it was winter and temps were just into the double digits Fahrenheit is reasonable.  It’s even more so when you consider that our front wheel drive 3.6L V6 has a curb weight of 4700 pounds.  The 3.6L V6 is the same basic direct injection unit found in other GM cars such as the Cadillac CTS and the Buick LaCrosse.  In this application, it’s tuned a bit differently to produce 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.  Accelleration is fine, both for normal driving and for any passing or on/off ramp needs.  The six speed transmission is unobtrusive, never feeling that it was ever hunting for the right gear.

If there was one thing we had an issue with in the Traverse it was the dash materials.  Our loaded Front Drive 2LT model stickered for $39,580, close enough to call it forty grand.  In 2010 there is no reason that a $40,000 vehicle should have a dash made intirely out of hard plasic materials, it’s out of place.  If you have a look at two, of what the Traverse’s competitors are likely to be, the Ford Flex and the Toyota Highlander, you will find their cockpits nearly devoid of hard plastic materials.  They have a few bits here and there, but not the entire dash area.  All I can think is that some “Old GM” finance people got out the red pen and objected to the extra $200 in costs it would have been to  use materials that would have brought the cabin to at least the levels of Ford and Toyota, if not excede them.

Perhaps those of you with children can tell me that I’m wrong, and that when you are hauling them around to their various activites hard plastic is preferable, but we don’t see it.  All we can hope is that as GM’s fortunes improve post bankrupcy, that there is some money available for a mid-cycle refresh to take care of this.

As we said in the opening the Traverse is a solid, competent vehicle that can haul people, cargo and even tow.  Mileage is reasonable and the decptive physical size of it hides a huge interior.  Even priced out at $40,000 we don’t think is bad value for money give what it can do.  It does miss on a few things that can be easily remedied, and if done, there is no reason this can’t go toe to toe with anything else out there in it’s market segment.

Reviewed: The 2010 Lincoln MKT


When we tested the Ford Flex last March, we knew the Lincoln MKT would be arriving on deal lots soon. At the time we wondered if the new Lincoln would be/could be the new “Black Sedan” or maybe have a bit of that private jet feel to it for second row passengers.  Other than the motor in the Flex, the standard 3.5L V-6 which we found just a touch lacking, we loved the Flex, and knew that it would be hard for Lincoln to come up with something better.

Right off the bat the thing that smacks you in the face with the MKT is the styling.  As with most of the rest of the Lincoln line you either like the styling, or you don’t.  We dig Lincoln’s exterior look and have no problems with the execution of the design language here.  Pay attention when we say exterior. 

While the Flex looks like a giant MINI from the rear, you aren’t going to mistake the MKT for anything else.  Not only does it have Lincoln’s strong front facia, it has the kicked up shoulder over the rear wheel that gives it a more muscular look as well.  From there the rear part of the roof begins to slope down into the rear lift gate.  While it doesn’t have the elegance as it could have had if the Ford designers had used more of a French Curve, the rear treatments are for the most part successful. 

A straight-on rear shot does give you an idea of just how large this vehicle is though.  An interesting thing to note with the MKT is what a difference color plays here.  When you see an MKT in black, as our tester was, it appears much more substantial than when you see it in a lighter color.  Normally the fashionistas will tell you that black is slimming, however, on the MKT that’s not the case.

If you have been inside a Lincoln recently, the interior will feel vary familiar, just a little larger in scale.  The materials are very nice, though not quite to the Audi Q7 level.  Then again the MKT checks in about twenty grand less, so there you are.  There are soft touch materials where you would expect them, the center stack is well laid out, and of course you get Ford’s great SYNC system.

The second row of our MKT was equipped with captains chairs and the refrigerator in between.    If you are a mom from Westchester County hauling the boys to hockey practice, and the girls to their equestrian lessons the cooler does a good job of keeping their sodas cold.  If you are an executive using this as your “black sedan” then it does a passable job of keeping that Non Vintage bottle for Krug cold.  Second row passengers not only have plenty of leg room and their own HVAC controls, but also heated and cooled seats as well.       

Row three is where we see the largest difference between the Flex and the MKT.  In the Flex, two full sized adults can fit back there, for a time, and not be uncomfortable.  In the MKT, they can’t.  It isn’t so much the leg room, it’s the lack of head room in the MKT.  The sloping rear section of the roof of the MKT cuts in the cabin a great deal and the result is a serious lack of available headroom.  While at not quite 5’11” I can sit upright and have plenty of room in the third row of the Flex, anyone much over five feet tall won’t be able to sit upright in the Lincoln’s third row.

The major nit that I have to pick with the MKT’s interior is one that I think would be solved by a change in color.  By choosing the Olive Ash wood trim you aren’t forced into the rest of the interior being all black.  With the Olive Ash trim you can get what Lincoln is calling “canyon” which is more like a nice darker tan/camel color.  The other choice for the seating materials and some of the interior trim pieces is “light stone.”  While I would not call the all black interior of our tester oppressive or claustrophobic, it did feel a bit cave-like.  Even with the large double panoramic sunroofs teh cabin lacked the airiness of the Flex we tested almost a year ago, and I believe much of that has to do with the interior color choice.

Have a look at some of the interior pictures of the MKT that our friends over at Autoblog had about the same time we had our tester, and I think you will see the dramatic difference. 

There are a few things we’d like to see in the interior of the MKT in future model years.  First would be a heated steering wheel.  Grabbing the the wheel on some of the cold single digit temps we experienced while the MKT was in our driveway was not the most pleasant thing without gloves on.  Perhaps a switch of materials to Alcantera or some other micro suede would accomplish the same thing and give the Lincoln an even more upscale feel without a bump up in the price tag. 

My second suggestion for Ford’s engineers has to do with the MKT’s remote start function.  How about a system that remembers the last settings for the heating and cooling of the seat and cabin temps?  Again jumping into the MKT during temperature extremes can be unpleasant.  It’s a small thing, but one that would make a big difference in our eyes.  As Ford and Lincoln expand their “My Touch” and open the software for the Sync system to developers, perhaps we can have an app for our iPhones/Crackberries/Android’s that accomplish all of that together.

Under the hood of our Lincoln was the 355 Horsepower 3.5 liter V6 EcoBoost engine.  The added power and torque of the EcoBoost over the standard, non-boosted 262 Horsepower V6, easily solved our largest issue with the Flex, and that was needed just a bit more grunt in passing and merging situations.  Even with the added power of the EcoBoost and the extra drive line losses of MKT being an AWD model the difference in mileage between the two people haulers wasn’t much, maybe one or two MPG at most. That makes the EcoBoost well worth the trade off we think.

As for handling, well, at a curb weight just over 5000lbs, it’s no sports car, but the MKT is more than competent for anything you would ask of it. It handles predictably, there is no real tug from the front wheels in the AWD model when you apply power from low speeds around corners.  And the ride on the highway, even on Michigan’s bomb cratered roads was good.

While we really do like the MKT, we are left with one issue, is it fifteen grand better than the Flex?  Our immediate reaction is no, but then again maybe it depends on what you are looking for. And if it’s something quite peculiar, something shimmering and white, it leads you here, despite your destination, under the milky way tonight.   Where the Flex comes across as the tall wagon with hints of the Woodys of the 40’s and 50’s, the MKT does have a more substantial, more serious presence about it.  You can’t help but feel the interior of the MKT is a serious Hugo Boss suit person, while the Flex is more khakis and polo shirt kind of guy

If what you crave is most of the interior usability of the Flex in a package that projects a more upscale adult feel that the Flex might, then the MKT is for you.  While the interior is not quite up to the Audi Q7 level, it’s fairly close, and as we said earlier a twenty grand difference in price between the Lincoln and the Audi is fairly substantial.  The MKT might not quite be the four wheel Gulfstream G550 we had hoped it could be, but having to fly business class on Emirates Airline isn’t exactly a hardship.

Reviewed: 2010 Buick Lacrosse

When General Motors went through bankruptcy and decided to shed some of it’s brands, not too many tears were shed for Saturn, Hummer and Saab, but the the loss of Pontiac rubbed peoples rhubarb the wrong way, when, it was also announced that brands like GMC and Buick would be kept.  Here was the nasty secret that wasn’t getting out to those people, Buick was paying for it’s self and GMC was making money, the same couldn’t be said for any of the brands that were being dropped.

Lets set the argument about GMC aside for another time and drill down on the Pontiac vs. Buick argument.  Many people lament the loss of Pontiac as the performance division of General Motors, but that history was long dead and buried.  Other than the G8 which was a fabulous car, but didn’t really sell that well till it was heavily discounted in GM’s fire sale to shed inventory, Pontiac was badge engineering brand. This WAS an upgrade though of what Pontiac was before that, the pre Bob Lutz era of GM, and that was the plastic body cladding brand.  Performance at Pontiac was about as was a further memory from GM then the Detroit Lions were from being a winning football team that went to the playoffs.

Somewhere in the mid 70’s Buick lost it’s way.  It was, for most of it’s history, the brand you bought when you really wanted a Cadillac but just couldn’t afford or justify one.  It was a respected brand, and if you drove a Buick, people knew you had had a good measure of success in your life.  What the brand evolved into though was one that catered to Septuagenarian and older crowd.  Dealers liked this to a point because they were loyal buyers and there were rarely any issues getting them financed, the problem was, there were less and less of those buyers every year as they moved on to the next realm of existence.  Buick has made a few efforts to trend their demographic to one less than those collecting Social Security, but until the Enclave came out a couple years ago, it was pretty hit and miss.

The Enclave was a Crossover that signaled two important movements for Buick.  The first was strong turn to focus on being what it once was, a brand for those that wanted a luxury car, but didn’t want, or could reach to the Cadillac price point.  The second was a styling direction to have a fluid look with a rounded look and few hard edges.  This also worked nicely as a contrast to the hard edge Art & Science design of Cadillac as well.  

It’s been said that General Motors want to position Buick as a competitor to Lexus, and most people thing that’s a pretty big ask.  One of the questions we had when the Lacrosse was dropped off for review was could they go toe to toe with Toyota’s luxury brand.

One of the reasons we’ve waited to post this review was we wanted to spend some time crawling around the Lexus ES350 and the best opportunity was going to be at the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit.  We’ll get to our conclusion about how the Lacrosse stacked up shortly, but lets dive in and have a look at it.

From a design point the Lacrosse is a conservative design, but it is also handsome.  It has some lines that are subtle but do give the body some character to prevent it from being Toyota like bland and forgettable.  There are also a few angle from a high rear three quarter view which we weren’t able to capture on camera that are very fluid and quite attractive.  Some people have argued about the placement of the portholes on the car, should they be on the fenders as is the heritage of the brand, is it OK to have them on the hood, I would say get rid of them all together.  Fake portholes and vents have become such a fad, that in trying to redefine the brand Buick needs to stay away from anything hinting of a fad.

When you move to the interior you are greeted by a IP that has a spacious feel to it.  Now, depending on if your first stint inside the car is in the day, or at night, it may have to different feels to it.  During the day the interior has an entry level luxury car feel to it.  Materials are of good quality, fit and finish were spot on and even the wood interior trim was tastefully done.

The controls on the steering wheel and the center console are well laid out and are for the most part pretty intuitive.  To get the full measure of the touch screen system and some of the voice command functions, you WILL need to pull out the manual and spend some time with it.  You can figure out about 70% without the manual, but there were a few things that the manual was needed for.

One of my favorite parts of the interior were the seat heaters.  I know it seems odd that I would choose that as one of my favorite things for the interior but hear me out.  First, most of the seat heaters in cars right now, across many brands, take forever to warm up to the point you can feel them, then, what they call the top setting, I call “I guess it’s on”.  Not so with the Buick.  The seats here come up to temp pretty quickly, important since during our week stint with the car the high temps for the days were in the single digits Fahrenheit!  When the seat heaters were on the high, not only could you tell they were on, they were warm enough that I was tempted to grab my cast iron dutch oven and toss in some beef short ribs for a nice braise!  Part two of this is the fact that not only were the seats heated, but so was the steering wheel.  Almost as bad as sitting on cold leather on a 4ºF morning is holding on a leather wrapped steering wheel.  Why this feature isn’t standard on any car north of thirty five grand is beyond me.  

With all the touch screens and small buttons in new cars trying to do anything with gloves on is a near impossibility.  So while voice commands will work for somethings, there is an actual tactile touch that is needed for others and that can’t be done with gloves on.  So when you grab the wheel then on a cold day before the cabin is up to temp, it’s not comfortable.

When the day turns to night and the lights come on, the interior of the Lacrosse takes on a different feel.  There is a cool blue light that wraps along the wood trim from the doors and through the dash.  I was told third hand that it was supposed to give a bit of the lighting feel of a hip South Beach club to the Lacrosse.  Not being a regular on the South Beach club scene, I couldn’t speak to that, however, I did like this mood lighting implementation better than I have liked similar treatments from Ford.

Out on the road the car drives nicely.  The ride is not the sofa lounge feel of large Buicks of the 80’s and 90’s, but it’s not European firm either.  It’s stuck somewhere in that middle ground that as long as you don’t try and fling it around on a track day you’ll be fine, but you won’t be probably won’t be cutting diamonds in the back either.  For 90% of the way most people drive today, the ride is more than fine.  The engine is strong as well.  Ours had the optional 3.6L V6 with 280 horsepower and 259 lb/ft of torque, it’s a retuned version of the motor in the CTS and Camaro.  While both peak numbers are fairly high up in the RPM band, power doesn’t feel lacking.  The only issue is that there is a good amount of torque steer in this car, so you have to be a little careful at lower speeds when you stomp the gas and the wheel is turned.

Lets circle back and bring up how this car stacks up, at least interior wise to the Lexus ES350.  I have to say after spending a solid 10 minutes in the Lexus touching and feeling all the materials and surfaces, then heading back over to the Buick display to double check some things in the Lacrosse, then back once again to the ES350, that hands down the Buick has a far superior interior on every level.  There, I said it.  Go ahead call me mad, but, before you do, go check for yourself, then let me know.

Finally where I think the Buick Lacrosse can really seal the deal against not only the ES350 but against quite a few other cars is on price.  Our loaded up CXS (the top range model) stickered out at $36,755. I don’t think there were many, if any, options boxes that weren’t checked off on this car.  While almost $37K may sound like a lot of money for a car, and I’m not saying it isn’t, compared with many other vehicles we’ve driven lately for the level of content and quality, this is very well done.

For Buick to succeed going forward they have a big challenge in front of them in changing peoples perception of what a Buick is in 2010 and beyond.  The challenges are many, but there are also some fairly easy solutions, and if GM wants to bring me on full time at a reasonable salary, I’d be happy to point them out. 

The first thing that they must do is get people in the door and behind the wheel.  It is only there that potential customers will begin to understand just how far Buick has come in a short period of time.  The Lacrosse should do for Buick what the CTS did for Cadillac, and that’s redefine what the brand is going forward.