Reviewed: 2012 Audi A6

You often find that cars the automotive media hype endlessly, never live up to that billing.  Few cars in the last two or three years have been hyped as much as the Audi A6, and, while the car has been out for almost a year now, and few bad things have been said about it to date.  We had the new A6 come in for testing recently and had the opportunity recently to findout for ourselves just how good this car could be.  Have a watch, and enjoy!

Here is the full range of pictures that we shot fo the car.

Reviewed: 2012 Kia Optima Turbo

Ten months ago when we had the non-Turbo version of the Optima in for review, we declared it the best sedan on the market for under $30,000.  With the Turbo model we wanted to see if it could be even better.  So here on Rumblestrip.NET we are taking a look at the 2012 Kia Optima Turbo.

Reviewed: 2011 Lexus IS-F, Japan’s Stealth Fighter

With the exception of the LF-A when you think Lexus, you think conservative, understated luxury car.  Lexus has always been the “safe” choice when you wanted a luxury car, but didn’t want something from Germany.

The IS range from Lexus tends to fly under the radar.  Most people tend to focus on three models in it’s lineup.  The top end LS, the mid level ES and the RX crossover.  While there is nothing wrong with those vehicles, they don’t come within a solar system of what you might consider engaging drivers cars, but that’s not what they were designed to be either.

The IS is the exception to that rule.  Even in it’s standard IS 350 guise, the IS does not feel “blandtastic” it does have strong elements that at times make you scratch your head and wonder how did this one make it through.  That’s before we get to the IS-F.

If you like fun and engaging cars to drive, then the Lexus IS-F is for you.  It starts under the hood with a 416 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 which sends power to the rear wheels via an eight speed automatic gear box.  It should be required in owning or driving this car that you either (a) have a radar detector, (b) have an attorney on retainer, or (c) be on good terms with your local police department. 

Why you ask?  Because once you hit about 3500 rpms the exhaust note is so glorious, that you want to keep hearing it!  We hope which ever engineers were responsible for tuning the exhaust note got a large bonus because this is one of THE GREAT V8 exhaust notes of all time!

The suspension also gets an upgrade over the standard IS 350.  The ride is firmer, but it is also not harsh, it is something that is very livable in everyday driving.  The IS-F does corner flatter and is quicker to change directions when called on to do so quickly.

As fantastic as the engine is, the brakes on the IS-F are equally as good.  The pure stopping power can generate enough negative g-forces to make you think your eyeballs will come out of their sockets.  Yet unlike many big brake systems, it doesn’t feel light a light switch which is either on or off, there is a nice linear travel, with excellent feedback.  The brake system is sourced from Brembo and have 14.2 inch discs up front with six piston calipers and 13.6 out back with two piston calipers.

Inside the car has all the luxury touches one would expect in a $60,000 car.  The leather is of good quality and the micro-fiber inserts in the seats give it an even more upscale touch.  In hot or cold clients the micro-fiber is much more comfortable than leather, while waiting for the cabin to come up or down to temperature.  It also offers better traction for your backside when you decide to push the car hard.

Looking onto the instrument cluster, a 9000 rpm tachometer is dead center and dominates your view.  While the tach may go to 9,000 shift are handled closer to 7,000.  There are a series of lights that change from yellow to red as you close in on the redline helping you if you are choosing to shift up manually in the gearbox.  

Best be quick with those shifts as the engine revs very quickly!  In first or second gear it is not difficult to bounce the engine off the rev limiter because the engine revs so quickly.  There is a digital readout on the tach to tell you your speed, to go along with a smaller speedometer to the right of the tach.

The IS-F has an optional Mark Levinson audio package that comes with navigation.  If you are familiar with the system in other Lexus models, it’s features are similar.  To our ear, it could use a little more base, and a little more “presence” in delivering the audio, and that is true in listening to several different genres of music, from classical, to jazz, rock and trip hop.

Fuel economy is not unreasonable for the IS-F, the EPA rates the car at 16 city/23 highway/18 combined.  Our experience with the car says those numbers are very close, and that is when were were not shy with the right foot!  Take it a little easier on the loud peddle and you will see the number increase.  We saw fuel economy at almost 20 in the city and 24 on the highway driving in a more restrained manner.

The IS-F has to rate as the most fun cars to drive in the Lexus lineup outside the $400,000 LF-A.  The best part of the LF-A is that it doesn’t scream performance car, even though there are some very aggressive styling cues.  There will be many a shocked BMW M3 driver when they see the IS-F’s taillights disappearing into the distance, and that may be the point, excellence in performance doesn’t have to be flashy, just quiet professionalism.

Reviewed: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to spend a week with the all new Jetta, in this case the 2011 2.5 SEL model, and came away with some good impressions.  We also got some great feedback from that post which was most appreciated.  What we really wanted to try though was the TDI Clean Diesel version of the car.

Recently we got to spend a week with the TDI Jetta and these our our thoughts:

Reviewed 2011 Volkswagen Jetta: Sometimes The Auto Critics Are Wrong

Some times the car critics are wrong.  That should come as no shock, after all, 75% the people who do car reviews are writing it for themselves and for their peers.  What the public in general might be looking for is irrelevant, it’s what THEY decide is important is what really matters, and if you aren’t on board 100%, well then, you can’t play in their sandbox.

If you never had any dealings with the previous generation of the Volkswagen Jetta, then you would have to wonder why there are few good words in the press about the new version of the car.  Even Consumer Reports has called it one of the most disappointing updates to car in recent memory.  Here is the thing, while the previous generation Jetta was a great car, it didn’t sell all that well because, even in lower spec trim, it was often as expensive, if not more expensive then other cars in it’s class when they were fully loaded.

For the 2011 Jetta, Volkswagen took a different tact.  Since most people say they will spend more money for quality, but never do when it’s time to pull out the checkbook, VW called their bluff.  The new Jetta has some materials in it that are not up to the level of the previous generation, it comes with a twist beam rear suspension rather than an independent rear suspension, and it’s driving dynamics have been softened, the level of the materials in the interior aren’t class leading, yet the car is selling in record numbers, mostly because it stickers for $3,000 to $5,000 less than the previous generation.

95% of the people who own and buy the Volkswagen Jetta couldn’t distinguish the difference between an IRS and a twist beam rear suspension if you let them drive them back to back, nor do they care.  While some people still viewed the Jetta as a 3 series BMW at a discount, most viewed it as a mid-sized car that was a bit smaller on the inside then it’s peers.  In increasing the size of the new Jetta, it is now on par or larger then most everything else for interior room.

The interior is pleasant enough.  Again if you were to read a number of reviews you’d think it was all hard plastic from the mid 1990’s, but that’s not the case.  Sure there are cars in this class that might have a slightly higher grade of materials, but there is plenty of soft touch surfaces inside.  Yes, everything could be a bit better, but VW tried that before and it didn’t work. 

If there was something that did frustrate us with the car it was the infotainment system.  It was not very intuitive, and the direction, once you could find them in the owners manual, were as clear as squid ink.  We did figure everything out after a time, but we can’t say there weren’t a few not for prime time words used in the process.

Something else that the critics would have you believe is that the 2.5 liter five cylinder is as smooth as 16 grit sandpaper.  OK, so it’s not silky like a 4.2 liter Jaguar inline 6, but what is?  The five cylinder runs well, has really good torque, paired with the five speed manual transmission we described the performance to to others as “plucky”.  As we said the car has really good low end torque, not V8 level torque, but with the number of small four cylinders we’ve driven of late that have NO power below 4,000 rpms, it was nice.  There was torque steer, but it wasn’t objectionable.  In fact, it was enjoyable to drive.

The styling on the new Jetta has also been very controversial because it is so safe.  Again, Volkswagen took the temperature of the market with this car, it looked at what the best selling cars in the segment are, Civic, Altima and Corolla, and decided that bold styling is not something that people look for.  Ford with the new Focus and Hyundai with the new Elantra are trying to change that, but if you look at the Mazda3, it hasn’t worked  for that model.

Fuel mileage for the Jetta was also good.  It is rated by the EPA at 23 city and 33 highway.  We put 400 miles on the Jetta, and saw 27 combined and 34.5 on a 90 mile highway loop.  As always we did not try to drive for maximum mpg, rather we drove this car as if it were our own.

In the end we came away very surprised with the new Jetta given everything that we had read, and had been told by other colleagues.  It is a very solid car, and very good value.  Our SEL model stickered at $23,065.  It had an upgraded touch screen stereo with SatNav, 17” alloys, sunroof, and electronic limited slip differential.  It is almost the same price as the Hyundai Elantra Limited we tested a couple months back, and while the Hyundai has better styling, and may cost a few dollars less, the Jetta was more fun to drive and returned the same gas mileage, even though the Hyundai is rated MUCH higher.

So, as we said at the top, sometime the critics are wrong, VW took a shot in judging that what the market wanted was good value, and they have been rewarded with sales of the Jetta up 70% over the previous model!  Customers often say they want one thing, but when it comes time to scratch a check actual cost and perceived value end up being  the deciding factor.  Sure the new Jetta could be higher spec, but at what cost to the sticker price and at what cost to total sales?

Go drive a Jetta and decide for yourself, but we think you will come away thinking, “what was all the bashing about from the automotive elite?”  If VW wants to send us another one for review we’d be happy to drive it, just this time can we get the TDI please??!!

Check out our photo gallery to see all the images of the 2011 Jetta.

Reviewed: 2011 Ford Edge

Rumblestrip.NET had a chance to spend a week with the refreshed 2011 Ford Edge.  This Crossover is a keystone in Ford’s lineup, and we wanted to see if Ford could take this from just another Crossover to something that would stand out against the rest.

Ford has been on a huge roll these past couple years, will this newly sharpened Edge continue the trend?  Find out in our video review.

Reviewed: 2011 Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai has been on quite a roll these past few years, and with the new 2012 Elantra, they are looking to to move the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic aside to become the leading compact car from Asia.  The U.S. manufactures are on the case this time though as the new Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus are very strong competitors in this market now.  So how good is the new Elantra?  Watch the video and find out.



Have a look at the slide show of all the pictures we took of the Elantra as well.


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.