Audi Q7 loaded with luxury but showing its age


The luxury SUV market has become a very crowded field. There’s hardly a marque that doesn’t have such a vehicle or plan to have such a vehicle within the next couple of

There are some really good ones. The Audi Q7 is one of those good ones. Yes, it has its age issues but for those looking for something that offers a tremendous amount of luxury, please, look here.

I was able to sample the diesel version of the Q7. I am a diesel fan, maybe a fanatic. I think I would own one before a hybrid, but that’s a close call. Anyway, my Q7 got an impressive 28 miles to the gallon on the highway and 19 in the city. That’s an overall rating of 22 mpg, which is great considering the Q7’s weight and its ability to carry seven people.

Well, seven might be a stretch. The rear seat is for kids or small adults. Cargo space is very limited if that seat is used. It becomes OK if you fold it out of the way. The rest of the interior is attractive. Luxury abounds in lavish amounts of wood, leather and metal, but the dash can be a bit confusing. There’s also not as much space as one would like for something with this big a footprint.

The Q7 is powered by a 3.0-liter six-cylinder TDI clean diesel that makes 240 horsepower. Seem skimpy? This engine makes an astounding 406 pounds-feet of torque. That’s enough to pull big tree trunk out of the ground if you wanted. It’s also enough to whip around slow traffic when needed. The transmission is a buttery eight speed.

Interior good but a little confusing on the controls
Interior good but a little confusing on the controls

The Q7 is isolated from nearly every type of bad road conditions you can find. The optional adjustable air suspension gives you a cloud-like ride. The Quattro (Audi’s all-wheel-drive) dispenses of treacherous weather with aplomb. The ride might be a tad soft for some so I’d suggest the sport setting for better road feel. I’d like a few more horses for top end, but the available torque is more than enough to compensate.

Driving dynamics are about what you would expect for something this big but about what you could hope for something this big built by Audi. The 2014 Q7 adds LED running lights and standard keyless entry to the Premium package.

My vehicle was the Prestige model which is a $12,000 package that includes 20-inch spoke wheels, four-zone climate control, Bose sound system, navigation and a panoramic sunroof.

The Bose system was replaced by a Bang & Olufsen “advanced sound system” at a cost of $6,300. The mentioned air suspension was $2,600.

A technology package included a side-view camera and adaptive cruise control for $2,400. The S-line package gives you better exterior cosmetics for $2,000.

Throw in a few more packages and destination charges and the $52,900 Q7 clocks in at $81,395. That’s in line with Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti and Lexus, but most of those vehicles are newer. Audi takes care of that with a new Q7 in 2015. For now, this is still something you should consider if you intend to sit in luxury’s lap.

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Porsche Cayman S more than budget Carrera

2014 Cayman S
2014 Cayman S

Porsche. Say the name and you think of sports cars – the sports car.

Well, usually that sports car is the 911 Carrera, but hey, it is the Porsche.

The company offers so much more, however. The redesigned 2014 Cayman S is more wonderful than ever and is nearly as rewarding as the top-dog Porsche.

The Cayman is waaaaay less expensive than a 911 but it also has far less power. If the car has a major flaw, the absence of raw power would be it. You just get the feeling it can handle so much more. Notice I said if it had a major flaw. It really does not. The Cayman S is a true sports car, pure and simple. Yes, more power would be OK, but don’t we always wish for more power regardless?

The Cayman is one great looking sports car. For those who want a 911 and can’t afford one, or simply wants something that turns heads – this is your ticket. My test car was in Superman blue with red leather interior. All that was missing was a yellow S on what I call the hood, but is actually the trunk. The Cayman is a mid-engine car. Let’s talk about that engine. The 3.4-liter flat six aluminum engine cranks out 325 horsepower with 273 pounds-feet of torque. This will get you to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds. Need to stop quick? That can be done in 107 feet from 60 miles per hour. It’s those ceramic brakes with bright red calipers that do the trick.

This engine, coupled with a slick shifting six-speed manual and a suspension conceived by the handling gods make this a drive to remember. The car looks for difficult roads to master. Acceleration, braking, handling and steering are just right. The car’s handling is about as balanced as you would like. Fling, sling or throw it into a curve and you are rewarded. Stab the brakes and your confidence is intact. Bust down a straightaway and you don’t really remember this car lacks raw power. The refined power it possesses is just fine.

Interior has been updated greatly
Interior has been updated greatly

I can’t say enough about this car’s handling. It sticks. There was some snow right before I got the car. Thankfully it disappeared and gave me the opportunity to do some serious driving. Didn’t really want to test that traction control on snow. Some will find the ride quality harsh. That would be all those who prefer luxury cars to sports cars. The Porsche Active Suspension Management has a comfort setting which keeps the car from swaying and leaning during regular or hard driving. I kept it in the sport setting, comfort be damned.

Did I mention the gas milage is great? You can achieve 28 mpg on the highway and 20 in the city.

Porsche’s reworking of the Cayman’s interior does not go unnoticed. The materials are first rate and the design looks more Porsche-like. No entry-level stuff to be found. One of several options was an infotainment system which features Burmester, a Berlin-based audiophile audio company. The sound is incredible as well it should be at $6,700.The red leather interior took some getting used to, especially with the blue exterior. Porsche is nothing but bold in its design and color palette.

So, what price Porsche? Umm. Well. OK, here we go. The base price of the Cayman S is $63,800.

The big ticket items included 14-way power seats ($2,300), Burmester infotainment ($6,730), Carrera red leather interior ($3,895) PASM ($1,795) 20-inch wheels ($1,560) and a sport Chrono package ($1,850).

Those options and a few other things thrown in brought the as-tested price to $88,745. That will give you change back from your $100,000 bill.That’s still far cheaper than a 911 (though I think the extra funds spent justify the bang you get for your buck).

This is without question a jewel of an automobile.What’s that line from Risky Business – “Porsche, there’s nothing like it.” Truer words have not been spoken.

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Lexus ES350 is still good entry level choice

2014 Lexus ES350
2014 Lexus ES350

Lexus is continuing its promise to offer more stylish automobiles to consumers. Each of it’s automobiles (and some trucks) have been touched up to have a family resemblance.

It’s that spindle grille. Some hate it but, hey, you now know a Lexus when you see one. The ES 350 has certainly benefited. It’s mostly been looked upon as a more upscale Toyota Camry which is a bit backwards. It’s the Camry that benefits from the ES, not the other way around. Still, Lexus has tried hard to make the ES much more and it has succeeded. It’s not just the grille, either. The ES 350 is a sports sedan that can hold it’s own with it’s European and American counterparts.

Yes, you notice the grille. It’s big, bold and controversial. I like it, especially on the F-Sport version. At the moment it looks nothing like a Camry (more on that later). The car is powered by a similar V6 engine that makes 268 horsepower and 248 pounds feet of torque. The six-speed transmission has settings for sport and economy and can be shifted manually. This combination doesn’t sound spectacular but this engine is enough to make the ES feel swift, especially in the sport mode. The transmission shifts crisply and unobtrusively. Downshifts happen quickly if you need to pass quickly.

I did call this a sports sedan which isn’t entirely false. You can drive the ES 350 aggressively. You can go from 0-60 miles per hour in about 6.5 seconds which is now about average for the class. Traction and stability control do help keep the car planted while the ABS will stop you straight even in emergencies. Where this car shines is its quiet, comfortable ride. It’s not pillowy old Buick, but it is relaxing.

ES 350 has spacious, well appointed interior
ES 350 has spacious, well appointed interior

Passengers and driver will enjoy the cabin, which is now available with bamboo trim instead of maple hardwood. It brightens things a bit and not as harsh on the environment (takes far less time to grow bamboo than a maple tree). Four people – four tall people – can fit in the ES with ease. Five people will be comfortable. Perforated leather trim is available with heated and cooled seats. The dash is attractively done in upscale materials. My test car had a big touch screen which controlled the audio and climate controls. There is also a mouse in the center console to control things. It’s not meant for use while driving which is probably why there’s also a touch screen.

There are many standard features too numerous to mention. My test car had a optional navigation package, luxury package, power sunshade, parking assist, power trunk opening and blind spot detection. The as-tested price was a little over $46,000. There’s lots to choose from in that price range but very few cars offer this kind of fit and finish and reliable reputation. The ES is still a car to put on your shopping list

Oh, about the Camry. The 2015 version will take many of the ES’s styling cues, including a version of the spindle grille. You will not get the Lexus warranty, however.

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Toyota gives Corolla needed youthful infusion

When Toyota took the wraps off of the 2014 Corolla some time ago there should have been a collective gasp. Were our eyes playing tricks on us or were we seeing something, well, stylish and youngish? Yes, we did and do see such. The boxy, yet dependable Corolla has been transformed into something that fits into this century. It’s stylish (at least for a Corolla) and drives far better than any recent Corolla.

2014 Toyota Corolla
2014 Toyota Corolla

The exterior of shape of the Corolla is now more slippery with a grill reminiscent of the current Avalon, sans chrome, replaced by a black matte finish. Few may find it odd, but it is at least forward looking. The interior is far more roomy, especially the back seat. Three adults can fit comfortably, but this is not Camry roomy. The dash has been reworked with an upscale look. There is plastic but with a combination of soft and shiny surfaces. It’s black but not drab. Crisp lines and a center stack that houses the audio and climate controls make this an excellent redo.

The engine is a 1.8-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder hooked to a continuously variable transmission. It makes 140 horsepower with 126 pounds-feet of torque. That’s not enough to make your blood boil with excitement but your real appreciation for this engine comes from being able to pass many gas stations. The tank size is an OK 13.2 gallons but you can get an average of 35 miles per gallon. Yep. City milage is 30 with highway coming in at 42. That’s without a hybrid engine. If this isn’t best in class its got to be close.

The engine works well, but as with all CVTs, this car is tuned more for sipping fuel. That’s not to say Toyota hasn’t worked on the chassis. Front and rear sway bars, traction and stability controls and a good set of brakes raise this car several ticks above basic transportation. The ride is very comfortable but the car doesn’t bounce around like it’s at sea. The Corolla may lack some of the spice of other cars in it’s class but the refinement and build quality may be the best. Despite some recall problems, Toyota still makes a fine car.

Dash is more upscale
Dash is more upscale

My test vehicle was a standard equipped LE Eco model. With no options, the car can be had for $19,510. That gives you air, power package, heated mirrors, cruise control, ABS, traction control, stability control, auto down driver’s window, LED low-beam headlamps, rear headrests and keyless entry. Not a bad haul for less than 20 grand The Corolla has placed itself back on the list of cars to be recommended. You can push the price into the mid 20s with touch screen infotainment center, sunroof and the like if you want. Still, as is, this LE Eco is good as is.

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