QX50 crossover keeps Infiniti in the game, begs for update

2016 Infiniti QX50
2016 Infiniti QX50

Infiniti has tried hard to get its mojo back.
Introduced the same year as Lexus, the company bolted on the scene with the Q45, a stunning piece that gave Jaguar a serious challenge. It hasn’t had a big sedan that adventurous since, probably because it’s more concerned with trucks and crossovers.
That’s not a big problem since the company’s crossovers and trucks are pretty good.
The QX50 is one of those crossovers. It started as the FX35 back in 2008 and looks pretty much the same. As a 2016 it has gained more backseat room – a generous 4.3 inches – and a few cosmetic changes.
What is carried over is the glorious V6. The engine’s 325 horsepower makes this handsome crossover feel like a sport’s car. Put your foot in the accelerator and you get rewarded with an adrenaline rush. the QX50 scoots. The rear wheel driven vehicle pushes itself around corners with authority. Push a little harder and the QX starts eating up pavement with a quickness. The brakes scrub off speed quickly and the steering is spot on. Infiniti’s knack for building something interesting to drive is in tact.
The ride is surprisingly comfortable considering the vehicle’s sporting prowess. It’s taught, but not jittery. Really rough pavement may upset things, but it never seemed out matched.
The QX50’s star begins to dim once you park. The interior could use a complete redo. The look is still luxury, just not as up to date. Everything feels expensive, but a little dated. The stitching on the leather hood shrouding the gauges is a nice touch.

Understated luxury yet still functional dash
Understated luxury yet still functional dash

The Qx’s best feature isn the engine, which is also its worst. It is powerful, but thirsty. Twenty miles per gallon overall is the best you will get. Even Infiniti says you will spend $3,500 more in fuel over five years than if you bought something similar from another company. Also, the 118 cubic foot trunk doesn’t hold much.
At $34,450, the QX50 isn’t too expensive, if you like the base model. Infiniti offers a bunch of packages to boost your equipment, but that’s not cheap. My test vehicle had technology, premium, premium plus and deluxe touring packages. it also had illuminated kick plates.
All those packages gave the vehicle everything except all-wheel-drive and rear-seat entertainment.
The price jumped as well. With destination, the as-tested price was $43,535. To be fair, that included premium equipment that included navigation, Bose stereo, smart cruise control, 19-inch wheels, wood accents, leather seating surfaces, lane departure warning, adaptive front lighting and Sirius/XM.
There are Acuras, BMWs and Lexi for that price, more or less, and several domestics. The BMW will out drive it and the Acura can haul more stuff. Still, he Infiniti offers a strong engine, good looks and quality craftsmanship. it deserves a very hard look.


Land Rover LR4 handles any terrain

2016 Land Rover LR4

I am fond of Land Rovers. The British really know how to build a luxury SUV.
But why would I buy a $100,000 vehicle to take it bashing through the woods? A dent in something this good looking would be a pity.
Yeah, I know, you can say the same about almost any other SUV of today. Heck, even pickup trucks cost a lot and look good as well.
OK, so do not buy the Range Rover. You can always step down to the Land Rover LR4. It’s more truck looking and it doesn’t cost a hundred grand.
Nope, the LR4 starts at a more modest $50,400 base.
Ummm, yeah, right.
Still, It’s a fine truck that is designed to go where only angels dare to walk. It’s also designed to take you through this treacherous territory in style.
I’ve always liked the look of the LR4 (which is called Discovery in the rest of the world). It’s tall, which gives it tremendous headroom. It also looks like something that can handle the outback with no problem.
The interior isn’t as spectacular as the Range Rover. It doesn’t have nearly the switchgear as its big sister, but I don’t think you will be left wanting. The materials feel good and solid – as should be so in a vehicle in this price range. Your gear selector is a round knob that rises from a flat position when you start the car. I think all Jags and Land Rovers have this feature.

The view is panoramic and the interior has been tweaked.
The view is panoramic and the interior has been tweaked.

There is plenty of room for seven adults. Yes, the third seat is comfy. Fold it and you have 42 cubic feet of storage. There is also a roof rack for more stuff.
The 2016 LR4 comes with a very potent supercharged V6 which replaces an even more potent V8. That engine was heavy and dated so the lighter V6 saved some weight and added some fuel efficiency. Not a whole lot of economy is gained, however. The LR4 still weighs about 3 tons. Once you pack on all that four-wheel drive stuff it’s hard to get the weight off. The V6 makes 340 horsepower with 322 pounds-feet of torque. It will move the LR4 sufficiently quick, but a weight loss would probably give this thing some sweet moves.
The transmission is an eight-speed unit that works well with the engine. It never lagged and it shifted crisply.
On the highway I don’t find fault in the LR4’s ride. Yeah, you can tell it’s more of a truck but a well sorted out truck. Its standard air suspension helps absorb bumps as well as offering adjustable ground clearance. This is a tall vehicle but I never noticed a lot of swaying about.
If I wanted, I could have taken the LR4 rock climbing. The adjustable suspension has a crawl setting that can take you just about anywhere. If you want that kind of ability, it’s available in the heavy duty package with includes a two-speed transfer case, locking rear differential and a full-size spare tire on an alloy wheel.
My test vehicle was an HSE LUX version. That alone adds $10,200 to the bottom line. It also adds a plethora of equipment that includes climate control system, navigation system, adaptive cruise control, 360 degree backup camera, blind-spot detection system, 17-speaker system and upgraded leather seats. A Black Design package includes 20-inch black wheel, grille, door handles, mirrors and other trim.A suite of Apps and a two package round out the options.
The as-tested price of my HSE LUV was $68,270 which included destination.
Yes, I like this vehicle a lot. If I owned it I might even take it through some rough terrain. Maybe. That Fuji White paint job looks awfully good.

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Murano gets bolder styling, better ride and handling

2015 Nissan Murano
2015 Nissan Murano

Nissan continues to make its SUV and crossover lineup interesting. It isn’t afraid to push the styling envelope which is seen on the restyled 2015 Murano. A little bigger, bolder and more fuel efficient than the model it replaces, this new Murano may be all the SUV you need.
I say SUV but I think the proper term is crossover since this is more car than truck. Oh, it will handle the truck stuff you throw at it, but the comfort and creature features this thing comes with tells you it does double duty.
The 260 horsepower V6 and continuously variable transmission are virtually unchanged from last year. Yet, this vehicle gets better gas milage than the old one. It’s also a tad bigger for people and cargo.

Stylish, spacious interior
Stylish, spacious interior

What’s new is the look of the Murano. The lines are bolder and the grille is far more aggressive. The roofline drops off dramatically in the back, but doesn’t effect the rear passenger headroom much. There are sharp, crisp lines near the waist and bulges around the fenders. It is mean but not menacing, powerful, but still pretty.
The interior of the Murano is striking. The materials feel high quality and look the part. Front and rear outboard passengers get the company’s Zero Gravity seats. They are quite comfortable and offer support on long trips. The driver and passenger sets are power operated. Leather covers all seats. The rear bench is a 60/40 split design in case you need to carry a little more cargo than people. There is plenty of room for five people and a lot of their stuff.
There is a lot of standard equipment. Kudos to Nissan for keeping the CD player despite the vehicle’s ability to steam music through apps and Bluetooth. We old-timers still enjoy still enjoy a good CD every now and then. The Bose unit has two subwoofers but does not sacrifice the highs. I’m liking HD radio the more I listen. There is also Sirius/XM.
Nissan also includes cruise control, heated front seats, voice recognition for hands-free operation of navigation and radio, ABS, blindspot detection, lane departure, traction control and dual zone climate controls. This SL model has about all you need.
Optional equipment includes a technology package with a huge sunroof, intelligent cruise control and predictive forward collision warning.
You could forget to drive this thing because of all the gadgets to play with. You would miss a treat. The Murano handles very well under a variety of circumstances. It’s not as sporty as it was but you won’t pine for last year’s model. If you want to get a little aggressive you can and the vehicle will not loose composure. Steering feels nicely weighted and braking is good for the class.
Without question it is comfortable. The ride is smooth and quiet. If your purpose is to carry your passengers in a very pleasing and relaxing manner, you’ve found the vehicle you need. The Murano doesn’t pitch around or float. It’s a firm but comfortable ride that will please nearly everyone that rides.
The base price of the Murano SL is $36,950. With options and destination the as-tested price was $40,095.
You can keep going if you want the platinum edition and all-wheel drive, but the SL will be enough for most – even without the tech package. There’s stiff competition from the big three and all the other Asian brands, but the Murano will hold its own. This needs a serious look.

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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 years.audi-q7-4.2-tdi-06

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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Acura’s RLX moves company in right direction

2014 Acura RLX
2014 Acura RLX

Acura used to strike fear in the hearts of luxury car makers. This upstart Japanese firm offered two cars which were done so well that others were trying to catch up.

Yes, the entry-level Integra and the “near luxury” Legend were the talk. I mean the talk. Many people wanted them, especially the Legend, a car which was good as anything produced in Germany or England.

Acura lost some of its mojo in 1996 when the Legend was replaced by the RL, a good car but nothing that shook the automotive industry. The company has toyed with the idea of bigger sedan with a V8 but has yet to produce the car and the RL remains the flagship.

Acura may one day do a V8 sedan but for now a third generation RL – the best one yet – is doing the company proud as the flagship.

The exterior is a mix of European and Japanese flavor. There’s some BMW five series in the rear quarters which leads to a very tailored trunk area. The front is a more stylized version of last year’s grille. The LED ringed headlamps add a great deal of flair.

The RLX isn’t a radical departure from the RL in size but there seems to be more interior space. Five will fit comfortably in the somewhat lavishly appointed cabin that features much wood and metal. RL owners could tell the change immediately.

The dash has been reworked to be more functional and visually appealing. My car was equipped with the Advance package which gives you everything. There are four other packages but not one stand alone option.

Dual screens share info
Dual screens share info

The dash has an 7-inch screen when displays the navigation while an 8-inch screen directly under it works with the climate and entertainment info. Speaking of entertainment, Krell replaces the already suburb ELS stereo system. I didn’t think that could get any better but I was wrong. This ol’ school company has found new life in the RLX. It ranks with the best original equipment systems offered.

The Advance Package also gives you features such as lane departure warning, collision avoidance, front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control.

The RLX is powered by a familiar V6 that makes 310 horsepower. It delivers very good gas milage (31 on highway and 20 in the city) which now seems to be the big selling point of every car. For those who like to get aggressive, the V6 does offer good acceleration but not top of class. The rear wheel steering allows you to corner with confidence and the rest of the steering is really spot on.

For those who’ve waited, an all wheel drive version with a 370 horsepower hybrid engine is close to release. That may prove to be a very competent sports sedan. No word on cost or other specs.

Driving the RLX is fairly pleasurable. You will notice bumps and thumps from time to time with the 19-inch wheel package but for me it wasn’t that intrusive. I appreciated the firm ride and I could not have asked for a more quite car. The seats were comfortable and the handling was what I expected, good but not stellar.

2014 Acura RLX
2014 Acura RLX

I’m still waiting for Acura to wow me again, to knock me off my feet with something that reminds me of when the company got into the game. This isn’t it, but you will not hear loud complaints. I like the RLX just fine and so far it seems that Acura buyers like it as well. There’s a great deal of competition in the $55,000 range. Looks like the RLX has the goods to hold its own.

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Caddy’s ATS is one special sports sedan

Well, well, what’s this? Cadillac makes a serious push into the luxury compact sedan segment.

Yes, that’s right. If you haven’t heard, the ATS is the real deal. It’s done so right that Audi, BMW Lexus and Infiniti need to take notice.

The ATS is so strong it was voted automobile of the year at the North American Auto show a few months back. After sampling a couple of these beauties I have to say the folks in Detroit got it right.

The ATS is a striking design in its interior and exterior execution. The car’s front is exceptionally aggressive, with a massive grille, sleek headlamps and a long, slopped hood. The body is a wicked wedge shape that flows into a square back that’s neatly finished.

2013 Cadillac ATS
2013 Cadillac ATS

The interior is elegant and ultra modern. The gauge cluster is bright and can be configured to display several different functions. The steering wheel has a plethora of buttons which duplicate controls from the center stack. It’s also heated.

Let’s talk about that center stack. Both cars I drove had the CUE system (Cadillac User Experience). It replaces most of the car’s function buttons with a touch screen that acts like a tablet. It responds to swipes, pinches, pokes and any other thing you do to an iPad or Surface. Not a bad idea because many people have such devices, but the response time is a tad slow and, well, I prefer buttons. In time I think the system will be fine.

The rest of the interior is full of wood, metal and copious amounts of leather crafted as well as any of the competition. Space is a premium, but you can fit five adults in relative comfort. It would be best that each likes the other a lot, especially in the rear.

All occupants will appreciate the car’s driving dynamics. Steering, handling and braking are excellent. You feel this car and you love what it’s doing.

If you opt for the turbocharged four cylinder engine you’ll the car feels a bit lighter on its feet. The 272 horsepower engine makes the car seem to react quicker – as if its had a few energy drinks.

Go for the six-cylinder performance model and the car feels completely different. Power is increased to 321 horses and torque jumps to 274 pounds-feet. The car feels more planted and bullish. The car’s view on life seems to be it’s a hammer and the rest of the world’s a nail. It’s not brutish, just beastly.

A six-speed transmission is mated to either engine. It slices through its gears with precision and finesse. You can shift manually, but it does its job so well that you may never bother sampling the option.

The rear is nicely finished
The rear is nicely finished

Speaking of options, both models were well equipped. The CUE system, navigation, Bose surround audio, Sirius and HD radio, power package, heated steering wheel, anti lock brakes, remote start, head-up display and premium paint jobs are part of a long list of standard and optional equipment.

The biggest difference between the two cars is that the six-cylinder was all-wheel drive and the turbo was rear-wheel. Both cars were north of $50,000, which is about average with the competition. The Caddy does seem to deliver more bang for the buck and it is one of the most handsome cars on the road. I don’t have a preference over engines. The turbo is more fuel efficient, but uses premium gas. Ironically, the V-6 can get by on regular.

The ATS is certainly something Cadillac should be proud. This car puts the company squarely back in the game, possibly even ahead of the game. All other makes have reason to rethink current and coming product.

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Infiniti JX35 SUV is well crafted, balanced effort

2013 Infiniti JX35
2013 Infiniti JX35

The luxury SUV market is saturated with good product. Big behemoths filled with leather, wood, fancy entertainment systems and big engines that whisk you down the road with very little fanfare.

So how do you make your product stand out among the crowd? Add a bit more polish, little more leather, more horsepower? That works, but what works even better is to make the overall package feel so integrated and satisfying that, well,  just works.

That’s what Infiniti has done with the JX35. It also helps that it doesn’t look like anything else.

That may be the most controversial element of the JX35 – the styling. Some have scoffed at its crossover looks. The JX is slimmer than most SUVs and looks a bit longer. It’s not quite mini van proportions but certainly not a wide body. Well, it is technically a crossover, sitting on a modified Nissan Murano platform.

It certainly is roomy. The JX seats seven comfortably. The middle and rear row of seats recline. The second row will recline an impressive six inches. Getting in the rear is easier than most vehicles of this type and the room is good for medium to tall folks.

The interior is lavish, especially if you doll the thing up with almost every option. The pillowy leather seats are comfy and can be heated and cooled in front and middle. The front seats feel great and give you a great view. The dash is modern and appealing with some touches from the M sedan. The video screens in the front headrests are not only cool, but the picture is really sharp.

Cabin is roomy
Cabin is roomy

There is a lot more to be desired in the JX. Wood, leather and metal are used in such an artistic manner that it nearly puts other Infiniti’s to shame. There is much standard equipment but options will give you nearly the kitchen sink.

Some may be disappointed with the JX’s performance. The engine is a a 3.5-liter V6 which produces 265 and 248 pounds-feet of torque. That is enough to get the slippery vehicle to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds. There are plenty of V8 powered vehicles that can zip past the JX but it will at least get better fuel economy while getting beaten. I didn’t find the performance sluggish, but the continuously variable transmission wasn’t perfect. It could be set to react like a regular gearbox but a genuine 7-speed transmission would be neat.

Dash borrows from M sedan
Dash borrows from M sedan

The JX’s handling abilities were OK, but it’s ride quality was exceptional. There is a slight trade off – it could handle better if the suspension wasn’t so soft – but for me it feels right. I like being carried about in limo style sometimes.

Once past the middling performance you have to deal with the options. They are plentiful, but vexing. Some packages require other packages, which may not be compatible with the package you really want. Warning: Once you experience this thing nearly optioned out, it will be hard to want something less. Try a couple of vehicles with lesser equipment before going for the top dog.

One of the more interesting options is lane departure warning and prevention. Just as a number of vehicles this feature warns if you cross over into the next lane. Unlike other vehicles the JX will apply the brakes. It does the same in the blind spot warning and intervention option. If it senses a car (or person, I think) while backing up you get a warning and the brakes.

My vehicle had five packages (technology, theatre, deluxe touring, premium and tow) and roof rails which totaled nearly $14,000.

My $40,450 vehicle mushroomed to $54,700 which included destination.

Yes, that’s on the expensive side but your money will be well spent. This is a rolling tour de force of technology and luxury that will please the seven folks you carry beyond words.


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Stealthy Maxima still Nissan’s top offering

Nissan Maxima

I once thought Nissan should drop the Maxima. What’s the point? The Altima is nearly the same size, is cheaper and is nearly identical in look.

So I thought.

I changed my mind when I drove a Maxima recently. The Altima is a very good family sedan. The Maxima is a nearly great four door sports car.

Nissan still markets the Maxima as such. The 4DSC stickers are still on the rear windows, nearly hidden though. I guess to keep the car’s stealth demeanor.

Once you press the gas pedal the stealth attitude disappears. The Maxima snaps to life with brisk take off and just a hint of torque steer. The steering is light and precise and the chassis seems willing to take whatever you want to give.

Take it on the highway and the car is whisper quiet. It will eat up a great deal of pavement quickly. You can get to 60 mph in a scant 6.2 seconds, which will just about dust every entry level luxury sedan out there. Those 290 horses are ready to run. Find stretches of road which switch from straight to curvy and the Maxima will put a big grin on your face. Braking, steering, accelerating – the Maxima does all this adroitly while delivering 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway.

Not bad for something that passes itself off as a near luxury sedan. Heck, It would be easy to throw the Maxima into the Infiniti mix were it not for the delicious G37. It’s about the size of a Maxima but is built better, is driven by its rear wheels and has a longer warranty.

This may be the Maxima’s biggest problem – its identity. What is it, really? Should it be an Infiniti or should it stay Nissan’s top offering? It certainly seems it could handle both.

OK, back to reality. This is a Nissan, no question. Infiniti has what it needs. Nissan needs this comely sedan, if nothing else to remind us why so many people bought Nissans in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Maxima’s and Z cars gave the company its heritage as well as those fuel-frugal Sentras. The Maxima is fine where it is.

Spacious interior a plus for Maxima

It’s still a looker. The wide body and sculpted fenders make the car look fast. The interior is tasteful and offers luxury car touches. The top Maxima, the SV, starts at $34,450. There is a plethora of standard equipment, including the venerable 3.5-liter V6, but my test car was loaded to the gills with extra stuff. The Monitor package gives you a lovely 7-inch color touch screen with a backup camera and iPod connectivity. The Sports package adds the 19-inch smoke grey wheels, firmer suspension, rear bucket seats, driver’s side seat memory, heated leather steering wheel, paddle shifters and heated leather seats. The Sport Technology package adds voice activated navigation and XM radio with data services.

Throw all that into your calculator and you get an as-tested price of $40,055. You can get into many entry level cars from almost every big luxury name plate at that price. True, but that’s not stopping the Maxima from being worth this cash if that’s what you are looking for.


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Ford bullish on 2013 Taurus restyle, options

2013 Taurus Limited AWD

Ford set the automotive industry on its collective ear when it introduced the 1986 Taurus sedan in late 1985.

The chiefs at the other car companies dismissed it as being too radical and the public wouldn’t go for it. Wrong. It was a huge hit, so much so that others tried to follow too quickly and came up with messes and misses.

By the 2000s every company had gotten it right and the Taurus was an afterthought. It was clunky, chunky and oh so not funky anymore.

Not to worry. Ford revamped the sedan some years ago, moving it from midsize to full-size and the Taurus is back on buyer’s radar.

The 2013 Taurus has been tweaked with several goodies to make it more desirable.

If you want fuel efficiency go for the new turbo four-cylinder with 225 horses and 250 pounds feet of torque. That will get you 31 miles per gallon on the highway.

Want more oomph? The SHO has 365 horses and 350 lbs-feet of torque.

Or you could go with my test car, the all wheel drive limited with the 3.5-liter V6 which has 290 hp and 255 ft-lbs of torque. That’s the engine most will get and it’s a good one. It’s smooth and efficient and hooked to an exhaust system that sounds great. It returns 18 mpg city and 26 on the highway. Not bad numbers for a large car.

The AWD system, the engine and the six-speed transmission work well together. The car does, at times, feel as big as it is. Ford has taken care most of the problems this year, keeping the car from lumbering around drifting. The SHO kills even more of that feeling, but the limited is still all most will ever need.

The exterior has a new grill, front and rear fenders and taillights. The grill is larger with smaller slats. Wheels are new as well. The overall look is more grown up and handsome.

Upgrades to the cabin are welcomed, thank you

The cabin has been spruced with better looking and feeling materials. The door handles, center console and dash are more elegant, while the seats are really comfortable and cool – literally. The front seats are heated and cooled.

There’s much tech. The Ford MyTouch system has been improved greatly, though it can still be tricky. I’m still sold on the SYNC system which lets you voice command your way through the nicely done infotainment system. An optional package gives you blind-spot warning, cross traffic warning and adaptive cruise control with pre-collision warning. The ubiquitous backup camera is standard on the limited.

On the highway the Taurus proves to be a champ at offering a comfortable and compliant ride. It doesn’t float, but there is the feel of luxury. The V6 offers good passing power and will move you down the highway with authority. Again, that big-as-I-am feeling creeps in from time to time, but it doesn’t spoil the party.

Would I buy a new Taurus? If I needed this much space, sure. It’s a good-looking, well rounded sedan that will seat five and hold all the luggage on a trip (there’s 15 cubic feet of trunk space). If you need more space and have fewer passenger, the 60/40 split rear bench gives you even more options. It’s stylish but not short on substance.

The Taurus limited starts at $34,850. With the mountain of options added my test car, finished in a nifty kodiak brown with charcoal leather interior, was tested at $41,135.

That’s a little on the hefty side but you can trim some of the options or step down to the SEL if you don’t need AWD. If this is in your ballpark, go for it. The Taurus is well done.





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Chrysler 300: imported from Detroit and proud


2012 Chrysler 300

When you have something as popular as Chrysler’s 300 sedan and you need to make changes but don’t want to mess up a good thing what do you do?

You do exactly what chief designer Ralph Giles and company did – fix the car’s interior and freshen the exterior so that it’s recognizable but better.

Give Mr. Giles a medal for restraint and his use of simple elegance. The 300 has only gotten better looking. It no longer looks like a poor man’s Bentley, but an upscale American luxury sedan. I think that’s a good thing these days. The car’s grille is more integrated into the fascia and those LED headlights add a bit more bling. The wide stance, big ol’ wheels and limo-looking proportions make this car look good on the road.

Well, it’s always looked good on the road, but not so good looking inside. Let’s face it, the last 300 had some cheap plastic and really fake wood which didn’t fit with the rest of the vehicle. That’s been banished and replaced by a gorgeous dash and finely finished trimmings. This thing is now a delight. The seats, even covered in cloth are ooooh so comfy, but supportive at the same time.

Back to that dash. The focal point is a big LCD screen that controls or displays most of the car’s functions. Above that screen is an analog clock that looks as if it was plucked from a jewelry store. The screen is touch sensitive or you can control the functions by voice. The gauges glow with an icky but serene blue hue. The tach and speedometer are under a cowl with helps to block out the sunlight. The fit and finish is excellent and the execution is nearly flawless.

The dash has been given the royal treatment

The most desirable version of the 300 is the SRT8 which gets the vaunted hemi engine. While still great, you don’t get short changed by picking the V6 which has been messaged and tweaked to 292 horses. Heck, who needs a V8, especially when this V6 can get 31miles per gallon on the highway.

My test car had the optional eight (8) speed transmission which is a wonder in itself. Shifts are barely felt and it helps to push this baby down the road with aplomb.

Yes, the chassis has been improved and yes, the chassis is still based on Mercedes bits  and pieces. If you were satisfied with last year’s 300, this year’s will not disappoint.

Faults, complaints? None that I can think of. The base car provides a smooth ride, brisk acceleration and handling that belies a car of this size. The high waistline and squinty windows may be a bit much, but not enough to scream about.

Me like. Me like a great deal.

The base 300 starts at $27,170 and comes with loads of stuff which includes traction and stability control, anti lock brakes, dual zone climate, cruise, multifunction steering wheel with tilt, power package, illuminated cub holders, 60/40 split rear seat, Uconnect touch screen, satellite radio, heated power mirrors and iPod connectivity.

The only options were the eight speed transmission ($1,000) and voice control ($295).

A $1,000 discount was given to replace the 8.4-inch touch screen with a 4.3 version due to early production shortages.

Factor in $825 for destination and the as tested price came to $28,290 – a relative steal. This new 300 should have been the car Eminem was driving in the “imported from Detroit” commercial. This is the new face of Chrysler. Ralph, you’ve got another winner.


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