2016 Volkswagen Jetta

 

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Sometimes you just got to take the high road and make the decision to rent a car for that long weekend road trip to keep the miles of your reliable, but aging, cars. We’ve had to do this a few times…I say “had to” but it’s a decision, not a necessity.

The scary part is not knowing exactly what you’re gonna get (insert famous movie line). This is a big reason to always be nice to the people you deal with and the businesses you patronize. For our most recent trip, the counter girl offered a Nissan Versa. Nothing wrong with that except I have a real issue with CVTs (continuously variable transmission). So I kindly begged for something other than the small Nissan and she graciously offered a Volkswagen Jetta.

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We drove a previous generation Jetta quite a few years ago and remember loving the way it drove and how comfortable it was.

This generation is even better.

The Jetta I drove was comfortable, with good power and better handling than previous gens, let alone a lot of cars out there in the Jetta’s class. It was rock-solid on the highway and took corners well.

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Engine-wise, our car had the new 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four cylinder that replaces the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated I4 from the 2015 model. For a base engine it was peppy and our mileage numbers were phenomenal! Peak horsepower and torque for the 1.4T is 150 and 184 respectively and we got a high of 40 miles per gallon on one leg of our journey and mid to high 30s the rest of the time. The six-speed automatic was spot on and we never felt like it was hunting for gears like some other high gear count transmissions seem to do.

Since it was last redesigned for the 2015 model year, the 2016 Jetta we drove was still fresh and sleek, with angled and angry-looking headlights split by a large VW crest in the grill. Out back is the familiar multifaceted VW brake lights separated, again, by a large VW crest. With character lines running down the sides from front to back bookended by fully integrated front and rear bumpers, Jetta eschews class and elegance in the form of a solid family sedan.

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The interior is Euro-comfy with well-bolstered seats, a clean and usable center stack and a busy yet very readable instrument cluster. Those seats, though! Cloth seats with heating! It’s a small thing but more car makers should make this happen!

The center stack features some new awesomeness: a 6.3-inch touchscreen with VW’s Car-Net App-Connect that supports all three available connected car systems: Apple CarPlay®, Google Android Auto™ and MirrorLink® as well as supporting a rear-view camera. That camera got really wet and almost unusable during a heavy rain. Maybe some Rain-X would have helped.

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Android Auto was difficult to get going. Everything seemed ready to go but there was just no connection between the phone and the car. After a couple of Google searches, we changed the USB cable it worked very nicely. The integration is awesome and this solution makes so much sense as your phone technology advances much faster than can car technology. The big drawback we found with Android Auto, or Apple Car I assume as well, is that the USB port on our car did not have enough power to charge the phone we were using (Samsung Galaxy S6) while using Android Auto. We kept getting a low charge current error on the phone when connecting. The battery showed charging but the phone was losing charge slowly rather than adding charge. Not a good thing if you like the service but you’ve let your battery run down. The solution we found was to start with a fully charged phone. That seemed to negate the issue for some reason.

One other odd thing was the steering wheel shape. It was mostly like a triangle, with the point running around the wheel so that it faces the driver. It hit my carpal tunnel area, making it a little uncomfortable to hold for longer than a few minutes, let alone an eight-hour drive.

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One last thing to praise is the large trunk. There was ample room for the three bags we took on the trip, leaving plenty of space for all the goodies one collects when traveling.

Expect low- to mid-twenties for a decently optioned model. Or, just look for the VW lease sales events and pick one up on the cheap!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

…See You Down The Road!

 

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2016 FIAT 500 Abarth

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The FIAT 500 is a small car with a big heart. That shows in its interior accommodations, at least in the front seats, as well as its fun-to-drive ratio. Like most other automakers who are looking to appeal to more customers on all levels, FIAT now (since the 2015 model year) offers a six-speed automatic transmission on the performance-oriented Abarth model, making the car accessible to more people than just high performance seeking enthusiasts.

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The trade off with having the automatic is a loss of 3 horsepower but a gain of 13 lb.-ft. of torque. What that means in the real world is that you’re really not going to feel a difference between the two versions. The nice thing is that the turbo should stay spooled up so that it should stay in the power band longer, giving the car more oomph (technical term).

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For such a small car, the 500 Abarth handles rougher roads easily without a harsh ride. Also, the peppy engine makes getting around town fast and easy. Since I didn’t get a chance to take the 500 Abarth out on the open road I will not even speculate on how it handles on the interstate, except to say that small cars like this usually feel very skittish at highway speeds and with such a short wheelbase expect a lot of porpoising over road undulations and expansion joints.

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For 2016, the high end Abarth gets FCA’s UConnect system 5.0 which sports a 5-inch touch screen radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and integrated voice command to control it all. Couple that with the available BeatsAudio 368-watt six-speaker/subwoofer and DSP system and you’ve got one great-sounding ride with tunes from coast to coast.

For 2016, the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio

There’s also a bunch of high-tech safety features to keep you safe and on the road. Some of the more than 35 safety and security features include seven standard airbags (including full-length side-curtain air bags, standard seat-mounted side pelvic-thorax air bags and even one for the driver’s knee) and an Abarth-tuned three-mode Electronic Stability Control.

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The FIAT 500 Abarth starts just over $22,500 and goes up from there but you can easily keep it under $30k if you watch your options. Speaking of which, our test vehicle had a few options like that Aisin six-speed automatic transmission ($1350); premium leather-trimmed bucket seats ($1200); premium Italian stripe package by Mopar ($515); BeatsAudio ($700); and the comfort/convenience group ($975) and it was just under $28k! Drive the manual off the lot and you can see how much you’ll save ($1350) but you’ll also have so much more fun!

Tesla Model S 85 Review

model-s-photo-gallery-11Tesla. The name conjures up the great electricity race of the late 19th century where  Nikola Tesla and Edison fought over two great ways to generate and consume electricity, which are still in use today. Tesla was also an inventor of many things electric- and radio-based. He lived a good life off his patents until his death in 1943.

Today Tesla is a small car company taking after its namesake by building electric-only cars that have become viable and even sexy, with curves and power and handling and high technology.

The Tesla car company story began with the Roadster (2008-2012), a Lotus-based two-seater that was purported to go 245 on a single charge. One guy even made it across the United States in one! Albeit kind of slowly by gasoline car standards.

model-s-photo-gallery-10Starting in 2012 Tesla began making the Model S, a sedan variant with a bigger battery, more room (four seats and plenty of storage) and a style that puts it above many of the luxury brands out there. It’s long and swoopy and  looks great from every angle.

Powering the Model S is two different  battery sizes: a 60 kWh battery good for 208 miles and an 85 kWh battery that should eke out 265 miles per EPA ratings. There’s no transmission on the model S, just a reduction gear. Luckily, it doesn’t affect how the Model S runs; expect a top speed of 120 to 130 depending on the battery and which variant you choose. More on that in a bit

Horsepower ratings across all three Model S variants are respectable considering the league of competition in this class. The base Model S 65 gets a 302 horsepower motor good for 0-60 in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 120 miles per hour. There are two versions of the Model S 85, the regular variant (362 HP, 5.4 seconds 0-60 and 125 MPH top speed) and the Model S P85+ (416 HP, 4.2 seconds to 60 mph and 130 mph top speed). We drove the Model S 85 and it felt as powerful as it should have.

model-s-photo-gallery-14Inside is an opulent setting for five adults (plus two kiddos with the optional rear-facing jump seat in the hatch the features five-point seat belts no less) with leather surfaces and soft touch materials at every point. The instrument panel is one big LCD that is configurable and easily readable. The center stack, where the radio and climate controls are in most cars, is another LCD panel…a rather large one that is the place for every control, whether changing the radio station, the interior temperature or even surfing the Web. Full specs can be found here.

2014-07-20 14.52.05Driving a Model S is a rare treat and a surreal experience since there is no key nor start/stop button nor any noise letting you know the car is ready to drive.  Once you get in, all you do is select a gear, reverse or drive, and go. Simple as that.

Once you’re moving, the Model S drives like any car on the road today. The only thing that seems different is the lack of engine noise and lack of transmission shift points. Power delivery is instant and forceful when you push the pedal to the floor, like any 300-400 horsepower car should do. Cornering is also a strong suit with the Model S, as it should be in this price range. It is truly motoring at its finest.

Prices start at $69,900.00 for the 60, $79,900.00 for the 85 and $93,400.00 for the P85+, none of which include the $7500 federal tax credit nor any upgrades like $2500 for a panoramic glass roof or $4500 for 21-inch “turbine” wheels or $1500 for leather (or upgrade to sport seats for another grand). THere are other options like the tech package ($3750), dual chargers ($1500) and many others! If you max out your Model S, as most Americans would love to do, expect a final price of almost $125,000.00!

The bottom line is this: The Tesla Model S is a cool vehicle with awesome tech features, a striking profile, drop dead gorgeous looks and exclusivity. The only drawback is the “limited” driving range. It’s only a matter of time before more electric cars hit the mainstream, as long as their range keeps improving and costs keep coming down. The exception is Tesla. HIgh-end cars are always a bit eccentric and that is truly something to revel in.

 

On a side note, There is no key for the Model S. You get a fob shaped like the car that activates the door handles when you walk up to it. Coolest tech we’ve seen in a while!

 

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And here is the actual car we drove, in it’s home, getting charged up:

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And some pics of the center screen and the rear hatch!

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2013 Chrysler 200

2013 Chrysler 200Drove a Chrysler 200 over the weekend and liked it. I was surprised at the power from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the decent fuel economy (I got 32 miles per gallon on one stretch).

What I didn’t care for was the lack of a vent setting in the HVAC controls. In some cars, you can just open the vent to get cool air into the cabin. Not the 200. You have to turn the HVAC on to get any air movement. And when you interior is black but the outside temperature isn’t hot, you need to either open the windows or turn on the air since with no air, the heat is terrible.

With 173 horses on tap, you won’t win many drag races, but driving on the highway is easy and comfortable. The four-speed automatic made it seem like the engine was turning too fast sometimes but mileage didn’t seem to suffer because of it.

2013.5 Chrysler 200 S Special EditionRide and handling were good at times, better once or twice and not so good on at least one occasion. Tuned for a soft, comfortable ride, rounding fast sweeping corners, like highway on ramps or connectors, and the 200 might bounce around a little, but never feels out of control. On faster, shorter corners, the 200 follows your line and feels confident and capable.

Starting at under $20,000 the 200 is a good car that will get you around in style and comfort.