Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Devon proves BMW does build excellent wagons too!

BMW is known for their big saloon cars and sports activity vehicles. Very little people know that BMW can also make a proper wagon. The 3 series touring is one of those rare vehicles that you'll either hate or love. It's practical, roomy and offers loads of versatility bundled up in one handsome package. But is this enough to lure the wagon hating U.S. buyers?

Likes: BMW road manners, fun to drive factor, minimalistic approach to the interior, nice roomy boot.

Dislikes: No turbo-diesel, can get expensive with options.

Performance: The 3-series only comes in one engine, it's a smooth 3-liter six-cylinder with 230hp. There's plenty of pull, and fuel economy is decent. Some may wish the 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder with 300hp, or turbo-diesel with 265hp were offered. But keep in mind, the next generation 3-series will arrive in the US in 2013. So maybe there will be a diesel offered in that variation.

Ride & Handling: The 3-series is a driver's car. Whether you choose all-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive is a mere matter of taste. The all-wheel-drive version is the more sensible of the two, but the rear wheel-drive is a real hoot to drive on twisty narrow roads. The 3-series touring has excellent body control, tenacious grip and communicative steering that feels precise.

Refinement: The 3 Series is a quiet car and makes long-distant driving comfortable. The six-cylinder engine operates smoothly, but a turbocharged engine will make the 3 a little more fun to drive. However, the engine it has is simply well made. So there really isn't much to complain about it. The suspension copes well even on some of the roughest surfaces, wind noise is well suppressed on the motorway.

Behind the wheel: BMW has a minimalistic approach to interior designs. It's luxurious looking, but it's not as flashy as an Audi. If you option for the iDrive system, you'll have a distracting and confusing to operate navigation system. It takes a little practice to get used. The driver seat is comfortable, and offers plenty of adjustment to get comfortable. The steering wheel adjust for reach and height as well.

Space & Practicality: Four passengers will fit in the cabin comfortably, a third person in the rear seat will be pushing it. The boot isn't as impressive as a Volkswagen Jetta wagon or Audi A4 Avant. However, you do get underfloor storage and a rear screen that opens separately from the tailgate.

Equipment: There's only two variations of the 3-series wagon. Both offer the same equipment. Only real difference is one  has rear-wheel-drive and the other has all-wheel-drive. You'll get keyless start, leather seats, climate control, rain sensing wipers and Bluetooth connectivity. If you stay away from the options list, you'll walk away with a nice 3-series wagon at a good price.

Buying & Owning: The 3-series wagon is more expensive than the Audi A4 Avant. However, the A4 Avant doesn't offer a six-cylinder like the 3-series and isn't as fun to drive either. In fact, the 3-series wagon will hold its value well. Resale value for BMWs are very strong, so your investments are well protected. The 3-series wagon is a rare find on the used market, so it enjoys strong residual value.

Quality & reliability: This car oozes class, everything feels solid and well constructed. The plastics feel sturdy and long lasting. We won't expect anything less from BMW in terms of reliability.

Safety & Security: The 3 Series scores well in safety. Twin front and side curtain airbags are standard. As well as run flat tires, stability control and emergency brake assist. Deadlocks, engine immobiliser make life harder for thieves. However, an alarm system is optional.

The 3-series wagon is a rare gem. It offers the same blend of performance and driving abilities as the sedan counterpart, but offers a little extra cargo carrying capacity. It's more fun to drive than an Audi A4 Avant, and makes the most sense compared to the BMW X3. If the turbo-diesel were offered on wagon, it would be even more desirable. But for now, you have all the characteristics of a BMW in a family friendly package.

Devon M 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Devon drives the Outlander Sport

Likes: Low running costs, roomy interior, priced well among rivals, stylish and practical.

Dislikes: CVT brings the buzz out of the engine, needs more power, not as sporty to drive as a Nissan Juke.

Compact crossovers are becoming all the rage. They're the same size as compact hatchbacks, but sit higher off the ground. The raised driving height allows for better vision all-round, and the compact size means they're urban friendly. Mitsubishi decided to jump into the game with the Outlander Sport. It's smaller and just as practical as the larger Outlander, but the price is cheaper. Will this be enough to lure buyers to the brand?

Performance: There's only one engine available with the Outlander-Sport. That's a 2-liter four-cylinder with 148hp. Performance is decent around town, but you'll struggle with it on the motorway. The CVT transmission feels like its robbing the engine of its revs. You'll have to work the engine hard to really get the most of it. Fuel economy however is suprisingly good.

Ride & Handling: The Outlander Sport isn't as sporty as the name suggest. There's a fair bit of body lean in corners. However, if you value comfort over ultimate control, the Outlander Sport is the perfect car for you. The supple suspension and big balloon tires does an effective job at absorbing most ruts and bumps.

Refinement: The CVT transmission really does bring the buzz out of the engine. It's far from intrusive, but can make long journeys tiresome. There's very little wind and road noise. On the motorway however, some wind and road noise will sneak into the cabin.

Behind the wheel: It's easy to find a comfortable driving position. THe steering adjust for reach and height, allowing all to get comfortable. The cabin plastics aren't classy, but the whole design and layout of the dashboard is attractive and user friendly. All-round visibility is good thanks to an elevated driving position.

Space & Practicality: The Outlander Sport offers decent space four five passengers. The boot space is decent, and can be increased thanks to split folding rear seats. There are some practical features too, such as hidden storage under the boot floor. The seats fold flat with no need to move the seat base first.

Equipment: All Outlander Sports come well equipped. The base trim comes with seven airbags, active stability control, Fuse hands-free Link System with USB port. Top of the range offers all-wheel-drive, keyless start and climate control.

Buying & Owning: The Outlander Sport undercuts its main rivals. However, the Nissan Juke offers more horespower for the same price. Resale value should be average, and trying to get an Outlander Sport with a discount shouldn't be hard to comeby. Running costs will be low thanks to decent fuel economy.

Quality & reliability: Some of the plastics in the Outlander Sport don't look flashy, but they feel well put together and long lasting. The mechanicals have been tested and tried, and there should be very little worry about reliability. Mitsubishi has a top-notch record in that department.

Safety & Security: All versions come with anti-whiplash head restraints, seven airbags,  brake assist and stability control standard. An alarm system, engine immobiliser and deadlocks are standard across the range to keep theft at bay.

The Outlander Sport isn't as bold as the Nissan Juke, and isn't as fun to drive as a Mini Countryman. You may find there really is no point to the Outlander Sport, but you'll be surprised when you see all that the Outlander Sport has to offer that the others don't. It's affordable, cheap to run, and is far roomier than the Juke and Countryman combined. The top of the range trim adds all-wheel-drive at a cheap price. It's not the most stylish of the bunch, but it sure does offer great value for the money and is versatile enough for small families. If you need a no-nonsense compact crossover, with plenty of space and kit for the money. Look no further.

Devon M 

Devon drives a Saab with crossover styling

Likes: Comfortable front seats, stylish inside out, roomy and well insulated interior, strong turbo engines, decent fuel economy, very well equipped.

Dislikes: Expensive, needs a more powerful engine to cope with added weight, buying one seems rather risky.

Truck based 4x4s are being replaced by car-based 4x4s and crossovers. The Saab 9-3X is basically a 9-3 sports combi with a raised driving height. It's stylish, and offers more all-round versatility with a splash of off-road capability. But will this be enough to pull buyers from the much cheaper Subaru Outback?

Performance: There's only one engine available for the 9-3X, its the same engine used in the 9-3 range. A 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 210hp. It offers decent pace and is very flexible. Fuel economy is decent too, but a more powerful engine is desired to cope with the extra weight.

Ride & Handling: The ride comfort is good considering the higher driving position. Only the worst of potholes upsets the ride. The 9-3X feels more refined on the motorway than the standard 9-3. It's not a great handler, and the steering is rather numb. There's little confidence and will discourage drivers to push on through bends.

Refinement: The 9-3X is generally a quiet car, you can hear noise from the turbo engine. However, the noise is far from invasive. Saab has done an excellent job of insulating the cabin from road noise, although you can feel the suspension crash on the hardest of bumps, you'll never hear it. There's barely any wind noise either. The gearchanges are smooth, and the switchgear feel durable.

Behind the wheel: The 9-3X shares the same interior decor as the standard 9-3. The dashboard has a simple logical design, with many controls within easy reach of the driver's seat. Night Panel keeps eye strain to a minimal in night driving, and the front seats are the most comfortable in its class.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of room in the front, and plenty of adjustments to get comfortable. Rear passengers have plenty of room, but shoulder room is tight for three passengers. The transmission tunnel intrudes into space too. The boot isn't as large as an Outback, but there's plenty of space to spare. The seats fold 60/40 for extra space.

Equipment: The 9-3X comes well equipped for the money. You get climate control, steering mounted audio controls, rain sensors and alloy wheels. All-wheel-drive is standard, as well as roof rails and a raised driving height.

Buying & Owning: The 9-3X isn't cheap to buy. Prices are higher than that of the Outback. But the 9-3X has more style and substance than the Outback. It's distinctly designed, and offers plenty of kit for the money. Resale vaule isn't its strongest point, and buying a 9-3X right now seems rather risky. With Saab being in the turmoil of problems its in right now. The fate of the company is still unknown.

Quality & Reliability: The cabin feels well put together. There's an attractive dashboard, but durability is a question. The standard 9-3 doesn't enjoy the best reliability record, and the 9-3X shares much of its mechanicals with the standard 9-3.

Safety & Security: Saab is known for safety and security. Top notch anti-theft alarm, engine immobiliser and deadlocks are all standard. ESP, side curtain airbags and ISOFIX child seat mountings all come standard as well.

The 9-3X isn't the cheapest alternate to the Outback, but you do get a nicely appointed interior and many luxury features standard. The all-wheel-drive doesn't have a low-range, so off-road abilities are limited. Fuel economy is decent, and the turbo engine provides flexible driving performance. For the price, there are rivals that offer the same for less cash. However, the Saab has a charm that no other rival can offer. Distinctly designed and comfortable long journey vehicle. If you're willing to dish out the cash, the 9-3X is well worth a look.

Devon M 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Devon test drives a Volkswagen Passat

Likes: Roomy interior, massive boot space, fuel efficient turbo-diesel engine, German Quality is still there, excellent road manners.

Dislikes: Bland styling, interior isn't as classy as previous generations, no wagon option.

The Volkswagen Passat has always been the classy mid-sized sedan choice. It's also been the most expensive. With the new generation of the Passat, Volkswagen wants to capture the market that's dominated by Toyota and Honda. Will Volkswagen have what it takes with the more Americanized Passat?

Performance: There's three engines available with the Passat. A 2.5-liter five-cylinder with 170hp, a 2-liter turbo-diesel with 140hp and a 3.6-liter six-cylinder with 280hp. Pick of the bunch is the 2.5-liter five-cylinder, it makes the most sense financially. It may not offer the fuel economy of the diesel and the oomph of the six-cylinder. It does however offer good pace and decent fuel economy.

Ride & Handling: The Passat is well composed on the motorway, the ride comfort is smooth. The steering is well weighed and offers good feedback. There's minimal effort needed when driving in corners or on the motorway. The suspension does a good job of soaking up most bumps really well.

Refinement: The Passat offers excellent all-round comfort. On the motorway, there's very little wind and road noise. The engines operate smoothly when up to speed. The five-cylinder emits a distinct droan when pushed hard. It's far from intrusive, but can be a bit annoying on long journeys.

Behind the wheel: The front driver seat offers excellent comfort. The steering wheel adjust for reach and for height. The control layout is clear and logical. But the quality feels rather bland and down-graded compared to previous generations. Everything is well laid out and very user-friendly.

Space & Practicality: The Passat is slightly larger than its outgoing model. So rear seat space has nearly doubled. Legroom, headroom and shoulder room is ample. The large transmission tunnel hampers any space for a third person to sit comfortably. The boot is massive and can easily cope with family luggage.

Equipment: The base Passat comes well equipped for the price. Automatic headlamps, central locking, 8-speaker sound system all come standard. You'll have to pay extra for alloy wheels. The top of the range Passat adds leather seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror and climate control.

Buying & Owning: The Passat is priced to compete with the Accord and Camry. Unlike the Camry and Accord, the Passat is a bit more expensive than both vehicles. You'll pay more for the diesel and six-cylinder engines, but your investments will be well secured as Volkswagen has solid resale value.

Quality & Reliability: Volkswagen doesn't enjoy the best reliability record. But in recent years, VW has been managing to turn this around. The Passat should prove to be reliable, with no major worries about the sturdiness of the mechanicals. Some of the plastics used in the interior are a bit of a let down, but will prove to be long lasting.

Safety & Security: Optional keyless entry start system adds an extra degree of theft protection. If that doesn't make you feel secure, the engine has an immobiliser and the doors have a deadlocks. Safety is Volkswagen's middle name. Side curtain airbags, anti-lock-brakes and stability control are standard across the range. The Passat has always scored high in crash safety tests.

The Americanized Passat is a bit of a let down. It doesn't look as classy as previous generations, and there's no wagon variant. However, the price is low and there's a decent amount of kit for the money. Interior space is excellent and the boot is massive. Buying a Passat means you'll have to give up some of the quirks you're used to from Volkswagen, but you're still reassured of its German Quality and excellent road manners. For the price, you're getting a lot of vehicle for the money.

Devon M 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Devon flies the streets in a Saab 9-5

Likes: Swedish style inside out, roomy well laid out interior, you'll stand out from the crowd, smooth turbo engines.

Dislikes: May induce sticker shock, some wind and road noise on the motorway, head restraints pushed a bit too far forward.

Saab has been in dire times. With a transition of ownership and many financial problems almost leading to the company's death. But somehow the brand manages to stay alive. The 9-5 is one of the newest Saabs to show the future of the brand, and the direction of the company's styling. Jumping right into the competition with the BMW 5-series and Audi A6. Will Saab be able to keep up?

Performance: There are two engines available for the Saab 9-5. A 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 220hp, and a 2.8-liter turbocharged six-cylinder with 300hp. Pick of the bunch is the 2-liter turbo engine. It's the most engaging to drive, offers decent fuel economy and makes the most sense financially. The six-cylinder offers good pace, but comes at a price that's a little too expensive for some tastes.

Ride & Handling: The 9-5 handles and drives well. The base suspension feels rather softly sprung, so there's a bit of bodyroll. The sport suspension handles well, but the ride comfort is overly firm. The steering doesn't offer as much feel as you'd expect, but its far from disappointing. There's a three-mode electronic suspension system as an option.

Refinement: Wind and road noise is well supressed in town. On the highway, there's a bit of wind and road noise that enters the cabin. This is far from intrusive, and you'll enjoy the 9-5 on long distance driving. Especially on curves with the sports suspension.

Behind the wheel: Saab's interior is designed around the driver. The controls are within easy reach of the finger. Some controls are poorly marked, and are blocked by the gearlever on automatic models. The seats are comfortable, but the head restraints are pushed to far forward. This leaves your neck in a uncomfortable angle.

Space & Practicality: The longer wheelbase means more rear seat comfort than the pervious generation. The cabin is truly enormous, entry into through the rear passenger door is rather low. You'll have to stoop your head down to avoid banging it on the door frame. Rear passenger space is excellent, the the boot is massive. The rear seats fold down to increase space.

Equipment: The base 9-5 comes well equipped. Night panel, electric driver's seat, rain sensors and auto-dimming interior mirror is standard. The six-cylinders offer all-wheel-drive, and the top of the range offers a bodykit with Xenon headlamps and leather sport seats.

Buying & Owning: With Saab's near death in 2010, buying a new Saab seems rather risky. Resale value isn't as strong as its rivals, and finding one won't be easy as Saab isn't currently building any vehicles. But when production restarts, you'll find that Saab's long list of standard equipment is well worth the asking price.

Quality & Reliability: The 9-5 feels well put together. Many materials used feel classy, although some plastics feel hard to the touch. Everything feels quirky like all Saabs should feel. Reliability of the 9-5 has always been higher than the 9-3. So we expect reliability to be about average on the 9-5.

Safety & Security: If there's two things you'll never have to worry about with a Saab, that's safety and security. Side curtain airbags, stability control and anti-whiplash head restraints comes standard across the range. Security provisions include top-notch alarm and immobiliser.

Most people who buy Saab are those who want to stand out against German Rivals. It's distinctly styled, and priced well below that of BMW and Audi. You maybe a little disappointed with this irration of the 9-5. It's not as sporty as the previous form, and the sports suspension has a firm ride. But the 9-5 continues to provide that smile on owners faces that no other brand can provide. It's no wonder owners stay loyal to the brand, and why Saab will continue to be around for generations to come.

Devon M 

Devon takes a look at a Nissan Murano

Likes: Well equipped, smooth six-cylinder engine, roomy and comfortable to drive.

Dislikes: A bit strange looking, no base engine offered, not as sporty to drive as its looks suggest.

Crossovers are becoming more and more popular. They sit lower to the ground, and offer better fuel economy than many truck-based sport utility vehicles. The Nissan Murano uses the same engine from the 350Z, but has been detuned to 260hp. With so many other rivals catching up to the Murano, will this be a case of old dog old tricks?

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Murano, and that's a 3.5-liter six-cylinder. It's the same engine used in the 350Z, but only produces 260hp. Acceleration is brisk and effortless on the motorway, but the CVT-transmission is reluctant to allow the engine to rev. A base engine would be nice for those who seek the Murano's size, but better fuel economy.

Ride & Handling: The Murano isn't as sporty as the 350Z. The body leans in corners, because the suspension is softly tuned. The steering feels numb, and discourages sporty driving. Even though the car grips really well.

Refinement: The Murano is impressingly refined. THere's very little wind and road noise. The engine has a nice snarl when revved hard, but its never intrusive or loud. On the motorway, the Murano feels very comfortable and well laid back.

Behind the wheel: The steering wheel adjusts for reach and height, and the seats adjust eletrically. You won't struggle to find a comfortable driving position in the Murano. What's more, the layout of the controls is hard to find fault. Only hefty rear pillars let it down, but you do get two parking cameras as an option for limited the limited vision.

Space & Practicality: There's an impressive amount of space for five passengers. There isn't a third row seat option like in some rivals. This isn't a bad thing, as the boot is impressively large. The rear seats fold almost flat with a tug lever to increase space.

Equipment: The Murano comes well equipped for the price. Even the base trim comes with push button ignition, six-disc CD-changer and dual zone climate control. Higher trims offer a glass roof and leather seats. Top of the range offers Xenon-headlamps, chrome wheels and power lift tailgate.

Buying & Owning: The Murano is well equipped for the price. Even the base trim will satisfy most buyers. Strong resale values will help protect your investments. You'll need deep pockets to satisfy the six-cylinder's thirst for fuel.

Quality & reliability: The interior has a sense of logic behind it. Everything feels well laid out, and all the controls feel classy. Some switchgear feel cheap, but they feel sturdy and long lasting. Nissan has enjoy excellent reliability, with much not much worry of the mechanicals.

Safety & Security: Stability control is standard across the range, as well as side curtain airbags. Deadlocks, alarm and engine immobiliser make life for thieves hard.

The Murano is a decent crossover that's classy and well balanced for small families. It's not sporty, and looks the part. This may disappoint some buyers, and the lack of a base engine will put off some buyers. The six-cylinder is nice but some rivals offer lower powered engines to make the price more attractive. If you can overlook these few negatives, you'll find the Murano is a well suited crossover for small families.
Devon M 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Devon drives a car with "Bling-Bling" factor

Likes: Stylish exterior styling, roomy for eight passegners, available hybrid model, high-class image.

Dislikes: Seriously expensive starting price, and options will send price sky high. Running costs will be high, bulky size makes it a chore to park and live with in urban areas.

The Cadillac Escalade has been popular since its launch in 1999. There has been no other SUV that has gotten as much hype as the Escalade. Appearing in music videos, being mentioned in song lyrics and seen as the vehicle to have by many Hip/Hop Artists and movie stars. But does the Escalade suffer from all style and no substance?

Performance: The Escalade comes with a 6.2-liter eight-cylinder engine. The base trim comes with 403hp, and a two-mode hybrid with 332hp. The pick of the bunch is the base engine output. It's still quite expensive, but is far cheaper compared to the hybrid model. There's effortless power on the motorway and plenty of towing capability. The Hybrid commands a premium price and not much difference in fuel economy. You'll have to do tons of motorway driving to really get your moneys worth.

Ride & Handling: The Escalade has a soft suspension, which does a good job at isolating occupants from most bumps. But it never feels settled on patchy surfaces, and body movements are poorly controlled. The steering has very little feedback, and the sheer size of the car makes driving on narrow city roads hard work.

Refinement: The big engine is hushed at steady motorway speeds. The V8 emits a lovely rumble under heavy acceleration. Road noise isn't a big problem, but the Escalade is about as aerodynamic as a tower block so wind noise intrudes into the cabin at high levels.

Behind the wheel: You sit high in the Escalade, so all round visibility is good. Shorter drivers will have a harder time getting comfortable. Although the pedals adjust for reach, the steering wheel only adjusts for angle. This makes driving position awkward for some. The heater controls are fiddly too.

Space & Practicality: The Escalade has seating up to eight with a well laid out formation. But you won't get three adults in the third row because shoulder room is tight. The boot isn't massive, and the rear seats don't fold flat. You'll have to remove them to get the full cargo capacity.

Equipment: There are four trim levels available. All of them are well equipped, but the options will send the price soaring. Tri-zone climate control, six-disc CD-changer and parking sensors are standard equipment. Satellite navigation system and rear-seat DVD entertainment system are optional.

Buying & Owning: The Escalade has the bling looks that attracts many premier buyers. You'll need their wages to run one, because the Escalade is quite expensive to run. Fuel economy is low, and the price tag is high. Even the hybrid commands a high premium over the the base engine. The V8 engine is thirsty and you'll struggle in large parking lots and tight urban areas. Insurance rates are high, and theft rates are also high for this vehicle. The Escalade won't hold its value as well as its rivals.

Quality & Reliability: The dash plastics feel and look cheap. Some interior fittings feel flimsy and you can hear lots of rattles and creaks when driving over rough surfaces. Reliability of the electronics may be a bit of a worry.

Safety & Reliability: Twin front and side curtain airbags come standard across the range. The side curtain airbags covers all three rows. Stability control helps keep you on the road. Deadlocks and an alarm is fitted as standard.

The Cadillac offers tons of bling in its styling. It's stylish, and has tons of appeal to high class buyers. But one has to ask themself, is it really worth it? There are rivals that are better to drive, easier to manuever and offer far better gas mileage than the Escalade. You'll buy one for the status of wealth, but there are so many drawbacks to consider. High running costs, iffy reliability record all count against it.

Devon M 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Devon test drives a Mazda 2

The Mazda 2 shares its platform with the Ford Fiesta.  The only difference other than styling is the Mazda 2 offers a more affordable price and has better fuel economy. However, is this enough to convince buyers to consider the 2 over the Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio?
Performance: There's only one engine available with the Mazda 2, and that's a 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 100hp. Fuel economy is excellent, and performance is decent. You'll have to work the engine hard to get the most of it. Unlike the Mazda 2 the Ford Fiesta comes with a six-speed automatic. The 2 has to make due with a four-speed automatic transmission. Opting for the five-speed manual gearbox is the best way to get the most of the 2's 100hp.

Ride & Handling: The Mazda 2 handles just as well as the Fiesta. It's fun to toss it around, even in twisty bends. The 2 corners flat and encourages spirited driving. The ride comfort is firm, but its far from uncomfortable.

Refinement: The 2 feels refined on the motorway. Just like the Fiesta, it has a solid feel. The petrol engine doesn't intrude into the cabin, and wind and road noise is well surpressed. The 2 isn't the most refined in its class, but you'll enjoy it more than its rivals.

Behind the wheel: There's a fuss free dashboard layout. All the controls and dials are within easy reach of the hand. The gear knob is placed high for better reach and less rub against your knee. The steering wheel however doesn't adjust for reach. This will make the driving position awkward for someone.

Space & Practicality: The Mazda 2 is just as practical as the Ford Fiesta. There's plenty of boot space for a car in its class. The interior is roomy for four passengers, adding a fifth passenger is just pushing it. The rear door opening is a bit small for comfortable rear access.

Equipment: Air-conditioning, CD-player and power windows are standard. As well as central locking and traction control. Top of the range trim adds a rear spoiler, sporty body-kit and a chrome exhaust tip. The price difference between the trim levels aren't big.

Buying & Owning: The Mazda 2 is priced lower than the Fiesta. But resale value should prove to be very strong. Fuel economy is excellent, so your fuel bills will be low. Discounts are available but don't expect anything major.

Quality & Reliability: Mazda has a reputation for cars that have solid reliability. The Mazda 2 is no exception to this, all the materials used feel sturdy and long lasting. The Mazda 2 doesn't have the best record in customer satisfaction in JD Power survey, but reliability is above average.

Safety & Security: The Mazda 2 comes with side curtian airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control standard across the range. An engine immobiliser, deadlocks and alarm make life difficult for thieves.

Likes: Stylish inside out, excellent balance of handling and ride comfort, great value for the money, high fuel economy.
Dislikes: A few extra horsepower would be desired, some interior plastics feel cheap.
The Mazda 2 is a purest hatchback. It's not powerful, but when you work the gears its tons of fun. The chassis blends an excellent balance of handling and ride comfort. While the Fiesta has more of an upmarket image, and more expensive options. The Mazda 2 is light weight and offers plenty value for the money.

Devon M

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Devon test drives a Toyota Corolla

Toyota has never been known for building fun to drive vehicles. The Corolla is no exception to this. Although you can get a sporty looking S-trim. There really isn't much fun behind the wheel. With stiff competition from Honda and Kia, will Toyota be able to keep up? Or is this another case of old dog - old tricks?

Likes: Excellent fit and finish, fuel economy, smooth ride comfort.

Dislikes: Dull driving experience, base trim feels rather stingy on features.

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Corolla, and that's a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 138hp. It offers a good amount of pace around town and on the motorway. Fuel economy is also good too. Power hungry may want to look elsewhere, as there's no powerful engine options to match the sporty looks of the S trim.

Ride & Handling: The Corolla feels solid and comfortable when driven gently. Handling isn't sporty, and doesn't encourage you to drive aggressively. The suspension is set more towards comfort rather than agility. So there's bodyroll in turns, but its far from annoying.

Refinement: The Corolla has excellent refinement on the motorway. There's very little wind and road noise. You'll enjoy how smooth and quiet the ride comfort is. The engine operates smoothly, and is quiet at most speeds.

Behind the wheel: The dashboard has a no nonsense layout. Everything feels logically placed and user friendly. The seats adjust for both reach and height. The controls are easy to use and the quality feels rock solid.

Space & Practicality: There's enough room for five adults in the Corolla. There's plenty of head and legroom for both front and rear passengers. There's plenty of boot space as well. The rear seats fold down 60/40 for additional space.

Equipment: The Corolla is priced well among its rivals, but the base trim level loses out on central locking and power windows. You'll have to step up to the higher trims to get features that should be standard across the range. There are rivals that offer them for less than the Corolla.

Buying & Owning: The Corolla holds its value well, so your investments are well secured. The base trim doesn't feel like much of a value, and the sporty looking S trim doesn't feel as sporty as its looks suggest. However, your fuel bill will be low and build quality will be excellent.

Quality & Reliability: All the plastics used feel long lasting. There's a sense of durability behind the interior quality. Reliability should be excellent, as the Corolla has been rated high by its owners in the JD Power survey.

Safety & Security: All Corollas come with an array of safety features standard. ESP, ABS and side curtian airbags come standard across the range. An engine immobiliser comes standard across the range, but you'll have to step up to the higher trims to get deadlocks.

The Corolla has rock solid reliability and feels very well built. It's dependable and offers excellent fuel economy. For those seeking something that's fun to drive may want to venture else where. But for the few that want a car that's aimed at quality and dependability, the Corolla is the car for you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Felipe M. 

Moving along with the list:

#40.  "Cease"-- THE GRAY RACE (1996): First time I heard this song, it was on the live DVD LIVE AT THE PALLADIUM where lead singer Greg Graffin sings a solo version on piano.  The same version could be heard on Graffin's 1997 solo album American Lesion.  The argument could be made that Greg's version might be better than the band's electric version.  

This is yet another song that plays with the theme of inevitable mortality of mankind.  

Quote--"What pretension, everlasting peace--everything must cease."

#39.  "Doin' Time"-- HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE? (1981): Final song of the original release of their first full length album.  Even as young adults, Bad Religion had their ideals intact.  Just like "Cease," this song also mocks the idea of man's notion of a higher purpose in tangible life and questions the idea of eternal life.

The real treat of this early 1980s hardcore song is near the end where the bass and guitar solo mesh perfectly with each other and takes the listener to some gritty, underground that brings you chills.  All of this climaxes with Greg's voice as he screams "Salvation!"

Quote--"Don't tell me what's wrong or right!  You're losing sight.  You're just going to die anyway!"

#38.  "All There Is"--THE EMPIRE STRIKES FIRST (2004): One of the more popular songs on college radio when the album was released, this song brings back good memories.  This song is also played live on LIVE AT THE PALLADIUM and sometimes makes its way on to current live sets.

The song is more question than answers as the song, once again, questions religion and divinity as the end all reason for existence as Graffin is constantly asking "can that be all there is?"  

Quote--"The walking wounded in a pageant of contenders who balance on a rail of pain for just a pail of rain."

#37.  "Suffer"--SUFFER (1988): This song is still played live as fans go crazy when the introduction is played.  

The song is a cry for the power elite of society to look at the suffering they have produced to the rest of "the masses of humanity."  No matter what time period in man's history, this song is appropriate how so many people work for the right of a few to remain part of the dominant population.  

For prime examples on how this song is appropriate to current events, click here.  For a song that explores the same subject matter, listen to Thrice's "Cold Cash and Colder Hearts" which is a first person perspective on how the power elite look at 90% of the Earth's human population.  Thrice's "Don't Tell and We Won't Ask" from the same album, THE ARTIST IN THE AMBULANCE, finishes that album with the same plea to the power elite to open up their eyes and see how their actions to get richer affects the rest of the world in a negative way.  Thrice and many bands just like them further prove the massive influence that Bad Religion has had on the current punk/hardcore scene.

Quote--"This deformed society is part of the design.  It'll never go away, it's in the cards that way..."

#36.  "Dearly Beloved"--NEW MAPS OF HELL (2007): This is a difficult song to pinpoint its meaning as it could be decipher in so many ways.  However, at its broadest and most vague, perhaps the song is about turning your back on conformity and the resulting consequences it bestows on the individual who wants to follow their own path, such as ridicule and isolation. 

Quote--"Dearly Beloved, make no mistake, despite our traits I've seldom seen.  I can't relate to you."

About Me:

Current Favorite Show: Catching up on BREAKING BAD.  It's been awhile since a drama could move me like this.  Regretfully, I wish I could catch up on THE WIRE.
Currently Listening To: CRACK THE SKYE by Mastodon.  I didn't really like it. Strange since I recently enjoyed listening to Coheed and Cambria.
Currently Watching: Rockies vs Cardinals--Hoping Fernando Salas gets a chance for the save and get me the 10 points I need to win my fantasy game this week.
Currently Finished Reading: THE POSTMAN by David Brin.  Cool story about survival in a post-apocalyptic world, but could be very preachy at times. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Devon test drives a Mini

Likes: Fantastic handling, distinct styling, more fun to drive than most small cars, peppy range of engines.

Dislikes: Options send price sky high, boot space is limited, some controls are confusing to operate.

Performance: There's three engines available with the Cooper. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 120hp, and two turbocharged 1.6-liter engines with 181hp and 208hp. The pick of the bunch is the 1.6-liter 120hp engine. Its not the most powerful of the bunch, but it offers a good blend of value and fuel economy.

Ride & Handling: Whichever version you go for, the Mini is tons of fun to drive. It's great on twisty roads and thanks to the go-kart handling and well weighted steering. Around town the Mini is easy to drive, there's a firm ride but its never choppy or uncomfortable.

Refinement: There's a bit of wind noise at highway speeds. The Mini also lets in a bit too much road noise than desired, but its never intrusive. The petrol engines are smooth and well refined, even when worked hard. The gearshift is slick, but the reverse gear is too easily selected when shifting to first.

Behind the wheel: Driver's will get comfy with a wide range of adjustments for both the steering wheel and seat. The dash is a bit too busy, with the large central speedo and awkwardly placed stereo and heater controls. The retro toggle switches put style above ease of use.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of headroom and legroom for those in the front. Rear passengers have so-so head and legroom. The door opening is low and narrow, this makes getting in and out of the Mini a chore. The boot is small, but the seats fold 50/50 for more space.

Equipment: The Cooper comes well equipped for the money. Air-conditioning, push button start, electric windows, mirrors and central locking are all standard. The Cooper S adds sporty bodywork and sports seats. However, the options list is extensive but you may want to watch what you select. A few too many options will sent the price sky high.

Buying & Owning: It's not cheap, and don't even think about discounts! However, the Mini holds on to your investments well. No other car in its class holds its value as well. Your fuel bills will be decent, and a warranty to cover oil changes and other maintenance is offered standard.

Quality & Reliability: The Mini has a premium image, with many parts and trim looking the part. The Mini has scored well in customer satisfaction surveys done by JD Power. Reliability should prove dependable.

Safety & Security: The Mini has a five-star safety rating on all models. Every trim has side curtian airbags and ISOFIX child seat mountings, and importantly ESP is standard across the range. The Mini has most security parts that make BMWs hard to steal.

It's retro, with a splash of sport and performance. You get a road hugging small car that holds its value well. It's no wonder the Mini is the best selling small car in the U.S. Stay clear of the options list, and you'll have a great valued small car well worth the money.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Is Image Everything? Felipe's Music Manifesto

Felipe M.

I just finished reading David Konow's Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal.  Admittedly a bit dated, it was published in 2002 right as Metallica were about ready to hit rock bottom in their careers.  Nevertheless, it was a very interesting read as every chapter reads more like mini-biographies of not only famous heavy metal acts, but hard rock acts as well such as Led Zeppelin and Kiss--think That Metal Show in book form.  

When reading non-fiction works about the genre, I can't help but to get very excited when the works starts memorializing the "Thrash Metal" movement--usually sandwiched between chapters that speak of bands that wear face paint and make up (i.e. Alice Cooper and the aforementioned Kiss), to bands that insist on wearing as much leather as possible on and off stage (i.e. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc.), before them and bands that cared more about their hair than their own music (or their own well-being, such as Motley Crue, Poison, etc.) after them.  Clearly, I have not hidden the fact that my musical tastes are rooted in punk rock and all of its genres and sub-genres so I can appreciate the existence of bands that developed their imagery based on the ideal to do away with glamour, theatrics, and visible imagery in metal music.  In its place were bands that wore black t-shirts (more often with other bands' logos), black jeans, and black shoes/boots with Anthrax even paving the way to wear shorts on stage.  Also missing from this movement was well-groomed, overly cared for, and chemically enhanced hair as grizzled beards and frizzled and scuzzy hair took over.

I will not be here telling whoever is reading this that they should only listen to this band and not the other band.  You can make that decision for yourself.  Instead, I will share with you the music code that I follow when listening to new bands and I like to think that it is solely based on music and not any other crappy image or gimmick the artist is trying to sell to me.  So without further ado...

  • Rule #1: If you have to wear a mask, excessive make up, or face paint, I don't want anything to do with you or your band.  Kiss, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson--you might garner lot of fans and sell many records, but I want nothing to do with any of you!  Something about covering your face makes it seem to me that you're trying too hard on displaying an image or working too hard on theatrics to worry about your music.  Also makes me wonder what the hell it is you are hiding (not in a cool, mysterious way either).  You can tell me all the reasons why Manson is one of the most artistic people in the world and how Slipknot are uber-talented; I will continue to avoid them like the plague.  

  • Rule #2: Let me preface by saying that I'm a guy who refuses to shave on a daily basis and I only wash my clothes if their longstanding odor isn't too offensive to me.  I also don't care if my haircut is not "punk enough" or if I'm wearing enough black clothes from Hot Topic so the whole world knows I'm expressing myself by letting people know I listen to Punk Rock and Metal music.  Nor do I worry that my lack of tats and piercings make me any less punk or metal.  If I find that a band seems to go out of their way to work a bit too hard on their image, then i-Tuned them off.  Bands like Anti-Flag and AFI come to mind, especially when they signed their first major label deals.  Travis Barker is another guy who went from being a punk rock drummer to being a drummer who has a punk image to go with his "punk attitude."  So to summarize, even if your band is not wearing makeup or funny-looking masks, any attempt to "dress up" is also grounds for dismissal.

When I go to a concert, I don't want to have to wait for a band to come on stage because they don't look "punk or metal enough" to get on stage yet.  Or maybe their "guyliner" isn't quite dark and guy enough yet, but a few coats promises to do the trick.  Or if their Liberty Spikes looks too punk, but not faux enough.  Nope, that just won't do!  Don't get me wrong, I do tolerate and even enjoy music by Anti-Flag, AFI, Green Day, and Blink-182.  But when I see these bands work so hard for their "look" they just simply come off as clowns.   

Yes, the quality of music is always first, but there are plenty of bands out there who don't go out of their way to create that "punk" or "metal" image.  Basically bands who "look like me" always get preferential treatment on my music rotation.  I'm talking about bands like Bad Religion, A Wilhelm Scream, Darkest Hour, The Lawrence Arms, etc.  When I see Hatebreed on stage and you have Jamey Jasta wearing a baseball hat, another band's t-shirt, shorts, and regular boots, I can appreciate that--the dude has nothing to hide and doesn't need much to get on stage, but a mic and his voice.  When i see Darkest Hour lead singer John Henry refuse to take his glasses off for a band photo, I say to myself, "Hey, I wear glasses and this guy looks like a total nerd like I do and we both like our music loud, aggressive, but with substance."  Best of all, we don't go out of our way to look like some sort of circus freak show.  When I see Bad Religion's lead singer, Greg Graffin's clothes and I can't recognize the brand names that he's wearing, I can relate because I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what brand of clothing I'm wearing (that's why I have a girlfriend so I don't have to worry about trivial stuff like that).

Probably the best personification of my decree to decide which bands will be given my valuable attention is the band Against Me!  These guys simply go on stage wearing all black--no corporate sponsored t-shirts, not even band t-shirts.  It's the coolest thing ever to see a band just go on stage and it's just four guys against the world as they put it all on black.  Their "image" is the epitome of what punk rock should be and it's more in spirit of what the genre is all about than any other fashionably conscious, popular faux punk rawk band out there.  

I can't help but think that both the punk and metal scenes are not and should not be about creating an image to appease a mainstream audience who probably does not care about the music as much as they care about the image that is being sold to them.  It's like the band Against Me! sing in their song "Reinventing Axl Rose":

We want a band
That plays loud and hard every night

A simple way to judge a band.  Very hard to quantify such a quality in today's world where attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter and style constantly trumps substance.  Worse, originality in music is pushed to the side for the chance of success by transforming into one of many copy-cat molds.  Because of this brave new world we live in, a lot of these bands have to find themselves a niche in the scene just to get our attention and avoid being accused of being a copy-cat band.  Hell, Kiss have been triumphant since the 1970s with the simple maxim that having a gimmick was better than being good, but unknown musicians who were dirt poor.

I also understand that many of these bands want to make a living out of their passion and not live dirt poor for the rest of their lives.  But for every band that has a gimmick to survive the music business, there has to be a lot more bands that are surviving who--you know?--work really hard at honing their skills in order to make great, memorable music and are making a comfortable living doing so.  At any rate, I'll continue to root for bands who classify with the latter and hoping for nothing but the worst for the bands that can be classified in the former.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Devon test drives a Volkswagen Icon

The Volkswagen Beetle has always been seen as a chick car. The next generation Beetle is going to address this issue with more muscular curves, and a shape to follow more closely to the original Beetle. However, a final verdict of a Beetle must be given before the new - new Beetle arrives.

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Beetle. It's a 2.5-liter five-cylinder with 150hp. It's peppy and offers decent pace in town and on the highway. Fuel economy is decent, but the five-cylinder has a droan that is only heard when revved hard. It's not intrusive, but can make long journeys tiresome.

Ride & Handling: The Beetle's handling isn't the best, its chassis is based on the pervious generation Golf. So there really isn't distinct handling here. It's comfortable and competent, and the steering feel is merely okay.

Refinement: Wind and road noise is well supressed. You'll drive around in the Beetle with comfort and ease. The major controls have a substaintial feel to them, but the engine droan will spoil things a bit.

Behind the wheel: The curvy roof makes things a little bit weird in the interior. You'll feel like you're sitting miles away from the windscreen. Visibility is poor, and the driving position isn't great, even if the steering wheel adjusts for reach and height. You'll like the single stylish fascia and instrument pod.

Space & Practicality: In theory the Beetle is a four-seater, in reality it's only a two-seater. The roofline means the rear is only for kids. The boot is tiny, so you'll have to fold the rear seats down to carry bigger and longer items.

Equipment: All Beetles come with alloy wheels, remote central locking, power windows and a Cd-player. There aren't many options available, as most features that you'll want are already standard. Leather seats, and other goodies are optional.

Buying & Owning: The Beetle's resale value is good. You'll recoup more than 40% of the list price after three years and 36,000 miles. Servicing costs will be a bit of a worry. Fuel economy is decent and emissions are pretty good.

Quality & Reliability: The interior feels well put together. Many plastics feel sturdy and long lasting. It's no surprise that the Beetle lives up to Volkswagen standards. Although the Beetle has respectable scores in JD Power customer satisfaction surveys. Reliablity is still a worry after the warranty expires.

Safety & Security: High crash safety scores, and a long list of safety features help keep the Beetle at the top of its game. There's plenty of security back-up. An immobiliser and deadlocks are fitted as standard, as well as an alarm.

Likes: Iconic design, offers decent pace and decent fuel economy, well equipped and fun to own.
Dislikes: Style over practicality, more of a two-seater with a tiny boot, long-term reliability a bit of a worry.
The Beetle will be replaced by a newer more masculine shaped variant. There will be more power, and more appeal to a broader audience. However, the retro fitted styling and curvy chick design still remains desirable. There's not many cars out there that can age gracefully, and still have a fan base with more than 15 million cars sold worldwide. The Beetle is iconic and still worthy of a test drive, even with the newer variant coming next year.

Devon M

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Devon Jukes with Nissan

Nissan is known for making bold vehicles like the Murano Convertible. No one was ever expecting Nissan to offer a 4X4 convertible, and that's what makes Nissan stand out from its rivals. The Juke is aimed at the Mini Countryman. It's small, cheeky and affordable. With that said, can its odd ball styling win over buyers?

Performance: There's only one engine available with the Juke, and that's a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 188hp. Although it may not seem like a lot of power, the Juke is a small vehicle. So its the only engine you'll ever need. It's torquey, and offers great flexibility.

Ride & Handling: The Juke's tall stance doesn't take away its agility. The go-kart like character will put a smile on your face. Stiff suspension keeps body movement firmly in check, while steering is eager and offers plenty of feedback. The price for such a taut feel is a hard ride, but the Juke stops short of being uncomfortable.

Refinement: The engine is smooth and pretty refined, you'll have to get used to a bit of turbo whine. Given the car's bluff front, there's not much wind noise. However, road noise is an issue.

Behind the wheel: The interior is inspired by the fuel tank of a motorbike. Many of the controls are clearly labelled and easy to use. The steering wheel doesn't adjust for reach, making the driving position for some drivers a bit uncomfortable. Rearward visibility is poor due to a small windscreen.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of space up front, but rear passengers will feel cramped in the back. The slopping roofline means there really isn't much headroom for taller passengers. The rear door opening is narrow to climb through, and the boot is quite small. There are useful storage wells under the floor and the rear seats fold down flat.

Equipment: All Jukes come well equipped, even the base model comes with Bluetooth, keyless entry, air-conditioning, side curtian airbags and anti-lock brakes. You'll have to step up to the higher trims to get all-wheel-drive, keyless start and leather seats.

Buying & Owning: The Juke seems like a reasonable value. All but the base trim offers all-wheel-drive, the top of the range offers it as standard kit. Modest discounts are available, and resale values are expected to be strong. Fuel economy is decent too.

Quality & Reliability: There's no doubt the Juke is a distinct looking vehicle, but its a shame some of the plastics used in the interior are a bit cheap on feel. Still, there's little doubt that it will prove hardy. In the JD Power customer satisfaction survey, Nissan finished in the top half of the manufacturers' table.

Safety & Security: Remote central locking with anti-hijack feature is standard on every Juke. There's a long list of safety equipment such as ESP, six airbags and brake assist. The top of the range offers all-wheel-drive that splits torque between the front and rear wheels (and side to side) to help keep the car stable and reduce understeer when cornering.

The Juke is a distinct looking vehicle. Probably one of the most bold vehicles in Nissan's line-up. Headroom for rear passengers is limited, and the boot isn't very large. This all makes the Juke look a bit pointless, but then you'll be overlooking the actual point of the car. It's a small uban crossover that offers distinct styling, decent fuel economy and makes dealing with urban cities a breeze.

Likes: Turbo engine, fun to drive with excellent body control, well equipped - well priced, and distinct styling inside out.

Dislikes: Firm ride, slopping roof means limited space for rear passengers, poor rearward visbility, bold styling may not appeal to all.

Devon M

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Devon tries to be cool with a Ford Fiesta

Likes: Fun to drive, stylish and roomy, mobile-phone inspired dashboard, 'big-car' feeling.

Dislikes: More power would be nice, no central console or armrest, can get expensive with options, automatic feels jerky at times.

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Fiesta, and that's a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 120hp. There's decent pace for both city and highway driving. You'll desire more power if you drive on faster paced roads. The six-speed automatic transmission often feels jerky. At times it feels a little too eager, but it blends fuel economy and performance well.

Ride & Handling: The Fiesta feels sharp and well composed on city streets. At highway speeds, you'll be surprised at how big the Fiesta feels. This isn't a bad thing, the solid feels helps encourage spirited driving through bends and twisty roads. The steering is direct and offers plenty of feel.

Refinement: The Fiesta is the quietest cars in its class. The engine is extremely smooth, and there's very little wind and road noise at highway speeds. There's little suspension noise either. The noise is so well contained you'd think the Fiesta were a bigger car than it is.

Behind the wheel: The big-car refinement of the Fiesta is matched by big-car comfort. Drivers will find a comfortable position behind the wheel. There's plenty of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel. The funky mobile phone inspired dashboard works pretty well. Although the on-screen menus that need scrolling through are a bit fiddly at times.

Space & Refinement: There's plenty of room for four passengers. A fifth passenger may be pushing it a bit. With limited headroom and knee room, some taller passengers won't get comfortable. The boot has decent space too.

Equipment: Ford offers a good amount of equipment for the money. Air-conditioning, Cd-player and Aux outlet is standard. However, you'll have to step up to the higher trim level to get standard remote central locking, alloy wheels and a few extra goodies that should be standard across the range.

Buying & Owning: The Fiesta is easy on fuel, and will hold its value well. The sedan may have a lower asking price than the hatchback, but the hatchback has more of an eye appealing design. The sedan looks rather odd in some angles.

Quality & Reliablity: The interior feels well put together, and a lot of thought has been put into it. Some materials used around the door trim feel cheap. Reliability has been rated well above average by owners on JD Power Survey.

Safety & Security: Deadlocks and engine immobilizer makes life for thieves hard. There's plenty of safety features for the money. You'll get side curtian airbags and ABS as standard. There's even a drive'rs knee bag.

Small cars have always felt like a penalty box. They looked boring, and had no driving satisfaction whatsoever. The Ford Fiesta brings fun and luxury to the small car market. It's stylish, roomy and a hoot to drive on twisty roads. There really isn't any other small car that offers this blend of style and fun in one.

Devon leaps into luxury with a Mercedes E-Class

The BMW 5-series and Audi A6 are both great sedans. Both are fun the drive and offer distinct personalities. But what if you don't want a conventional 5-series or an A6? You can always choose the Mercedes E-class.

Performance: The E-class comes with three gasoline engines and one diesel. The E350 comes with a 3.5liter six-cylinder with 268hp. Mid-range E350 BlueTech has 3-liter turbo-diesel with 210hp. Near the top is the E550 with 5.5-liter V8 with 382hp. Top of the range E63 AMG has a hefty 6.3-liter V8 with 518hp. Pick of the bunch is the turbo-diesel. It offers plenty of torque for city and motorway speeds. While offering better fuel economy than the base six-cylinder. The V8s are loads of fun to drive, but command a premium price.

Ride & Handling: The standard sport suspension on our tester car made the ride feel firmer than usual. Although it helped a lot in terms of handling, and even made the E-class feel well balanced on curves.  We'd stick to the standard suspension. There's an air-suspension system available, but it comes at a cost.

Refinement: At highway speeds, the E-class feels at peace. There's little wind and road noise. This is a very refined machine. The turbo-diesel produces very little rattle at idle and low speeds. When revved hard, it produces a nice snarl that's not intrusive or tiresome on long journeys.

Behind the wheel: The front seats feel comfortable with plenty of adjustments for one to get comfortable. Some will find the seat doesn't go low enough. The steering adjust for reach and height, making the ideal driving position very obtainable. Many of the fucntions are controlled with a central dial, but the on-screen menus can be distracting. The foot-operated parking brake and single stalk for the indicators and wipers can be a bit annoying as well.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of room for four adults. Adding a fifth adult will be pushing it. The transmission tunnel is bulky and makes comfort for the middleman hard to obtain. The boot is big with a square floor, but the folding rear seats are an option.

Equipment: As with most luxury cars, the standard equipment list is extensive. There's plenty of options that will custom tailor to your desire. However, the price will jump up quickly if you're not careful with the options.

Buying & Owning: The E-class is a bit pricey compared to rivals. But with strong resale value, your investsments will be protected. The E-class offers competitive fuel economy and the eco-friendly diesel engine gets a tax credit from the government.

Quality & Reliability: The cabin of the E-class is sheer luxury. Something you'd expect from the company. Everything feels well put together, and the quality is what you'd expect from Mercedes. In terms of reliability, Mercedes has improved over the years. However, all the technology equipped on most E-class models may cause worry of electrical problems.

Safety & Security: The E-class comes with loads of safety features for your money. After all, if you're paying for luxury one would expect nothing less. A driver drowsiness detector and pop up bonnet to protect pedestrians in collisions are both standard. Lane-change and blind-spot warning systems are optional, as well as a night-vision camera. There's an engine immobilizer and alarm system. However, Merceds rejects deadlocks on safety grounds.

Likes: Turbo-diesel impressive performance and fuel economy, excellent fit and finish, prestige image of owning one.
Dislikes: Not as engaging to drive as you'd think, sport suspension has a firm ride, expensive compared to rivals, on-screen menus are distracting.
It's classy, stylish and offers a prestige image for those who seek traditional German Luxury. It's all luxury and conservative feel makes its rivals feel more engaging to drive. If you want a saloon that's roomy, comfortable and offers a good blend of style and luxury. Look no further than the E-class Saloon. However, if you desire more driver entertainment we suggest looking at the 5-series.

Devon M

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Devon takes flight in a Saab 9-3

Likes: Strong turbo engine, comfortable front seats, Swedish design inside out, smooth transmissions.

Dislikes: Choppy ride, can get expensive at the top of the line, more horespower would be nice.

Saabs have always been quirky left field vehicles for those who choose to stand out in a crowd. They pride themselves in safety and their aircraft heritage. With distinct styling and quirky interior design, can the 9-3 bring a special offering to the competition?

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Saab 9-3, and that's a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 210hp. There's plenty of pace for both city and motorway driving. You may desire more power however, with the optional all-wheel-drive system which adds extra weight. The engine never feels underpowered, but many rivals offer more power for the same price.

Ride & Handling: The 9-3 isn't the sharpest handling vehicle in its class. But it does hang on to corners well. The steering often feels dull at times, but its nothing to discourage sporty driving. The 9-3 is fun to drive, but ride never feels settled on rough surfaces.

Refinement: The interior can hush out a reasonable amount of road and wind noise. Models with the sport suspension let in more noise than lesser versions, but it's not too intrusive. At motorway speeds, the 9-3 feels very comfortable and relaxed.

Behind the wheel: The driver's environment is superb thanks to comfortable seats, and a no-nonsense dash layout. There's plenty of adjustment in seat and steering wheel. You'll easily find a driving position that suits you best. The instruments are a paragon of clarity.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of space in the rear for three passengers. Good headroom and decent legroom, although shoulder room is a bit tight. The large boot can hold plenty of luggage, and the rear seat folds 60/40.

Equipment: No matter which trim you choose, all 9-3's come well equipped for the money. You get premium sound system, automatic climate control and rain sensing windshield wipers all come as standard. The range topping Aero trim adds Xenon Headlamps, sporty exterior trim and twin exhaust pipes.

Buying & Owning: The 9-3 is aimed at German rivals. So you get more power and more equipment for far less cash than many German Saloons. The engine is fairly fuel efficient and offers good performance. Resale value isn't the strongest in its class. However, most Saab owners tend to keep their vehicles longer than German rivals.

Quality & Reliability: The 9-3 has improved over the years in terms of reliability. The cabin materials don't look classy, but they have a long lasting feel. JD Power surveys has rated the 9-3 below average in terms of reliability by its owners.

Safety & Security: When it comes to safety, Saab is class leading. There's front and side curtian airbags standard. Anti-whiplash head restraints are also standard. ESP traction control is standard across the range. The 9-3 has an excellent reputation for keeping theives out.

The 9-3 is a distinct sedan with so much personality. There are German rivals that can out class the 9-3, but you'll be missing the point. It's designed for those who don't want a typical German Saloon. A vehicle that stands out where ever it goes, and whenever a owner talks about their Saab they always seem to have a smile on their face. It's not the classiest sedan among rivals, but it sure does offer a huge bang for your buck.

Devon M